'Small Schools' fiasco in Chicago, too?

Just how big was the mess at the Austin ‘Entrepreneurship Academy’ during the 2006-2007 school year?

Did administrators at the small schools at South Shore High School really allow teachers to give credits for anything, no matter what the teacher’s certification?

What happened to the ‘Leftover’ kids who weren’t taken into the more prestigious Small Schools at Bowen High School?

For more than a decade, Chicago has promoted the “Small Schools” concept, and the concept is even enshrined into policy. Despite reality, Chicago is now supposed to allow elementary schools to be no larger than 500 students. High Schools are supposed to be no larger than 1,000 students.

Nobody on the Chicago Board of Education ever asked why Chicago’s minority communities need “small learning communities,” while the advantages of scale were available to affluent suburban high school districts. Some of these suburban schools (like Stevenson in Lincolnshire) have more than 4,000 students and are rated as among the best in the USA. Is the "Small Schools Model" and the supposed "personal press" it brings a 21st Century form of "separate but equal"?

The Small Schools Movement (and it was in all-cops when discussed) in Chicago has more than enough time to show whether or not this fad is the solution to urban school problems. Instead of being scrutinized, however, "small schools" are simply mandated for districts the serve large numbers of minority students — from San Diego to Chicago to New York City.

But reality may require require that large urban school districts like Chicago, San Diego, and New York City (which is currently on a “Small Schools” rampage) really have to face the fact that urban education for the poor (the majority of whom are from minority groups in the major cities of the USA) is much more complex a problem than it was made out to be when the first “Small Schools” propaganda was penned nearly 20 years ago.

An earlier version of this article was published in the December 2007 print edition of Substance.


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