To the Editor:
Your article “Failed Breakup of H.S. in Denver Offering Lessons” (March 15, 2006) should be required reading for everyone at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The article casts doubts on whether small schools are the answer to what ails secondary education today.
But, according to the article, the Gates Foundation remains optimistic about the reform strategy. Tom Vander Ark, the foundation’s executive director of education initiatives, is quoted as saying that for small schools to succeed, they need a commitment from above and talented leaders.
A sidebar summarizing the Colorado Children’s Campaign’s recommendations for converting large high schools delves deeper: It says small schools need, among other things, flexible supports for students, such as tutoring and counseling; faculty advisers who are responsible for no more than 20 students; and, of course, even more money. But if officials of the Gates Foundation were to sit down and really think about it, they would realize that these are the same things that big schools need. So why the rush to break them up?
As an educator, I like the fact that Bill Gates is donating money to public education. But I think there is a better way to spend the money, and that is by building up a vibrant program of adult education throughout the country. Neighborhood schools would be an excellent venue for such learning. My belief is that former students would once again walk education’s hallowed corridors if they knew there would be a supportive environment through which they could retool and better themselves. Maturity has much to do with this.
It is in this direction that the Gates Foundation could have the most positive effect in allocating its resources.
Forest Hills, N.Y.