Big Schools or Small

My bias is for small schools.  This bias comes from experience not data.  I attended extremely small schools and had a great experience.  There is amble evidence that students can receive an excellent education at large schools, too.

There also are arguments to be made that large schools are more economically efficient.  Large schools are able to provide a much larger selection of courses and hold the line on overhead costs.  Many school districts have chosen to build very large schools.  Cherry Creek, one of the top performing districts in the state, tends to build schools with a capacity of 2,000 students.  We build schools designed for 1,200 students.  On the other hand, there is a movement known as the “Small School Movement” whose advocates – including Bill Gates – argue that no high school should be larger than 750 students.

Which is better?


4 Responses to “Big Schools or Small”

  1. Brad Jolly Says:

    John, I am not sure which is better. I went to a large high school (2700 students) with two buildings, either one of which was the size of Longmont or Skyline, and each building had its own pool. The football stadium and track were between the two buildings, so walking from one building to the other was a challenge in the Michigan winter. It was a very good school academically, athletically and musically. Having said all that, I have chosen to send my kids to very small schools. My two older daughters graduated from middle school with graduating classes of about 30 kids. They both now go to a high school whose entire enrollment is smaller than my graduating class was. That school also has proven to be a good choice. As you point out, large schools have some efficiency advantages, plus the advantage of being able to offer more programs, both academically and athletically. On the other hand, small schools have the advantage of personal attention and greater opportunity to participate at the varsity level in athletics without having to be a superstar. In short, I think there are arguments to be made in both directions. My first daughter is going to attend a college whose undergraduate enrollment is under 3,000. My second daughter is considering mega-schools, like Texas (Austin). I think both have made the right decisions for their goals and personal preferences, although they are very different.

  2. Brad Jolly Says:

    Two other thoughts come to mind. First, what are the funding assumptions? Are we assuming a constant level of funding when comparing the two scenarios? Second, are we sure that in the future “school” will continue be more of a noun than a verb?

  3. Kelly Meilstrup Says:

    My concern is not so much how large the whole school is — I think a large one would be far more efficient. My concern is actual class size. I want to know that my child’s teachers know who he/she is, and that those teachers are aware of how well my child is grasping the concepts being taught. I don’t want to wait until the report card comes out to find out my child is having a problem. The class needs to be small enough that the teachers can be approachable, by my child and/or myself, should the need arise, to discuss any difficulties my child may be having.

  4. Brad Jolly Says:

    Ms. Meilstrup, I completely agree with your goal that “teachers are aware of how well my child is grasping the concepts being taught,” and that you shouldn’t have to “wait until the report card comes out to find out my child is having a problem.” These issues are easily addressed with simple, inexpensive (or free) solutions that would save valuable teacher time. The problem with small classes is that teacher quality declines as you add more teachers. If you have “n” applicants for 1,000 positions, you can pick the top 1,000. If you have to reduce average class size by a third, you now have to hire applicants 1,001 through 1,500, which are people you would have previously rejected. I have a friend who teaches math in Singapore. She averages about 40 kids per class and says that is not uncommon over there. Singapore, however, leads the world in math. A key reason for the high quality is that Singapore has a real curriculum with real standards that have consequences for students.

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