NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are Smaller High Schools The Key To Stopping Violence?

April 19, 2000

Some education theorists contend larger schools lead to alienation and make violence more likely to occur. Their prescription is to break up large student bodies into smaller clusters.

U.S. Department of Education data confirms that high schools in the U.S. are getting bigger, in terms of student populations. The proportion of high schools that have enrollments above 1,000 students has risen from 34 percent in 1990 to 40 percent currently. And the number of students in high schools with enrollments over 1,000 has risen to 71 percent from 64 percent in 1990.

Twenty-five percent of U.S. high schools have enrollments exceeding 2,000.

Clustering experiments -- also known as "schools within schools" -- are already underway and supporters of this approach point to encouraging results. Clusters generally range from 400 to 800 students.

  • A 2,000-student school in Baltimore separated students into five "academies," each with a separate principal, class schedule and entrance -- with the result that whereas 45 percent of teachers had rated violence a big problem before the change, only 4 percent did so after five years.
  • Fighting incidents dropped 58 percent and disrespectful behavior declined 36 percent after a school in a Dallas suburb assigned students in groups of 12 to 15 to advisers who meet with them regularly.
  • Participation in sports and clubs grew after a Chicago school with 3,800 students broke them up into three "houses" -- with freshmen meeting weekly in groups with advisers and upperclassmen.
  • Since 1996, 1,500 schools have initiated such programs.

Source: Editorial, "To Cope With Violence, Schools Divide and Conquer," USA Today, April 19, 2000.


Browse more articles on Education Issues