Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

More with Less: Urban Teacher Experiences in a New Small School

Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

More with Less: Urban Teacher Experiences in a New Small School

Article excerpt

Abstract

While reform options such as creating new schools seem tempting, they challenge the ills of public schools with new school creation under the same system. Of interest are the lessons that can be gleaned from teachers at a new small school that serves a Black American population. A theory on declining institutions was used to explore teachers' experiences and the feasibility of exit, voice, and loyalty as mechanisms of recuperation. Interview data concerning the benefits and challenges of working at a small school in a larger system illuminate the realities of changing a system from within. With an investigation of the lessons learned, the educational community was able to explore the viability of a Small School option as an effective way to provide an equitable, free education for non-White students in large urban school districts.

Introduction

Through school choice and privatization or site-based management, creating new small schools for underserved non-White students has gained popularity and philanthropic support (Au et al., 2005; Lipman, 2005). Across the United States in large districts such as those found in Los Angeles and New York City, over 400 new small schools are being created in an effort to reform and restructure public schooling options (Au et al., 2005; Bótas, 2003; CPS, 2004; Rethinking, 2005). In Chicago, a similar effort is occurring. With funding from the Gates Foundation, the Renaissance 2010 initiative in Chicago has a goal of creating 100 new, small schools in six years (Au et al., 2005; CPS, 2004; Lipman, 2005). All of these new schools will be in low-income areas replacing low-performing schools that mostly serve non-White students.

In order to investigate the issues associated with small schools, it is necessary to first define their structure, character, and outcomes. While the term "small school" does not have absolute numerical limits, these schools share the following characteristics: small size, preferably no more than 350 students in elementary schools; cohesive, self-selected faculty; substantial autonomy; coherent curricular focus that provides continuous educational experience; inclusive admissions; and positive academic and behavioral standards (Fine & Somerville, 1998). Development is a restructuring strategy aimed at the detachment between teacher and student that often occurs in the large school environments (Ayers, 1999; Ayers, Klonsky, & Lyon, 2000). The creation of smaller schools is requiring considerable changes in how school districts are organized and operated (Clinchy, 2000). In addition to improved outcomes for students, literature on small schools boasts improved outcomes for teachers and administrators (Goldhaber, 2001; Gottfredson, 1985; Gregory, 1992, 2001). Studies have found greater teacher satisfaction in smaller schools (Eberts, Kehoe, & Stone, 1984), as well as increased staff involvement (Gottfredson, 1985), school organization (Gregory, 1992), teacher influence, teacher beliefs, home-school relations, and professional growth (Gladden, 1998; Johnson, 1990). Teachers in small school settings generally report a greater sense of community than teachers in large schools (Christensen, 2005). Some studies show that students in small schools outperform students who attend schools with larger enrollments (Alspaugh & Gao, 2003; Kuziemko, 2006). In addition, a study of New York City public schools found that size and distribution of the gap in test scores across races were negatively correlated, implying that students in small schools experience fewer racial gaps within their schools (Stiefel, Schwartz, & Ellen, 2007).

As many new small schools are forming, it is vital that teachers' experiences be analyzed and more importantly, that they be taken into consideration for future educational policy endeavors (Christensen, 2005; CPS, 2004; Lipman, 2005). New and small schools face the challenge of using the same structures, staffing, and resources as regular public schools but with the expectation that they will produce exceptional results. …

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