Term of Art: Small School Movement

“small schools movement: A movement initiated in the 1970s, mainly in New York City, to establish small schools. Some of these schools were alternative schools for adolescents in need of intensive remediation, whereas others set out to demonstrate that students would get a better education in schools containing fewer than 500 students. Interest in the small schools movement was propelled by pioneers Deborah Meier and her Central Park East schools in East Harlem in New York City and Theodore Sizer and his Coalition of Essential Schools. The movement continued to grow during the 1980s and 1990s and gained momentum with the commitment of $1 billion by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the late 1990s. With funding from the Gates Foundation, many cities across the United States agreed to divide their high schools into small schools. Advocates claim that small schools offer a warmer, more personalized climate than do large schools and consequently boast higher achievement, attendance, and graduation rates. Critics contend that the small schools are unable to mount a strong curriculum with advanced courses and that the administrative costs of small schools are excessive, the burden on teachers is greater, and the academic results are uncertain.”

Excerpted from: Ravitch, Diane. EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2007.

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