Rethinking “Small Learning Communities”: A review of the small-schools structure at North Eugene High nears

Anne Williams:

Four years after North Eugene High School set out to reinvent itself, the Eugene School Board wants to take stock. [Eugene School Board Goals, Superintendent’s Proposed Goals.]
Within the next month or two, the district — at the board’s behest — will hire an individual or team of educational researchers to try to gauge how well North Eugene’s “small schools” structure is serving students.
“It’s kind of consistent with board goals; we try to have measurable results,” board Chairman Craig Smith said. “We decided that, since the first class has come through, it’s time to see where we are in terms of progress.”
Showing gains — lower dropout rates, improved student achievement, better attendance and greater college readiness — has been difficult at many schools that have taken North Eugene’s path.
Championed and chiefly bankrolled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the small schools movement aimed to lift student achievement by creating highly personalized schools where all students were known and held to high standards and teachers worked closely together.
But after investing a goodly share of $2 billion into the creation of hundreds of small schools across the country, the Gates Foundation has shifted direction in its high school reform strategy, focusing less on structure and more on effective teaching and curriculum.
“The structural and design changes in schools we focused on in our earlier work simply did not yield those gains,” Vicki Phillips, the foundation’s education director, told Congress last May.
A growing number of grant recipients have dissolved their small schools and are going back to a traditional model, sometimes with some small-school elements intact. Most cite disappointing results or burdensome operating costs, or both. Those schools include Portland’s Madison High School and Mountlake Terrace High School in the Seattle suburbs, a flagship of the initiative that staff members from North visited during the planning phase.


One thought on “Rethinking “Small Learning Communities”: A review of the small-schools structure at North Eugene High nears”

  1. It’s just common sense that improvements mostly come from better teaching and a better curriculum.
    Pay teachers more to attract good (in their fields) applicants and ask people knowledgeable in the field, who have the overview, to design a curriculum that actually leads to college level.

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