, Gloucester, MA


January 8, 2013

My View: Why smaller schools are best

On Wednesday evening, the School Committee will consider deeming the Fuller School surplus.

The basis for such a decision rests, largely, on the implementation of the Plan for Effective Learning Communities, established in 2007, which maintains that small schools are better environments for educating young students rather than larger schools (250-300 students vs. 800 students).

There seems to remain a number of opinions about Fuller and its future role. Some opinions include keeping Fuller as a large elementary school.

The decision on the part of the School Committee, however, should be based less on opinion, and more on empirical evidence. There are a number of comprehensive studies which conclude that smaller elementary schools, not large elementary schools, are advantageous for educating young children. And although cost is not discussed in this column—but will be in future columns—research in comparing smaller versus larger schools on that issue is open for debate as well.

Among the studies on the subject of smaller versus larger elementary schools, we can include the following: “A Review of Empirical Evidence About School Size Effects: A Policy Perspective”, written by Kenneth Leithwood and Doris Jantzi, and published by the American Education Research Association (2009); a report by the Pennsylvania School Board Association Education Research and Policy Center ( August 2011 ); a West Ed. Policy Brief, Oct. 2001 (West Ed. is a nonpartisan, nonprofit research, development, and service agency working with education and other communities to promote excellence and equity); and a fairly recent report on the topic by the U.S. Department of Education.

I will limit this My View to one of the most comprehensive studies. In “A Review of Empirical Evidence About School Size Effects: A Policy Perspective”, 57 different studies (each with large samples) were reviewed on a variety of student and organizational outcomes. In the Executive Summary, the authors state, categorically, “The weight of evidence provided by this research clearly favors smaller schools.”

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