Bigger and better

4,100 Students Prove 'Small is Better' Rule Wrong, by Sam Dillon, New York Times, September 27, 2010.

The “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” of big schools is that most are dropout factories, therefore all will be so. Enter Brockton High in Brockton, Massachusetts. Once known for a state exam pass-rate of about 25 percent and a drop-out rate of one in three, Brockton has seen stellar gains on test scores in recent years. That kind of transformation is every struggling school’s dream and the end goal of the turnaround initiatives funded by the rather plush federal School Improvement Grants. Yet Brockton’s secret potion for success omits all the regularly prescribed ingredients: breaking a big, unmanageable school into pieces, replacing the school leader and teachers, and infusing gobs of money. On the contrary, the recipe was simple: A small core group of teachers took one look at the “embarrassing” (in the words of one) 1999 test scores and decided it was time to go back to the basics. They incorporated reading, writing, and speaking into every class—even gym—and repurposed union-negotiated meeting times for strategic planning. Only one teacher was fired (though many were initially made uncomfortable by the new changes, the dynamic take-no-prisoners-but-be-nice principal won naysayers to her reform court)—and all the changes obeyed the union contract. What’s more, the school still has its 4,100 students.

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