Continuum of small school reform



When school designs are viewed in light of a continuum, it becomes apparent that some designs are more able to adjust to meet the needs of learners. At one end are designs that make it very easy and inviting to operate a conventional comprehensive high school, characterized by a large number of course offerings available to students, a high degree of specialization on the part of teachers, and low personalization. At the other end of the continuum are designs that make it very easy to provide high personalization — perhaps individual learning programs rather than courses as the primary learning mode. Such designs lead to intimate learning communities of one hundred or fewer students, with the primary adult role becoming that of advisor rather than teacher. Leaders must be intentional as to where their schools will fall on the small school continuum. Issues of autonomy, control over instructional programs, budget, and personnel must all be considered, as every step along the small schools continuum becomes increasingly more difficult to execute. Perhaps that is because the comprehensive school experience is so deeply embedded in the American psyche. Nostalgic thinking for “what was” exerts a gravitational pull back to the familiar. In recent years educators have organized advisory periods, implemented block schedules, worked to integrate the curriculum, offered grade-level house systems, and developed theme-based academies — all in an effort to improve student learning. Yet given a proclivity to perpetuate the familiar, the forces of nostalgic gravity seem to pull the system back to the “reset” position of a comprehensive school. Additional work has been done by Stanford University, borrowing from Victoria Bergsagel's model (above). Click here to download a Word document of the Stanford Continuum.