Barbara Kent Lawrence argues that any school district in the nation can do what a charter school in Boston, a K-8 school outside Flagstaff, Ariz., and an island campus in South Carolina all have done: establish good, affordable small schools that help more students succeed.
A report by Ms. Lawrence, with help from several other small-schools researchers, outlines how just about any community can provide efficient and academically successful small schools.
“Dollars and Sense II: Lessons From Good, Cost-Effective Small Schools” was released Aug. 31 by its sponsors, including the Cincinnati-based KnowledgeWorks Foundation and the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports the development of small schools.
“I think small schools can work anywhere,” said Ms. Lawrence, who wrote a preceding report, “Dollars and Sense,” in 2002. She teaches research courses as an adjunct professor at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass.
Her report suggests that good small schools often have autonomy, strong leadership, and intensive community partners that support a well-defined mission. “You can have bad small schools, and if we aren’t careful, that’s what we may create, because people tend in this field to look to a panacea,” she said.
The 25 small schools profiled in the report cost an average of $1,677 less per student to run annually, compared with regular-sized campuses in the same districts.
“Dollars and Sense II” includes profiles of a family-like K-8 school near Lincoln, Neb.; an urban high school for the arts housed in nine separate buildings in Tacoma, Wash.; and an alternative school in Birmingham, Ala., that stresses job training for students who have left traditional public schools.
It also cites the Interdistrict Downtown School in Minneapolis as a small campus that serves students well, in a new building that was surprisingly affordable. The school enrolls about 500 students in grades K-12, and its site and construction cost about $14.2 million in 1999.
The four-story campus feeds off a network of local partnerships. “We have literally hundreds of volunteers coming in from downtown businesses or organizations who work with our students,” said Assistant Principal Maggie Berry.