The Hobbit Effect – Part 9 and 10

9. Smaller districts mean less bureaucracy. Research also indicates that smaller schools perform better when they are in small districts than when they are part of larger districts, and that even larger schools perform better in smaller districts than in larger ones.

There are at least three possible reasons. First, most probably, similar dynamics operate between superintendents and school-building principals as with principals and teachers, and with teachers and their students. Smaller numbers translate to more personalization. Superintendents can individualize their supervision and support of school-level principals, since they know them well and understand the school context.

In addition, as stated previously, studies on effective policy implementation indicate that the scale of any organization makes a difference. It is much easier to effectively implement new strategies in smaller districts.

Lastly, some of the more recent literature about “small learning communities” stresses the importance of school-level autonomy Research on small learning communities suggest that school-level decision-making is associated with improved academic performance.

As a charter school, the Holden Rural Academy will have it’s own superintendent working with the principal and teachers, without additional levels of bureaucracy. They will be accountable directly to the charter board, which is made up of parents and community members.

10. More grades in one school alleviate many problems of transitions to new schools.

Grade-span or grade level configuration are two terms that define how many discrete grade levels are contained within one school building.

The practice of restructuring schools into institutions with a narrow grade-span has several consequences. First, as community-centered K-12 schools close, children are bussed longer distances to a district-wide school of the appropriate grade level.

In many cases, schools with more limited grade-spans are still small, though the “cohort size” (number of students in a particular school who are in the same grade level) may be large. For example, a 300-student middle school (grades 6-8) might have an average of 100 students in each cohort. A 300-student K-12 school, however, would have only 23 students in each cohort.

In the conclusion to this article the authors state: The ongoing battle to close smaller schools is unnecessary and irrational. Small schools are intrinsically disposed to offer educational and social advantages for children. To expend energy on closing these schools diverts energy and focus from strengthening them…and worse, wrenches community-centered schools from their communities and children from the schools that will have the most likelihood of meeting their needs.

Excerpted from a report entitled The Hobbit* Effect: Why Small Works in Public Schools. The report focuses on attributes of small schools where there is a general consensus in the research about their positive impact for kids. They believe that good schools, close to home are the right of every child. In rural communities, that means keeping small schools open and making them the best schools they can be. They want to dispel the illusion that bigger is better. I’ll share their perspective on each of the Ten Research-Based Reasons Why Small Works. “The Hobbit Effect: Why Small Works in Public Schools,” by Lorna Jimerson

*The main characters of JRR Tolkien’s books, Hobbits are small in size, but huge in courage and unrelenting in their focus on attaining their goals. In addition, they fully appreciate their rural roots and gladly return home when their quest is fulfilled.

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