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Small Is Beautiful

Bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to managing and funding state school systems. In an analysis that appeared in the June/July issue of Educational Researcher, Herbert Walberg and his son, Herbert Walberg 3rd, examined data from 38 states in an effort to explore possible links between school size and student achievement. They looked at the average sizes of schools and districts in those states, the states’ share of school costs, and 8th graders’ mathematics scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Their conclusion: States with larger schools and districts—and states that pay a larger share of education spending—tend to have lower student achievement. This holds true, the researchers say, even after taking into account socioeconomic factors and per-pupil spending. “To some extent, educators have imitated business people,” says the elder Walberg, a research professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his son is a doctoral student in educational psychology. “It was thought at one time that bigger business would be better, and it was thought that it would be cheaper.” But, for schools, the Walbergs’ report concluded, “the centralizing trends of the past half-century point in the wrong direction.”

A Good Investment

Graduates of the acclaimed Central Park East Elementary School in New York City are more “cost effective” than peers who attend other East Harlem schools, a new analysis suggests. Founded in 1974 by principal Deborah Meier, Central Park East Elementary has already achieved national fame as an education success story. A study last year showed that the school’s first 117 graduates, who were largely poor and members of minority groups, went on to earn high school diplomas and attend college at much higher rates than students at the city’s other public elementary schools. The new study, conducted by researcher Paul Tainsh for the New York-based Bruner Foundation, takes those findings a step further. Tainsh calculated the societal costbenefits of Central Park East Elementary students’ success and compared them with similar data for East Harlem students who graduated from other public elementary schools. He found that the per capita costs of educating students at Central Park East were no higher than they were on average for the entire school district. Moreover, because 10 years later more of those students had high school diplomas or were attending college, they could expect to earn $624,000 more than their peers over the course of their working careers. Tainsh also figures that Central Park East graduates will cost society less in public-assistance, incarceration, and health care expenses.

Peer Review

Disadvantaged and minority students are often underrepresented in school programs for the gifted. To remedy that problem, researchers are continually testing new ways to identify gifted students. One such method that has been bandied about is to ask students to name classmates they think are smart. But so far, little evidence suggests that such judgments produce valid or reliable nominations. Recently, however, researchers working with the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, based at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, tested one peer-nomination tack that shows promise. The form, developed by Anne Udall, consists of 10 questions that address gifted behaviors in areas ranging from creativity in play, music, and art to general intelligence. Students were asked, for example, “What boy or girl learns quickly but doesn’t speak up in class very often?” Researchers from the center gave the form to 555 4th, 5th, and 6th graders from three school districts in Arizona and Texas with large Hispanic enrollments. Then the form was administered a second time to the same group six weeks later. On both tries, students’ opinions were highly consistent. This was true for both the overall results and for individual questions. Moreover, researchers found no significant differences between nominations of white students and those of Hispanic students. “While we suggest further study of this instrument using samples that reflect cultures other than Hispanic,” the researchers write in the center’s spring newsletter, “our analyses of the reliability and validity of this instrument, as well as of the gender and race issues, suggest promise.”

Vol. 06, Issue 01, Page 21

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