Monday, June 23, 2008

Small Isn't Beautiful

To Bill and Melinda at Oregon's high schools:
Oregon's highly touted small high schools this month graduated their first class of students who spent all four years in intimate academies intended to revolutionize the big American high school.

Armed with $25 million from billionaire Bill Gates and other education reformers, backers of small schools heralded the academies as the best way to curb high dropout rates, forge connections to keep teenagers on track and prepare every graduate for college. Four years into that effort, however, the small schools have yet to deliver on those promises.

Instead, their statistics look a lot like results from the lumbering, impersonal high schools they are supposed to replace. Lots of students quit, and most of the graduates aren't ready for the rigors of college.

At Marshall and Roosevelt high schools in Portland, which each house three academies, about half of the students didn't make it to graduation. That's the same low graduation rate as when they were two big schools instead of six small academies.

....Oregon's small-schools initiative was launched in 2004 with grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Meyer Memorial Trust. Nationally, the Gates Foundation has donated more than $1 billion to create and support small academies.

Eleven big high schools got grants of about $1 million each to break into academies of fewer than 400 students each. Two schools have since backed out.

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