Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

Evolve or Die

September 01, 2003 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print
Small schools should be cultivated, not abandoned.

Two newspaper stories published this past June were oddly related. One was about a tragedy of sorts, the other a kind of triumph. On June 10, a federal judge refused to prevent the Clay County board of education in Alabama from closing Bibb Graves School. The 440-student, multiracial K-12 school is one of the latest to be sacrificed, in the name of efficiency, to consolidation—a questionable process that has been going on for more than half a century.

Bibb Graves students, teachers, and residents fought valiantly for two years to keep their school open. Twice they persuaded the board to reverse its decision. But in the end, like citizens in tens of thousands of small rural towns over the decades, they lost their school and, perhaps, the heart of their community.

Far to the north, in Midland, Pennsylvania, a very different kind of school was helping to breathe life into a small industrial town that has been struggling to survive since the steel industry collapsed in the early 1980s. About the time Bibb Graves was graduating its last class of seniors, the Western Pennsylvania Charter Cyber School was celebrating its third commencement, awarding degrees to 86 seniors.

The Western Pennsylvania school is one of 67 cyber schools in 17 states enrolling about 16,000 students. It has grown from 500 to 1,200 elementary and secondary students in three years, and now, with 140 full- and part-time jobs and 80 certified teachers, it is one of the largest employers in the 3,300- resident community.

The very existence of charter cyber schools raises the question of why Bibb Graves had to close. Given the almost limitless potential of technology and the successes of small, innovative schools, closing a school like Bibb Graves has to be seen as a failure of imagination.

The main rationale for closing or consolidating rural schools is that they are so small, they don’t have enough teachers qualified to cover all academic subjects. The problem is even worse now that states have mountains of documents detailing what every student should know as they plod through the grades.

The closing of Bibb Graves suggests that we have become so committed to the ancient and inefficient educational delivery system of the conventional school that we would rather close it than change it. Faced with the extinction of their school, why couldn’t the Clay County board and the people of Bibb Graves conceive of another way to educate their children?

For a modest investment, classrooms can be stocked with computers and wired to the Internet. Indeed, governors have been striving to outdo each other in “technologizing” schools and expanding distance-learning programs. Simulation, computer games, Internet courses, chat rooms, and CD-ROMs enable students to do nearly everything in a classroom; they can dissect a frog on the computer, conduct science experiments, learn languages, track weather patterns, study poetry read aloud by the poets themselves, and carry on discussions with experts across the globe. To anchor the virtual world in a real-world context, a school could arrange internships for students in nearby towns and involve them in group projects, field trips, and educational travel.

Communities across this country, persuaded by research and experience, are creating innovative small schools because they believe such schools are a better and more effective way to educate today’s children. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other philanthropies are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the effort.

Simultaneously, in their inimitable and bewildering fashion, the policymakers and politicians who rushed to get technology into schools are consolidating small schools into larger ones and continuing to build big new schools that will never use technology to the fullest. Go figure.

—Ronald A. Wolk


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management 10 Ways to Tackle Education's Urgent Challenges
As the school year gets underway, we ask hard questions about education’s biggest challenges and offer some solutions.
2 min read
Conceptual Image of schools preparing for the pandemic
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Reported Essay Principals Need Social-Emotional Support, Too
By overlooking the well-being of their school leaders, districts could limit how much their schools can flourish.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management From Our Research Center Educator Stress, Anti-Racism, and Pandemic Response: How You're Feeling
A new nationally representative survey offers key takeaways from teachers, principals, and district leaders.
EdWeek Research Center
1 min read
2021 BI COVER no text DATA crop
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Download 8 Tips for Building a Digital Learning Plan That Conquers Chaos
Craft flexible strategies, encourage experimentation with new instructional models, and regularly solicit feedback.
1 min read
onsr edtech tips
Getty