The quality of the education in America yields some alarming statistics that simply cannot be ignored:
- Fewer than 1/3 of all 8th graders in the US scored ‘proficient’ or better for their grade level on national reading, math and science tests in 2005
- Some states had as few as 1 in 7 students achieve proficient scores
- No state achieved even the 50% level.
Why are we doing so poorly?
One reason commonly heard, is that classes are too large. Teachers don’t have the time to provide individualized attention when they’ve got kids stacked up to the rafters in their classrooms.
There are large differences in student/teacher ratios among the states. In 2004, public school student/teacher ratios varied by a factor of two, or 100%, from a low of 11.3 in Vermont, to a high of 22.6 in Utah. That sounded like a big difference to us, until we looked at the difference in test score performance among the states.
Using the percent of test-takers that scored ‘proficient’ or higher for their grade level on their tests, we discovered a vast gulf between the high and low-scoring states:
- 4th (and 8th) grade reading proficiency ranged from a low of 18% in Mississippi, to a high of 44% in Massachusetts.
- 4th grade math proficiency levels were virtually the same, from a low of 19% in Mississippi, to 49% in Massachusetts. 8th grade math scores were slightly lower, ranging from 14% in Mississippi (and New Mexico) to 43% in Massachusetts and Minnesota.
- 4th grade science proficiency levels were even lower, from just 12% in Mississippi, to 40% in Virginia.
- 8th grade performance was slightly higher, ranging from 14% in Mississippi to 43% in North Dakota.
Compelling evidence demonstrates that reducing class size, particularly for younger children, has a positive effect on student achievement overall and an especially significant impact on the education of disadvantaged children. The American Federation of Teachers is a strong advocate for reducing class size to help raise student achievement, especially in high-poverty, at-risk schools. In addition to increasing student achievement, smaller classes:
- Improve classroom atmosphere, students receive more individualized attention and teachers have flexibility to use different instructional approaches/assignments.
- Have fewer students to distract each other; lower level of noise.
- Enable teachers to know the students better and can offer more extra help; recognize learning problems/special educational needs.
- Have fewer discipline problems. By spending less time on discipline, teachers report spending more time on instruction.
As the name indicates, size is one determining characteristic of a small school, yet small schools are about much more than size. The concept of small schools is based on the premise that, in contrast to large, factory-model schools, small schools can create a more intimate learning environment that is better able to address the needs of those within the school. Students, teachers, and parents may all be better served if the school is small enough to allow for communication to flow, opportunities for collaboration to be cultivated, and meaningful relationships to be fostered.