Archive for November, 2014

Small, Not Large

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Do you know that only 2000 schools in the United States produce 60% of the dropouts? Those schools can have about 3000 students each. The number accounts for middle and high schools since any statistician knows that students begin to drop out as young as 14.

The 2000 schools (often called dropout factories) are found in low-income neighborhoods where the students come from families with little education in their experience. The students have had poor academic success during the elementary school years so that by now they are below and far below on assessments for proficiency in math and reading. However, the National Education Association (NEA) has a lofty goal to create great public schools by 2020.

How will this happen? Here is an example. In New York City since 2002, large high schools have been remodeled to provide small high schools with academically rigorous curriculum and a personalized learning environment, long considered necessary to help poor-performing students improve. These small high schools, about 100 students per grade level, have reached their goal of increasing the number of students who graduate and go to college.

The nonprofit MDRC (Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation) with sites in New York City and Oakland, California, has reviewed data collected by the National Student Clearinghouse. The review has found that in spite of family income, race and ethnicity, and previous low academic achievement students from the small schools have graduated and gone on to college, four year college as well as community college. In addition, the small high school model costs less per student mainly because students do not need five years to graduate. Find out details of the model at www.MDRC.org.

Now, to ease the number of students who dropout by middle and high school, the emphasis on pre-school programs implemented in many states can address the issue. As of 2011 the federal and state governments have allocated $30 billion. However, children entering pre-schools from low-income families have shown poor literacy and math skills. In addition, programs want to avoid “fade out” of skills learned as has been noted for the premier pre-school project Head Start.

With its emphasis on services for low-income children, MDRC has research on a project focused on enhancement of social and emotional behaviors for small children. Teachers need resources, so the study programs have funding for professional development and coaching. The outcome leads to more instructional time in the pre-school day. The most important point of the study shows that pre-school youth read better by grade 3, a goal of the current federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), when their instructional time focuses on math. This means more than teaching shape names and counting and recognizing 1-20. Many pre-schools and daycare centers have opted for a model called Building Blocks based on views held by the National Science Foundation and that meet standards from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Young children manipulate hands-on materials and computer-based designs. For details:  http://gse.buffalo.edu/org/buildingblocks/index_2.htm.

We need to change our outlook. Small is the word whether size of the child or size of the school.