Sunday, April 26, 2009

Local District Insanity?

We've all heard the definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Exhibit A:

Sacramento City Unified School District announced plans Friday to expand a 6-year-old program to reform its high schools, despite signs that the effort is struggling.

They're implementing the "small schools" fad:

The small schools are designed for no more than 500 students and are centered around unique themes such as health and engineering.

The new initiative, called Multiple Pathways, calls for the district to incorporate those themes not just in elective classes, but also in the basics, such as English and math.

While that sounds great, I don't know of any evidence that shows that such an expensive program works. The Gates Foundation was backing this idea as a panacea but has since backed off. Here's one example:

Tyee, however, is one of the few Washington high schools to come close to what the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation first envisioned when it started giving grants to help big schools carve themselves into smaller units — ideally, with no more than 400 students.

The experiment — an attempt to downsize the American high school — has proven less successful than hoped.

The changes were often so divisive — and the academic results so mixed — that the Gates Foundation has stopped always pushing small as a first step in improving big high schools. Instead, it's now also working directly on instruction, giving grants to improve math and science instruction, for example.

As it stands today, I can find no current reference to "small schools" or "small high schools" on the web site of the Gates Foundation, especially here.


allen (in Michigan) said...

That's not a sign of insanity but a sign that there's still grant money to be had. Or that someone hasn't gotten the word that the grant gusher for small schools has dried up.

Ellen K said...

Oh, so your district went to the seminar on "Rebranding Failing Programs" too.

Mr. Bohman said...

To say that the small high school effort in Sac-City is an "expensive" program ignores the fact that many of the small high schools, be they stand alone or embedded in larger schools, have been able to tap a variety of private sector partners as a result of their industry-themed approach. Furthermore, it is too soon to say how effective the small high schools have been in Sac-City. Many haven't been open long enough to graduate any students. Small, industry-themed schools have had great success in states like Texas.

Darren said...

Tapping private-sector partners doesn't make a program any less expensive. It just shifts the costs around a bit. If Gates' money can't make the idea work, I'm somewhat skeptical.