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10 Features of Good Small Schools: Redesigning High Schools, What Matters and What Works

By Linda Darling-Hammond Matt Alexander Donielle Price

Across the nation, there is a growing consensus that schools must change in fundamental ways if they are to accomplish the goals we now have for them: teaching our diverse student population for higher-order thinking and deep understanding. In answering this mounting call, a number of educators and policymakers believe that smaller school structures are the answer to best support teaching and learning. While small schools tend to be better for students, the size of the school alone does not determine whether it will succeed. In other words, small school sizes are helpful for learning but insufficient if not scaffolded with additional components to be optimally effective.

School designers are likely to be more successful if they can access the lessons learned from the reform efforts of the past several decades. A number of schools that have been extraordinarily successful and have helped other schools replicate their success have important lessons to offer based on the elements they have in common. This publication lays out 10 design features of effective small schools that help create the kind of education many of us want for all students: safe environments where exciting and rigorous academic work occurs in an equitable context—that is, a setting where all groups of students succeed academically, graduate at high levels, and go on to college and productive work. Each section of the report is accompanied by one or more profiles of small schools that put these features into practice and create powerful learning opportunities for their students.

The design features described in this report include school structures that promote meaningful, sustained relationships among teachers and students; curriculum and instructional practices that help all students achieve at high levels; approaches that ensure teachers are experts at their craft; and strategies for involving families in schools and making decisions democratically. While successful schools tend to include most or all of these elements, not all enact each feature in the precise manner described in this report. Rather, this report highlights that schools need to create means for enacting their goals that respond to their local contexts and work for their communities’ students, parents, and faculty members.


Posted with permission, Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education.