Research

If Small Is Not Enough...?: The Characteristics of Successful Small High Schools in Chicago

April, 2008
Authors: 
W. David Stevens
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This report describes the practices and characteristics of small high schools with better than expected freshman-year course performance. These schools were created by the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative (CHSRI), a partnership between the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and local foundations. Author W. David Stevens draws on both teacher and principal interviews and quantitative indicators across a sample of ten CHSRI schools.  The analysis identified three conditions found in schools with comparatively high student achievement -- strong teacher professional communities, deep principal leadership, and extensive teacher influence. CHSRI schools with high achievement also tended to provide a personalized and supportive environment for their students.

The study highlights that how adults work together in small schools is a crucial factor in raising student achievement. In particular, it suggests that collective work on improving instruction is a key lever for raising achievement.  The findings point to the benefits of balancing the direction and initiative provided by principals with teacher voice and leadership.  Yet because we know that reducing school size does not automatically lead to such developments, schools will need to intentionally focus on creating these key characteristics.

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