ERIC Identifier: ED401088
Publication Date: 1996-12-00
Author: Cotton, Kathleen
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Affective and Social Benefits of Small-Scale Schooling. ERIC Digest.
The school consolidation trend that began early in this century continues into the present, with both schools and districts becoming fewer in number and larger in size (Howley, 1994; Walberg, 1992). Today, high school enrollments of 2,000 and 3,000 are commonplace, and New York City has many schools with enrollments approaching 5,000.
Meanwhile, decades of research show that student achievement in small schools is at least equal--and often superior--to achievement in large schools (Fowler, 1995; Howley, 1994). Moreover, although it is often assumed that large schools are cheaper to operate and provide richer curricula than small schools, studies show that neither of these things is necessarily true (Gregory, 1992). In addition, a large body of research in the affective and social realms overwhelmingly affirms the superiority of small schools. This Digest describes that research.
Cotton (1996) noted several other characteristics of the research on school size:
Research on the affective and social effects of school size is extensive and highly consistent in its findings. Thus, assertions about these effects are offered with a high degree of confidence.
The research base on the outcomes of school-within-a-school arrangements is smaller and less conclusive. Assertions about them must therefore be regarded as somewhat tentative.
Since many small schools are in rural areas, some researchers have designed studies to find out whether it is the smallness or the ruralness of these schools that accounts for their positive effects. These studies reveal that it is the smallness of schools, regardless of setting, that is beneficial to students.
RESEARCH ON FEELINGS AND ATTITUDES
Sense of belonging. Research reveals that, compared to students in large schools, those in small schools experience a much greater sense of belonging--sometimes expressed as a lower level of alienation (Fowler & Walberg, 1991; Gregory, 1992; Stockard & Mayberry, 1992). Closely related to this finding is the higher quality of interpersonal relations found in small schools (Fowler & Walberg, 1991; Rutter, 1988). Rutter is representative in citing "evidence of increases in social bonding to teachers and school, self-esteem, academic self-concept, locus of control, and sociocentric reasoning" (p. 31).
Administrator and teacher attitudes. While less school size research has concentrated on teachers and administrators than on students, what findings there are favor small schools (Gottfredson, 1985; Gregory, 1992; Stockard & Mayberry, 1992). These studies focused on administrator attitudes toward work; teacher attitudes toward work, administration, and one another; and incidences of cooperation and collaboration among colleagues. Gottfredson (1985) notes that "large schools appear to promote negative teacher perceptions of school administration and low staff morale" (p. 39).
RESEARCH ON SOCIAL BEHAVIOR
Attendance and dropouts. Not only do students in small schools have higher attendance rates than those in large schools, but students who move from large schools to small, alternative secondary schools generally exhibit improvements in attendance (Fowler, 1995; Fowler & Walberg, 1991; Rutter, 1988). Regarding dropouts, the holding power of small schools is considerably greater than that of large schools.
Social disruption. "Behavior problems are so much greater in larger schools," report Stockard & Mayberry (1992, p. 47), "that any possible virtue of larger size is canceled out by the difficulties of maintaining an orderly learning environment." Studies on social disruption have investigated everything from truancy and classroom disorder to vandalism, aggressive behavior, theft, substance abuse, and gang participation. This social research all points to the same conclusion: Small schools have far fewer behavior problems than large schools (Gottfredson, 1985; Gregory, 1992; Rutter, 1988).
WHY SMALLER IS BETTER
Many practices common in small schools are in operation largely because they are much easier to implement and manage in small environments than in large ones. Looking at instructional practices in small schools, researchers find that teachers are more likely to form teaching teams, integrate their subject-matter content, employ multiage grouping and cooperative learning, and use performance assessments. Finally, small schools tend to exhibit greater emphasis on learning that is experiential and relevant to the world outside of school.
SCHOOL SIZE AND EDUCATIONAL EQUITY
If minority students must struggle more to achieve a solid public
education and if large districts and large schools find it increasingly
difficult to achieve solid educational results for their students, we
may be acting contrary to the interests of all concerned by organizing
our public education system in a manner which assigns high proportions
of minority youngsters to large schools within very large school
districts. (p. 152)
A growing body of research suggests that school-within-a-school plans have potential for producing results like those associated with small schools provided they are distinct administrative entities within the buildings that house them. "The major challenge to schools within schools," writes Mary Ann Raywid, "has been obtaining sufficient separateness and autonomy to permit staff members to generate a distinctive environment and to carry out their own vision of schooling" (1985, p. 455).
Fowler, W. J., Jr. (1995). School size and student outcomes. In H. J. Walberg (Series Ed.), & B. Levin, W. J. Fowler, Jr., & H. J. Walberg (Vol. Eds.), Advances in Educational Productivity: Vol. 5. Organizational Influences on Educational Productivity (pp. 3-25). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, Inc.
Fowler, W. J., Jr., & Walberg, H. J. (1991). School size, characteristics, and outcomes. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 13(2), 189-202.
Gottfredson, D. C. (1985). School size and school disorder. Baltimore, MD: Center for Social Organization of Schools, Johns Hopkins University. (ED 261 456)
Gregory, T. (1992). Small is too big: Achieving a critical anti-mass in the high school. In Source book on school and district size, cost, and quality. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota University, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs; Oak Brook, IL: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. (ED 361 159)
Howley, C. (1994). The academic effectiveness of small-scale schooling (an update). ERIC Digest No. RC-94-1. Charleston, WV: Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ED 372 897)
Jewell, R. S. (1989). School and school district size relationships: Costs, results, minorities, and private school enrollments. Education and Urban Society, 21(2), 140-153.
Lee, V. E., and Smith, J. B. (1996). High school size: Which works best, and for whom? Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York, NY.
Raywid, M. A. (1985). Family choice arrangements in public schools: A review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 55(4), 435-467.
Rutter, R. A. (1988). Effects of school as a community. Madison, WI: National Center on Effective Secondary Schools. (ED 313 470)
Stockard, J., & Mayberry, M. (1992). Effective educational environments. Newbury Park, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.
Walberg, H. J. (1992). On local control: Is bigger better? In Source book on school and district size, cost, and quality, pp. 118-134. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota University, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs; Oak Brook, IL: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. (ED 361 164)
Williams, D. T. (1990). The dimensions of education: Recent research on school size. Working Paper Series. Clemson, SC: Clemson University, Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs. (ED 347 006)