In Praise of Smaller Schools

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

A new study links school size — not class size, but school size — with performance:

One of the most wide-ranging reforms in public education in the last decade has been the reorganization of large comprehensive high schools into small schools with roughly 100 students per grade. We use assignment lotteries embedded in New York City’s high school match to estimate the effects of attendance at a new small high school on student achievement. More than 150 unselective small high schools created between 2002 and 2008 have enhanced autonomy, but operate within-district with traditional public school teachers, principals, and collectively-bargained work rules. Lottery estimates show positive score gains in Mathematics, English, Science, and History, more credit accumulation, and higher graduation rates. Small school attendance causes a substantial increase in college enrollment, with a marked shift to CUNY institutions. Students are also less likely to require remediation in reading and writing when at college. Detailed school surveys indicate that students at small schools are more engaged and closely monitored, despite fewer course offerings and activities. Teachers report greater feedback, increased safety, and improved collaboration. The results show that school size is an important factor in education production and highlight the potential for within-district reform strategies to substantially improve student achievement.

Why exactly do we bus American children to concrete-and-steel institutions again?


  1. David Foster says:

    I saw studies saying the same thing several years ago.

    It is bizarre to have high schools with more students than an auto assembly plant has employees.

  2. Borepatch says:

    Correlation or cause?

  3. Grasspunk says:

    We just picked a collège for our eldest (middle school in France), and when asking advice around the locals the number one factor mentioned was school size, so the Gascons seem to know about this.

    As an aside, they name their schools well in France. This one is named after Jean Rostand. Another choice, although with twice as many students, was named after the amazing Saint-Exupéry.

  4. Isegoria says:

    The study compares students who won the entrance lottery with those who entered but lost, so the remaining question is which elements of the smaller school led to better performance.

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