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Small School Success

We applaud schools of any size that have made significant progress and have raised graduation rates to new heights. The research group MDRC published Transforming the High School Experience: How New York City’s New Small Schools are Boosting Student Achievement and Graduation Rates, which reports on a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-supported study that showed small schools’ recent success. “This report presents encouraging findings from that study,” says MDRC, “providing clear and reliable evidence that, in roughly six years, a large system of small public high schools can be created and can markedly improve graduation prospects for many disadvantaged students.”

At ERS, we have also seen small schools succeed, but we warn districts implementing small schools to be careful of the budget and resource implications. Many districts find they spend more per pupil to operate smaller schools—often in haphazard ways that will likely fail to improve student results. The small school designs that succeed deliberately organize people, time, and money to match their instructional vision. Without careful planning, small schools can deplete district resources from other schools.

If you’re developing or supporting small schools, here is a list of ERS tools and resources that should help with your planning:

By Design Not Default: Optimizing District Spending on Small High Schools
This paper and tool will help leaders understand and manage the drivers of small school spending.

Small Schools Tool
This tool will assist in analyzing the impact of the school design on budgets and schedules as well as other critical indicators such as class size, teacher load, and time spent on core academics. For school redesign the tool can model several years of resource allocation choices and then compare the results over time.

Strategic Designs
This report illustrates how nine high performing, small urban high schools across the U.S. are thinking about and organizing their resources strategically to best meet their students’ most pressing needs.


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