NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Smaller is Better

March 28, 2003

It is often presumed that large schools -- high schools in particular -- offer a more diverse curriculum and more opportunities at a lower cost. However, mounting evidence indicates that neither of these assertions is true. In fact, comprehensive research shows that small schools are superior to large schools on most measures and equal to them on the rest, according to researchers Hanna Skandera and Richard Sousa.

A comprehensive review of 103 studies revealed the following:

  • The academic achievement of students in small schools is at least equal to, and often superior to, that of large schools.
  • A recent study documenting Chicago's small-school reform implementation, which included approximately 150 schools, showed improved standardized test scores or average test scores holding steady despite more students taking the test.
  • No available research suggests that large schools are superior to small schools in their achievement effects.

Also evident is marked improvement in achievement among ethnic minority students and students of low socioeconomic status (SES).

  • A July 1997 study reported that "disadvantaged students in small schools significantly outperformed those in large ones on standardized basic skills tests."
  • A study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research found that, "for both reading and math, small schools produce greater achievement gains than larger schools holding demographic and teacher characteristics constant."
  • A study in 2000 showed that small schools helped close the achievement gaps between less-affluent students and their wealthier counterparts.

Student attitudes toward school in general and particular school subjects are more positive in small schools. Furthermore, research indicates that the attitudes of low-SES and minority students benefit greatly from attending smaller schools.

Smaller schools produce positive results. America should take notice of the impact smaller schools are making.

Source: Hanna Skandera and Richard Sousa, "Smaller is Better," Winter 2003, Hoover Digest, Hoover Institution.


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