As a parent with two children attending Clover schools, I have closely followed the public jousting related to the recent Clover School District bond referendum.
In regards to a “super-sized” high school, the opponents have recited research from such noted sources as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Unfortunately these recitations do not paint the complete picture of studies related to school size and achievement. Hoping to come to my own conclusion, I found muddled conclusions regarding the impact of school size on educational success, and not the definitive correlation the opponents espouse.
As an example, a national study performed by the Brookings Institute, and supported financially by the Gates Foundation, concludes when it comes to high school size, smaller might not be better. The lead researcher states her data does not support efforts to pare down high schools to establish smaller, more personal learning environments.
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“In an effort like this you are dismantling large high schools and putting money into creating small high schools. And we can’t afford to continue down this path without serious and rigorous assessment of this thing,” she states in “Smaller Not Necessarily Better, School Size Study Concludes,” Education Week, May 23, 2006. Further the researcher cites the negative impact of the small-school movement on school-sponsored athletic teams, which help keep marginal students in school.
I acknowledge there are studies with conclusions different from this position. However, to proclaim the inverse correlation of school size and academic achievement as clear cut is plain misleading. Bill Gates wavered on his support for efforts to reduce class sizes, and has recently focused on making teachers more effective as his foundation’s top priority.
His conclusion comes as a result of studies he funded with the intent to prove a positive impact of smaller schools on graduation rates. Gates states in his speech to American Federation of Teachers July 19, 2010: “Our work in schools began with a focus on making high schools smaller, in the hope of improving relationships and increasing student achievement ... the schools that made the biggest gains in achievement did more than structural changes, they also improved teaching.”
As a result of its own findings, the Gates Foundation has shifted focus from school size toward teacher effectiveness, strong curricula and effective technology solutions.
“We have found mounting evidence that the single most important factor in a successful school is effective teaching,” Melinda Gates states in her speech at the Foundation for Excellence in Education Summit Aug. 13, 2011.
The bottom line of any debate is trust. At the end of the day, I choose to trust the Clover administration and teaching staff with my children’s long-term educational well-being. The old adage says “history repeats itself.” If this is true, the Clover district will continue to arrive at solutions that provide an excellent education.
Mathew F. Menz is a resident of York.