Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Smaller Schools in Philly


Philadelphia school officials today gave the School Reform Commission an outline of plans for new and smaller city high schools.

The School District wants to reduce the size of its poorly performing neighborhood high schools in favor of smaller campuses that have proven more successful in urban areas.

Currently, officials said 15 such schools are in progress with 13 more slated in coming years.

In addition, officials said they will more magnet schools for gifted students and those interested in specialized academic subject areas.

I am of a few minds about this. As someone who has experienced tiny schools (as in 100 people total, k through 8) as well as some big ones (2000 plus person high school), I have seen both sides of the spectrum. But frankly, while I liked the small school, I don't think that in of itself makes for a good school. I would be more interested in what the class size is at those schools. You can have a high school with only 500 people, but if there is one teacher for 33 kids, as is the Philly High School norm, I don't know how much of an impact it will have.

People always say that high-rise public housing causes problems, and to a certain extent that is true. But, at the same time, if you simply demolished a high-rise, and split the people up into two or three communities, would all the problems be solved? I don't think so, because you are not tackling things like poverty, crime, access to jobs, etc. Similarly, if you think that simply splitting schools up makes them better without attacking the core problem, I don't know that you will see much improvement.

That said, I don't know a whole hell of a lot about education. Anyone out there with more experience/knowledge have any thoughts?


At 11:18 PM, Blogger Charles said...

You are so right. What was great about PL was, well, PL, and it wasn’t because it was small, but it needed to be small in order to do that.

You are also right about the projects. The ones down the street from where we grew up are actually run pretty well now, and they aren’t really a problem. Meanwhile, there were townhouse type ones in East Falls that had to be replaced because of lack of management. They were also in proximity to a monstrosity of a high rise. Let’s just hope that the homes there now will thrive and not screw with housing values. If not, I would hate to be one of those yuppies that spent over 100K to live in a fancy row home.

At 4:51 PM, Blogger ACM said...

I can't claim more experience, but I did read another piece about this that said that, while smaller schools don't make a difference across the board, they do make a difference for the schools that are currently worst off. It has to do with the increased degree to which teachers can get to know the students in their school, as much as it does on class size (which I think would also be reduced under this plan)...

At 9:40 PM, Blogger DanielUA said...


Are you sure about the class size thing? That would involve hiring more teachers, which I have not heard anything about at all. If it was true though, it would certainly be wonderful.

At 6:40 AM, Anonymous Steve said...

I happen to go to the largest public high school in the state (Upper Darby, 4000 students), but class sizes are generally kept pretty low; I can't think of any class I've had with more than 30, and most of mine have been under 20. I would have to say the only real difference a smaller school size makes is that it's less crowded in the hallways, which is the biggest problem at UD.

At 10:42 AM, Blogger Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg said...

To me the biggest difference would be the crowd mentality that takes over anytime you put together a lot of people into very large crowds. In general, people do things in large crowds that they wouldn't do on their own and I think that larger schools run greater risks of fostering gangs or cliques then smaller schools. I would also add that at larger schools kids can dissapear more easily into the mass of students and drift by without being noticed.

The problem with a small class size, but a large school size, is that a student is only seen by a teacher once a day (sometimes twice) and so that teacher cannot evaluate the student's overall progress. In a smaller school environment, where the teachers know everyone, the students can be better monitored, and their needs better addressed.

That said I think we'd do much, much, much better if we shrunk the size of classes for the younger kids- 1st to 5th grade- when the skill sets that they will need for later achievment are set. If you look at Japan, I think you'll find a great model (minus the competition at the higher levels), where younger kids are kept in small, slightly structured classes (younger kids are encouraged to be active for most of the day), and each year the structure and class size increases until they reach the masses at the university level.


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