Jehlen, A., & Kopkowski, C. (2006). Is smaller better? NEA Today, 24(5), 24-30. Review of “Is Smaller Better?” For NEA Today, Alain Jehlen and Cynthia Kopkowski (2006) examine the current push for school reform in the form of the movement to smaller schools…
In their article, Jehlen and Kopkowski identify two major factors that are driving the push to disband large urban high schools in favor of small schools of less than 400 students. These factors are No Child Left Behind and large grants given by the Bill Gates Foundation. The article presents a brief overview of the positives and negatives of the small high school approach and then examines two sample high schools and presents interviews with the educators in these schools. One major issue the article does not address is the exact reasons that No Child Left Behind and the Bill Gates Foundation are causing such an impact on school reform. The authors mention that No Child Left Behind calls for increasing consequences for schools with lagging achievement and then state that these consequences force the schools to do something, regardless of what that something is but provide no additional details. Also, Jehlen and Kopkowski state that the Gates Foundation provides money to promote the building of smaller schools, but then contradict this information by revealing that the Foundation is no longer in support of smaller schools but is in support of more qualified faculty. A breakdown of the amount of money that the Gates Foundation donates to school districts would help the reader understand the amount of influence the foundation has. In the first of two high schools that are the focus of the article, the authors present Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kansas. The school was a large high school with discipline problems ranging from arson to assault. After breaking the school into small learning communities, discipline problems plummeted and test scores rose. Jehlen and Kopkowski interview several teachers who all agree that the reform was positive. The only problem with the analysis is that the authors present such an extreme case. Very few schools deal with arson and assaults on the faculty with any regularity. The teachers working in this school admitted that they did not want to return the next day to teach. With subjects such as these, the study is biased. In such a difficult school, teachers would vastly overestimate the value of any reform that had any positive results. Any reduction in behavioral problems would be lauded by staff and administration. The second high school that Jehlen and Kopkowski focus on is Life Academy in Oakland, California. In Oakland, the school budget is being cut and the school illustrates the negatives of moving to the small school format. The teachers are forced to teach multiple preps, there is very little variety in the curriculum, and there are very few extracurricular activities. The analysis of Life Academy suffers for the same reason as that of Wyandotte High School. Few systems are in the extreme budget crunch of Oakland, and teachers who are in underfunded schools are more likely to report negatives of any reform. So, it is unsurprising that the interviews that Jehlen and Kopkowski conducted at Life Academy were primarily pessimistic. Overall, I believe that the current idea in school reform is a move forward in technology. School districts are still attempting to create smaller schools, but the push is for online education. Smaller schools cost more in resources, personnel, and other factors. Online education is much cheaper and requires fewer resources than smaller schools. Since districts are now concerned with saving money, the current school reform is online ...
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