Archive for Monday, January 25, 2010

Small schools benefit students

January 25, 2010


The Lawrence school district faces dramatic budget cuts over the coming months and is considering closing schools. In making these cuts we urge the school board and administration to find solutions that do not involve closing any east-side neighborhood elementary school, for two reasons.

First, these schools are the anchors for their neighborhoods and our historic downtown. Studies show that closing a neighborhood school significantly erodes property values and causes young families to locate elsewhere. The east side bore the brunt of school closings several years ago. More closings there could tip Lawrence’s historic core irrevocably away from family-based neighborhoods and toward rentals and decay.

Second, a large body of research shows that small neighborhood schools are the most efficient means of achieving the district’s goals of improving student learning and narrowing the achievement gap between low-income, minority students and others.

Well over 100 studies show that small neighborhood schools foster key educational benefits:

• Students in small neighborhood schools learn faster, achieve more, and graduate at higher rates than comparable students in larger, non-neighborhood schools. Studies find that smaller schools are especially beneficial to low-income and minority students and are especially crucial to the success of efforts at narrowing the achievement gap.

• Small neighborhood schools cultivate better student attitudes. Their students have a stronger sense of belonging and more active engagement in learning.

• Small neighborhood schools reduce discipline problems. Students in these schools are better known by teachers across multiple grade levels and, as a result, there are fewer discipline problems, truancy issues, and better attendance.

• Small neighborhood schools better engage students in extracurricular activities, and this involvement is correlated with better attendance and improved learning outcomes.

• Small neighborhood schools encourage walking to school and this improves children’s health and active engagement in learning.

• Small neighborhood schools foster better teacher attitudes. As one researcher put it, “large schools appear to promote negative teacher perceptions of school administration and low staff morale. In small schools, teachers are more likely to participate in planning and analyze practice, and are likely to expend extra efforts to ensure that the students achieve and the school succeeds.”

• Small neighborhood schools better facilitate parental involvement in their children’s learning and foster closer parent-teacher relationships.

A large body of research also shows that closing a school and transferring its students harms their academic achievement by tearing apart the close relationships that facilitate learning. These disruptions hit low-income and minority students especially hard.

What about cost? The school board is grappling with data suggesting that the cost per pupil is somewhat higher in our smaller east-side schools. But cost per pupil is a misleading measure.

For one thing, if student learning is our top priority we should measure efficiency in relation to learning and successful graduation. Smaller neighborhood schools are more efficient than larger schools when measured by cost per graduate. This, too, is the consistent finding of research. Student learning should remain our consistent focus and goal, especially in difficult times.

For another, costs per pupil, as computed by the district, are somewhat higher in some of these schools than elsewhere simply because their enrollment is lower. But enrollment numbers are the direct result of district policies. Change the boundaries just a little and these schools will have more students. Turn one of these schools into a magnet school, perhaps a dual-language immersion program that draws higher voluntary enrollments from elsewhere in the district, and the enrollment numbers will increase. At New York School, for example, a net gain of only 68 students would bring costs per pupil to the district average.

Small neighborhood schools are now widely recognized as the state of the art. Many school districts that long ago closed small schools in favor of mega-schools are now struggling to recreate what they lost. They didn’t save the money they thought they would and they lost something of great value: their small neighborhood schools and their older neighborhoods.

Just as Lawrence’s historic downtown is the envy of many cities, other places would love to have our historic neighborhood schools. These schools are the key to our students’ high achievement levels and to our ongoing efforts to narrow the achievement gap. Don’t close our historic neighborhood schools. Small schools are better. They are more efficient and effective at what matters most: student education. And they help to sustain our city’s historic core and beautiful downtown.

Lisa Wolf-Wendel is professor of educational leadership and policy studies in the Kansas University School of Education. Chuck Epp is associate professor and PhD director in KU’s department of public administration.


SettingTheRecordStraight 5 years, 10 months ago

Using this logic (which has been repeated ad nauseum in numerous LTE), we should build an idefinte number of new "neighborhood schools" around Lawrence.

But what is a "neighborhood school?" What is the proper number of "neighborhood schools" to have in a city? Shouldn't rural school districts, where students are scattered, have the benefit of "neighborhood schools" that are a short walk from each and every home? Although "neighborhood schools" are a luxury, should we simply ignore this economy by burrying our head in the sand to modest idea of consolidation? Please.

JohnDa 5 years, 10 months ago

Great article.
@ Setting the record straight: You didn't really understand the article. The authors were not promoting building lots of new schools. They were advocating keeping open the schools that our taxpayers have already paid for. You can go to a dictionary to look up the term neighborhood if you are struggling to understand the concept.

SettingTheRecordStraight 5 years, 10 months ago


I fully understand the intentional use of the term "neighborhood schools." Opponents to consolidation and cost savings use it liberally because they believe it polls well with the mindless masses.

I also understand that this group is not promoting the building of new schools, but keeping underutilized schools open is the equivalent.

JohnDa 5 years, 10 months ago


How is spending millions to build new schools equivalent to keeping open schools that are already paid for?

No one is an opponent to cost savings. Cost savings has to happen, but you don't save money by closing buildings. Even superintedent Dr. Doll has stated that repeatedly. Unfortunately, almost all of the 4 million deficit has to come from salaries. Instead of accusing them of appealing to the mindless masses, perhaps you should better educate yourself on the issue at hand.

four11 5 years, 10 months ago

setting the record straight......I am not sure what you are trying to pontificate-- but it is not helpful: your suggestion that we build more schools in rural areas is just missing the point completely.

Your sarcastic tone is unappreciated at a time where people are truly concerned about losing something that is essential to future goals of their neighborhoods.

These schools new and old, east and west are what makes Lawrence so amazing!!!-- each school has a personality that seems to celebrate the individual whether it be the New York School or Quail Run we all are an eclectic bunch of people who share Lawrence traditions.
These letters to the editors are meant to help people realize what we have in common-- However you may think of yourself in this community ....there is a place for you here in Lawrence-- Our little neighborhood schools help to make that possible--they instill in kids(the future contributing citizens of our fair Lawrence) that their contributions are valuable.

So, let' s "set the record straight"......let's stop this negative cynicism -- and really listen to what the people from east and west feel about our schools. Let's not sit on the sidelines making jabs at people expressing their ways of helping the situation --- let's participate in helping one another achieve their neighborhood goals!

SettingTheRecordStraight 5 years, 10 months ago


Selling underutilized schools would:

  1. Raise revenue which can be used to cut the $4 million budget gap
  2. By definition, reduce expenditures on salaries because it would immediately unemploy unnecessary principals and adminstrators
  3. Reduce annual building maintenance costs
  4. Reduce annual utility costs
  5. Move some teachers to other schools and move other teachers off of government payrolls
  6. Get our community out of the mindset that we can't make tough decisions when we need to

SettingTheRecordStraight 5 years, 10 months ago


Perhaps your inaccurate assumption leads you to believe I need sensitivity training, but there was nothing sarcastic about my comment. I'm merely making observations about what I see - a motivated group of parents interested in maintaining both property values and nostalgia, regardless of cost.

four11 5 years, 10 months ago

No nostaglia about it .... .... but you have a knack for arguing about moronic subjects....and so to that end.... if you want to argue in that way--maybe you are right, maybe we should just make that "tough" decision and just go to school at Wal-mart and then we can all be cost effective robots chanting predetermined scripts about what our "values" are with no real values to back it up---

SettingTheRecordStraight 5 years, 10 months ago


Your original post claimed that my comments (which differ from your point of view) were "not helpful" and that I have a "sarcastic tone" that is "unappreciated." Now you allude to me being a moron, and you infer that my solution to the school consolidation question would be to hold class in Walmart.

I don't know what to say other than you're simply not worth debating.

grammaddy 5 years, 10 months ago

Great article. Thanks for the grocery list of reasons NOT to close schools.

four11 5 years, 10 months ago

I apologize if my tone was harsh-- I just think your "solutions" are not solutions --they are just an attack of a different point of view- I think it is fine to have a different point of view-- but, can we just try to come from a place of compromise. The point of these letters is that the citizens of Lawrence don't want to see their schools closed-- and to perhaps open a discussion about how we can all keep our neighborhood schools-- that was the point of my comment--I am sorry if you could not see the point of my original comment.

ajsmomma 5 years, 10 months ago

I understand that no one in Lawrence wants to see our schools close. However, does anyone realize that not only are we facing possible closures, but also job loss, loss of programs, higher student/teacher ratios. We may not have a choice in what our distict does. It may be all of the above and then some. So do we argue to save the schools, to save peoples jobs, to keep small classrooms? They are all valid arguments but what will we do when we are faced with all of those actually happening? Our state is in such a financial crisis now our district and many other districts in Kansas are left with very little choice as for what to do. All we can do is wait and see which of the "no win" situations we end up in. Unfortunately we will end up in one of them.

spiderd 5 years, 10 months ago

It should be kept in mind that closing schools is not an alternative to larger class sizes. It is a given that teachers will lose jobs and class sizes will be bigger regardless of school closures. In the long term, class sizes can be reduced. Closures however will be permanent (I have no faith that our board would choose to reopen a school). I really question if the superintendent/board has the moral right to close downtown schools that have been a part of our town's history for 90+ years. Yes, I know, they have the "right". I just mean in the larger sense of what is right.

lori 5 years, 10 months ago


If the closed schools could be sold, that money would not go toward the budget gap. It would go to the capital outlay fund, not the general fund where we need the money. Until the buildings could be sold, it would still require maintenance and basic utilities. Upkeep of the buildings and grounds would still be necessary. Then we would be paying for maintaining them without getting any benefit from them.

SettingTheRecordStraight 5 years, 10 months ago


No problem.

To your point that "the citizens of Lawrence don't want to see their schools closed." You're welcome to speak for those who hold your point of view, but you do not speak for the many parents who send their kids to private schools or who home school.

Many of us view public schools as a massive money vacuum, churning out mediocre students, and dominated by KNEA union bosses.

We also see our personal property taxed to fund only the government's schools while other fully accredited schools do not receive a nickel in taxpayer support. That's why those of us interested in fiscal responsibility and accountability want all options - including consolidation - placed on the table for consideration.

SayWhat 5 years, 10 months ago

As Dr. Doll has pointed out, there is no good news for students with this budget mess. It's not a matter of closing schools vs. increasing student/teacher ratios. Staff has to be reduced regardless and it's really a simple choice:

Option 1: Close schools, consolidate kids and increase class-size. Then when the budget improves, build new schools.

Option 2: Redraw the boundaries, increase class size evenly across all schools and reduce staff.

Both options require laying off the same number of teachers. Both options will harm our ability to properly educate our children. But at least with option 2 we won't be throwing the baby out with the bath water. We'll still have our neighborhood schools and we won't have to pay to build new mega-schools to house the increasing enrollment that WILL occur.

Ricky_Vaughn 5 years, 10 months ago

Someone pleeease think of the children!!!

ajsmomma 5 years, 10 months ago


I think that is what we are all trying to do here. Isn't this all about the children? No matter which way you look at it, if we lose teachers, ratios, all has an effect on our children. Should that question not be directed at our government instead of at our district? Our district is only doing what it has to do, and its goal first and foremost is the children, but if their hands are tied what can they do?

Shane Garrett 5 years, 10 months ago

Obama was talking at young students just the other day. Using his tele-promter, looking right, looking left, looking right, mouthing words, Children what children?

LadyJ 5 years, 10 months ago

How many of the schools closed in the past were sold? I'm not sure if Grant was sold, but East Heights and Centennial were not. There was one sold out in far east Lawrence, but then they built Prairie Park.

LadyJ 5 years, 10 months ago

What happened to Riverside, was the building sold?

Hop2It 5 years, 10 months ago

Is it true that "this is going to happen anyway?" That even if schools are closed/consolidated, there are still going to be the same number of jobs lost and the class size increase will be the same? At the very least, it has to effect at larger number of children if the changes are spread out across the district.

Deborah Altus 5 years, 10 months ago

Grant was given back to Grant Township. Currently the township rents it to Prairie Moon Waldorf School. If Grant hadn't been given a principal by the admin to make the numbers look bad (it operated fine with a lead teacher and no principal), it might still be open. Lesson: be really skeptical of the numbers and ask lots of questions. I think any option is likely better than closing schools, especially schools in already vulnerable neighborhoods on the east side. A teacher-friend suggested cutting Wednesday early release and shortening the school year, as she doesn't think the planning time is worth it. Of course I don't want to see class size go up, but I'd rather see that than have any of the schools closed.

been_there 5 years, 10 months ago

You seem to have a strong hatred for Cordley or you are trying to divert attention from New York. Actually New York is closer to downtown and a better location for Henderson.

weeslicket 5 years, 10 months ago

setting.the.record.straight: You're welcome to speak for those who hold your point of view, but you do not speak for the many parents who send their kids to private schools or who home school.

please keep in mind that these same public schools that you complain about ALSO provide direct educational services to private school children and homeschoolers, and even provide for some building projects. in other words, when these alternative schools can't, or won't, or don't know how to educate their students-- your local PUBLIC schools provide these services for you.

Stephen Roberts 5 years, 10 months ago

Nice studies - do they ever tell what is a neighborhood school?? Do they ever say what is a small school??


SettingTheRecordStraight 5 years, 10 months ago


Actually, when the government schools can't, or won't, or don't know how to educate their students, those students... fail.

That's why more money, more buildings, higher taxes, more teachers and more feel-good sentimentality about dying "neighborhood schools" won't help our children.

weeslicket 5 years, 10 months ago

setting.the.record.straight.......... i stated facts to you; not opinions.

you state your opinions as if they were facts.

you do not speak to the facts:
public schools (with their taxpayer funds; some of them yours and your fellow parents) also deliver services to YOUR "alternative" educational settings.

speak to those facts, please.

four11 5 years, 10 months ago

STRS.....Isn't sending your kids to private school throwing money at the problem?

Also...."WE don't ( and I quote Dr. Doll ) have any failing schools"--

That is the whole point : Our Lawrence public schools kick a**!!!

And to continue to kick a** we need to ensure the values that we have in place are funded--- and if our budget falls short we need to find ways to come up with a solution, because that is an integral part of pubilc school-- Being involved--- I am so amazed by the people who are willing to spend so much of their free time to come up with creative solutions for this crisis!

windex 5 years, 10 months ago

STRS: "Many of us view public schools as a massive money vacuum, churning out mediocre students, and dominated by KNEA union bosses."

STRS, who exactly are these "union bosses"? Lawrence has one half-time paid union rep and a whole bunch of exhausted, over-worked volunteers. The only people they're the bosses of are 3rd graders.

imamomma 5 years, 10 months ago

Go Grant Eagles! We were a great little community school. Yes......our lead teachers led our school as well as a great secretary.....I went to Grant 1st-3rd, went to Pinckney for 4th, and back out to Grant for 5th and 6th in mixed grade classes. Those were the days......we took care of our school, parents helped out with listening to students read, we had a morning exercise program, cooking and "holiday" parties, we helped out watering trees and school clean up during the summer........we were a family and we fought for our school. We worked together for each other. Things are so different even in just these last 15 years.......I reall yhope the school don't have to close.....more will just have to be built later............

imamomma 5 years, 10 months ago

I really hope we will not have to close schools.

George Lippencott 5 years, 10 months ago

This is a very interesting article. I have no reason to question the thrust. However, I can not help but wonder if we use New York School as an exemplar do all the other schools offer the same benefits? If not, just what level of resources are we looking at to treat all our children the same?

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