NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Do Small Schools Improve Education?

October 12, 1999

From the era of Sputnik until quite recently, the trend in education has been to consolidate public schools and increase the size of the student body. Advocates of larger schools believed that greater size would reduce per-student costs while providing pupils with the advantages of apparatus and facilities that would simply be too expensive for smaller schools.

But in the 1990s, groups advocating smaller schools have sprung up -- contending that students get lost and feel forgotten if the educational environment grows too large. In schools with 2,000 pupils or more, teachers often see 150 or more children a day and lack the time to form bonds with them.

  • While there is no universal agreement on what size is optimal for a school, many small-school advocates contend that schools with 400 to 800 students are more workable.
  • In 1940, there were 200,000 elementary and secondary schools -- compared to 62,000 now.
  • Average enrollment back then was 127 students -- versus 653 per school today.
  • Small-school advocates can point to studies which show that holding down enrollment contributes to higher graduation rates, lower dropout rates, higher achievement and more parental involvement.

Small schools are springing up in New York City and Chicago, as well as elsewhere. Both cities are experimenting by dividing large schools into a handful of smaller schools -- while using the previous facilities.

Source: Tyce Palmaffy, "The Next Big School Reform: Size," Investor's Business Daily, October 12, 1999.


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