Four years ago I had a decision to make. Should I attend the local public high school, where all of my friends were going? Or should my choice be to attend the new private, early college high school with an enrollment of only thirty students? I had been in a Christian school my whole life, and I thought it might be time for a change. However, I decided that going to the small private school would offer the best opportunity for growth academically, as well as better prepare me for life on a college campus. The decision I made was tough, and unpopular, but I can now say that it was definitely the right choice and well worth it. I have had incredible opportunities, which I would not have had if I had attended a large public high school. As a senior waiting for college acceptances and high school graduation, I decided to take a close look at what the experts have to say about school size and high school experience so that as I recruit new students to my high school, I can speak knowledgeably about proven benefits in addition to my own personal experience.
Optimum school size continues to be studied and debated. Experts argue that large schools offer more extra-curricular activities and a wider variety of classes, giving students more choice. While this can be true, large school goers often have less opportunity for meaningful participation in activities, due to the large number of participants and selectivity, and might be limited only to the classes which their schedule allows. Smaller schools offer more personalized schedules, so students can actually get into the classes they would like to take. At a small school, it is much easier to participate in activities, such as student council, where you are selected by fellow students, simply because students actually know each other. In a larger high school, participating in clubs and activities, such as yearbook, becomes much less hands-on. In a yearbook club of forty-five kids, it is very unlikely that each individual student will contribute to naming the yearbook or picking fonts and pictures. At a small school, where there might be ten kids developing the yearbook, the work is much more hands-on, and everyone’s talents and opinions are essential.
Small schools offer a much more comfortable learning environment, where students can be open and have a much more personal relationship with each other and their teachers. Students in this type of environment become comfortable speaking in front of each other and sharing their opinions. This alone will help students as they attend college or go into the workforce. They will have valuable experience giving presentations and speaking in front of groups, as they have developed this skill in high school. In larger schools, students generally are in classrooms with students who they do not know, which can make it uncomfortable when sharing opinions or giving input during discussions. In small schools, every student is accountable for their work and is expected to participate. Taking an AP subject in a class of five students is a much different experience than taking the same class with a group of fifty students. Not only is there more opportunity for asking questions and having relevant discussions, the teacher can provide meaningful feedback on essays and homework when having only a fraction of the papers to grade. I have found this to be the case in my experience. My AP teachers have been teaching me the mechanics of effective essay writing and analysis, simply because they have the time to carefully grade my work.
Critics of small schools argue that large schools have much more ethnic diversity. However, while having more ethnic diversity at a large school may be a good thing overall, statistics show that minorities and low-income students perform much better in small schools (Bracey).
Small schools come with many advantages. On average, small schools “raise student achievement”, “reduce incidents of violence and disruptive behavior”, and “combat anonymity and isolation and, conversely, increase the sense of belonging” (Bracey). Small schools tend to have smaller class sizes which allows a much more personal learning experience where teachers are able to pace classes based on the students’ understanding. Students are not simply present or absent, but held accountable for their presence. Because of this, small schools have much higher teacher satisfaction rates and and increase in attendance and graduation (Bracey).
The articles I used for my research are well respected and thought-provoking, and provide much research into the study of the effects of school size. “Big Schools: The Way We Are” by Rick Allen focuses on the advantages of large high schools, such as having a variety of classes. “Small Schools, Great Strides” by Gerald Bracey has a much different opinion of large schools and focuses more on the negative consequences of trying to teach too many students at the same time. Bracey also lists numerous researched advantages for attending a small school. “Bigger is not always better: 3 advantages of a small school” by Chirs Kurien reinforces some of the key points made by Bracey. His ideas sound like my personal experiences in a small high school, as I believe that attending University Christian High School has given me the confidence and tools to be successful at the early college level. Greg Toppo’s “Size Alone Makes Small Classes Better for Kids” talks about kids being confident in a small school and helps negate the myth that large schools help kids branch out and become more culturally diverse. Along with the confidence that I have gained from being at a small school, I am also comfortable with my teachers, as well as college professors, and this comes directly from meaningfully interacting and learning in the small school environment.
While I can’t say that a small high school is right for everyone, there is much research to support the academic and social advantages for those students who choose this path. I personally believe that a small high school provides a great environment for learning and personal growth, while developing confidence and the desire for setting and achieving goals.
Allen, Rick. “Big Schools: The Way We Are.” February. ASCD. Ed. Marge Scherer, et al. 7 December 2015. <http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb02/vol59/num05/Big-Schools@-The-Way-We-Are.aspx>.
“Big Schools: The Way We Are” by Rick Allen is a document from ascd.org. This document gives advantages to larger schools, which I found extremely important when defending “Small School Yields Big Opportunity”. Although Allen focus on large public high schools in large cities such as Bronx, New York and Chicago, Illinois, he does a great job encapsulating why bigger can be better. Allen uses class variety to his advantage when talking about foreign languages at Evanston Township High School. This school in Chicago’s “high-achieving” North Suburbs teaches the foreign languages of Latin, German, Hebrew, Japanese, and more (Allen). While having this wide array of classes is great, it doesn’t change that fact that trying to get into one of these classes with a high school of 3,100 kids might be difficult.
Having a large high school with personal relationships between teachers and students is difficult and nearly impossible. Evanston however has figured out a way to try and mitigate this problem. I found it interesting to know that this large high school has “home bases where a teacher meets with the same group of 15 students, diversified by race, each morning for the four years of high school” (Allen). This is an interesting aspect of a large high school, not only because it is rare, but it is similar to a practice we have at my small high school. While it is great that Evanston is doing this, it creates a personal relationship between the student and only one of the many teachers he or she will have throughout high school.
Bracey, Gerald W. “Small Schools Great Strides.” Phi Delta Kappan January 2002: 413-414. GreatSchools Staff. How important is school size? n.d. 22 Novembor 2015.
“Small Schools, Great Strides” by Gerald W. Bracey, is a great article that addresses the advantages of smaller schools and some of the negatives of larger schools. This article comes from the reputable Phi Delta Kappan website that was accessed with my principal’s login credentials. Bracey breaks down specific key points that support smaller schools. He writes a lot about violence and behavior problems that are distracting in larger schools. In my introductory essay I included the advantages of smaller schools that Bracey writes about, these advantages range from student achievement to teacher satisfaction.
Kurien, Chris. (2014, April 2). Bigger is not always better: 3 advantages of a small school . Retrieved Novembor 17, 2015, from The American Prospect: http://www.theprospect.net/bigger-is-not-always-better-3-advantages-of-a-small-school-18966
In “Bigger is not always better: 3 advantages of a small school” by Chris Kurien, three valuable advantages to going to a smaller school are given. Kurien says the first advantage of a smaller school is the personal relationships with the teacher. He says when the classrooms are small, “the teachers have time to get to know” the students (Kurien). Students will feel closer to teachers, and be able to trust them. Students will be able to have outside of the classroom conversations with the teachers. Kurien’s second advantage is that students have many more opportunities for leadership. In a larger school, many people run for one position, and many people miss out on these opportunities. However, in a smaller school, few kids run for positions, and there is plenty of room to join clubs. Kurien’s third advantage to a smaller high school is that you get to know a variety of people. At a large high school, you may walk down the hallways and know only a few people, while at a smaller high school, you know most of the people and have a stronger sense of community.
Toppo, G. (2008, March 24). Size alone makes small classes better for kids. USA Today , 1-1.
In “Size alone makes small classes better for kids”, Greg Toppo discusses the advantages to a smaller learning environment. He talks about how kids are more comfortable in a smaller environment, work well together in small groups, and can spend more time one-on-one with the teacher. Students are also better able to stay focused on their work.