Posted by Scott Larkin at 1/27/2016
In this morning’s Star Ledger, State Senator Raymond Lesniak wrote an opinion piece describing the benefits of community schools. The full text of that piece can be found at http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2016/01/lesniak_attack_poverty_and_improve_education_with.html#incart_most-comments. I strongly suggest you read the article.
The author cites “numerous studies” that have proven what we in Wrightstown and Cookstown have always known; our beloved New Hanover Township School is the epicenter of our community: a place where students come for knowledge, comfort, and caring. Our school is much more than the bricks and mortar that form its historic exterior. It is an institution that has served our families since 1938.
Senator Lesniak refers to “current strategies employed in education reform.” I will only guess that he is referring to large, conglomerate educational factories that lack the resources, time, and ability to identify each child’s uniqueness. I often tell others, we not only know all of our students by name, we know them by voice. Additionally, we know what motivates them to excel. We know their individual learning styles. We know their strengths and weaknesses. We are deeply invested in their success.
Two years ago, I authored the following piece for our newsletter:
During my opening remarks at Back to School Night, I referenced research that indicates benefits from small school environments. For the purpose of this discussion, multiple researchers have indicated that the optimum size for an elementary school is under 350 students. Specifically, the Office of Planning and Research observed that students from smaller schools achieved higher academic scores and that each 500 students added reduced student scores.
As state and federal agencies increase their scrutiny of public schools, the framework for that accountability has changed. With the adoption of the Common Core of State Standards, acceptance of Race to the Top III grant monies, and full implementation of the Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC), schools are turning their sole focus to academic achievement. Consistent research in the area of school size supports the small school model, particularly at the elementary level. In New York, a 2004 study found higher achievement scores in smaller schools even after controlling for socioeconomic factors. A similar study in Illinois during the same year confirmed these findings. In 2013, the Carnegie Foundation published a report supporting the small school stating that these types of schools could provide the intense support needed for students with diverse needs to meet new rigorous standards.
Additional research on schools also finds that smaller schools display better school climate. Specifically, larger schools report disproportionately larger discipline infractions, higher dropout rates, and more expulsions. Small schools foster greater participation in extracurricular activities, lower level of school violence, and higher attendance rates. Key factors causing these results are greater personalized learning environments, increased school-decision autonomy, stronger focus on student learning, highly supportive environments, and greater accountability for student achievement.
At the New Hanover Township School, our size is our strength. Anecdotally, I will say that the results of the above-referenced studies ring true. Small class sizes and a small school environment allow our staff to focus on individual student needs.
While I am thrilled to read that a member of our Legislature has studied the successes of community-based schools, I offer him a standing invitation to make that trip down the New Jersey Turnpike to experience it firsthand.