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President's Corner                                           Page 40

 

Technology Balances

Difference Between Large,

Small Schools 

 

BY BENNY L. GOODEN

 Benny Gooden

Since the middle of the last century, most states have addressed the topic of school district reorganization, school consolidation, efficiency studies or whatever they have chosen to call the large school/small school debate.

Researchers long have played “dueling data” to either support closing small schools in the name of efficiency or to cite their continuing value as a vital educational delivery system.

Those who disparage the efficacy of small schools articulate a series of arguments in favor of larger administrative units. Some see a need for a richer curriculum that will afford students more academic opportunities. Others note the greater specialization that teachers and support staff can provide in a larger setting.

Of course, reducing the number of administrative units is always a priority as states attempt to meet legal standards for providing equitable resources to school districts. This factor is especially important in those states without fiscally dependent county systems that conform to other legal standards.

Opposite the “bigger is better” movement are the proponents of small, often rural, school districts with their tight-knit communities. These advocates bring an intense emotional appeal, citing strong community support. Close ties among teachers, parents, students and the public are unquestionably one of the greatest strengths of small schools.

A relatively narrow curriculum is often offset as each student is truly connected to the school through abundant participation and leadership opportunities. A lack of resources overall is generally offset by a community commitment to supplement state funding.

Research on academic effectiveness, student engagement, financial efficiency and community support presents conflicting findings. The results sometimes depend on the particular focus of the researcher or sponsoring organization. Some studies have looked at breaking large school districts/schools into smaller units, all with limited success. It sometimes appears the benefit of school size, like beauty, may lie in the eye of the beholder.

Despite the political, educational or ideological beliefs of proponents of change, the fact remains that the public — those paying taxes to support public education — appear to like the schools in their community. This affinity is especially strong in small cities and towns. If support for local schools is the measure for determining school success, the public already has cast its ballot, with small schools the winner.

Another factor supporting small schools is the vast geography of many rural states. Although parents acknowledge rural transportation is a reality of country living, many prefer small, local schools over long bus rides for their children.

With advances in virtual learning, online courses and other innovative instructional approaches, it is feasible to educate students in isolated settings with access to a rich curriculum. While the methodology differs from classroom delivery, the content and interaction can connect learners in remote settings to mainstream instruction. In fact, combining delivery methods enhances opportunities for learning.

Just as cellular telephone service has transformed communication for young and old, instructional technology will eliminate many of what are considered the disadvantages of small and isolated schools.

We must use the advances in technology to connect the most dynamic teachers in each content area to thousands of eager students. Bringing instructional best practices to individuals and groups using the latest communication tools will make the large school versus small school debate unnecessary and will help all students to experience the very best teaching.

Benny Gooden is AASA president for 2012-13. E-mail: bgooden@fortsmithschools.org

 

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