Teaching in small schools ain't so easy

I was reviewing a federal evaluation report that came out last week on small schools (also known as schools within schools or small learning communities). The idea is that large high schools are made impersonal, in part, by sheer magnitude; thus, efforts should be made to cut down on class sizes as to render a more individualized and personal education to students. As most folks who follow ed policy know, the Gates Foundation has done the most in recent years to bring attention (and money) to this issue. So I was interested in what the researchers at Abt Associates had found.

Turns out that reading about the key study finding (i.e., most schools are creating freshmen academies and career academies) wasn't as interesting as another thing I noticed. And that is that most teachers received little more than three days of professional development per year related to teaching in small learning communities--these would be things like tailoring instruction to individual student needs. Talk to most any teacher and she will tell you that differentiating instruction based on student ability is one of the hardest things to do in a classroom; my former professor in graduate school, Dr. Carol Tomlinson, has written much about how to do this well. So I was struck that teachers participating in SLCs had received such paltry training in how to do what their school had presumably received a nice chunk of change to do.

It's unfortunately typical of ed reform programs. Schools receive funding to do Reform X but little in the way of training to do it well, or in helping get teachers on board to ensure that the reform is implemented with fidelity and good faith.

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