Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Can Small Schools Be Succesful in Lebanon?

I had the chance to talk to a former teacher today (former to me, former to Lebanon, or former to teaching, you say? Sorry - not telling).

He had a lot to say about the academy system, but he made one point that stuck with me and I thought I'd share:

Small schools work best (and only, perhaps?) where students, teachers, and parents have a choice whether or not to use them. In a place like Lebanon, where there is only one high school, where students are forced to attend a school that utilizes a particular model of learning, there will be rebellion... and failure.

Look at it this way: Just as students have different learning styles (and parents have different preferences for their children; lord, even I am intimately familiar with this one in some painful ways), different school models work better for different students.

I have to admit that this feels incredibly obvious in hindsight, which makes me feel dumb as a rock.

Oh well.

In any case, I asked if he thought an academy system could ever work in Lebanon. He was skeptical, and suggested that the only possibility would be to build the schools separately - to create one from scratch, in other words, which would allow the most possible choice (he also suggested that adding multiple charter schools would be beneficial or perhaps simply inevitable), not to convert and have a mixed campus.

Maybe pessimistic would be a better word than skeptical.

Interestingly, he framed his argument within the discourse of "differentiated learning" and "school choice," both of which seem to be big buzzwords in education in the last decade.

Do I agree with this argument? Well..... at the moment, I'm feeling like it's particularly compelling. Certainly the point about needing even more buy-in when creating a single, closed system seems right. But I want to resist buying into the whole argument, because doing so requires.... what, exactly?

I think it requires that I stop believing in the current academy system, and I think I'm resisting that.


You can tell this is a free-form stream of (barely coherent) consciousness, but that's how it goes, I suppose.



Jen said...

The original argument for the academies was that small schools are great - which they are! However, post-academy system, LHS remains a large school (I'm guessing there is somewhere around 1500 students there, but at least 1200). But now it's a large school that is also segregated (and I'm sure you've noticed that segregation is largely by SES) and gives students less choice. You just can't fake it.

Jen said...

For non-sociology majors: SES = socio-economic status. Sorry. :)

Dennis said...

So how does this fare when it runs up against the argument that hybrid system (much like the old Core system, but extended to all four years) would be successful?

The two positions seem pretty conflicted to me.

Jen said...

For me, the Core system was all 4 years. Because I took advanced courses, I had all my classes with the same 80 kids or whatever. And to tell you the truth, I was isolated from all of my middle school friends (and forced to make new friends, which was good, but still... I don't like that isolating aspect - I never took ONE course with any of my circle of girlfriends from middle school).

I do think that an extended Core system would be much better than the current academy system. But I would like to see an arbitrary grouping of students. That would ideally create the need for better discipline policies in the classroom and school-wide. And big changes in curriculum (and hopefully staff). All of which (I think) would be good.

Anonymous said...

From Small Schools Project website:
The research base making the case for small schools is compelling. Student achievement goes up and the gap between poor students and their more affluent peers is narrowed. Students are known by their teachers, and as a result, discipline problems and dropout rates go down, while attendance goes up. The cost per graduate is lower in small schools compared to large comprehensive high schools.

I'm neither for nor against small schools but wonder why Jen thinks having four different choices gives students less choice?

I'm now going to search for negative feedback on small schools and will report back.

Dennis said...

Anonymous, I don't understand your comment about Jen suggesting that four schools leaves students with less choice.

But I can hazard a guess at something:

Jen's experience (which was also very much my experience) was that the Core system, and the "Advanced X vs. X" system created a de facto grouping of students who stayed together all four years.

This group was divided up by ability - tracked, in other words. And it was not all that common for a student to have trouble getting into the "advanced" track.

Ergo, Jen's suggestion about random groupings is, I suspect, designed to eliminate the problem of groupings becoming "tracks" that students will (correctly) read as being intelligence-based, with lower-level students living down to expectations.

Jen, it's a great idea - but what do you do when each academy is supposed to have a focus, and is therefore by definition not random?

Also, counter to this is the presentation given at a recent school board meeting wherein some teachers from Riverview had rediscovered the utility of breaking up a class by ability - i.e. how productive that was.

Given, this was a few classes and not a school, so there was a lot more flexibility for students to shift between leveled groups, but still. It gets at that tracking thing.

OK, enough ranting in the comments section for me. I'm going to bed.

Lebanon Truth said...

Actually, it was Pioneer, not Riverview.

Anonymous said...

Having choice is great--when it works out--but when it doesn't we will still want someone else to blame, just like we want to blame someone else because the Academies System is not perfect either. (Before the Academies how was it for the different High Schools here? Did we have the financial options to keep them all going? Was everything just peachy keen?)
School Choice is not a RIGHT, it is a vision.
Lots of school districts wouldn't consider it.
Lots of them can't afford it.
Lots of them don't want to have the problem with a "PIE"--like we have....
Lots of them would be really excited to be at the cutting edge of things, trying to make a difference, trying to make things better.
Apparently not Lebanon.

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