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Small Schools -- Chimera or White Blindspot?

In a message dated 1/14/01 11:53:49 PM, susanharman@IGC.ORG writes:

<< [Image]he nation's high school dropout rate could be cut dramatically if

> just 300 large, inner-city schools were reduced in size and

> accurately represented in statistical reports, two education think tanks

> announced yesterday.


> The Civil Rights Project and Achieve Inc., normally on opposite sides of

> education issues like standardized testing, also said the dropout problem

> could be better addressed if independent organizations collected dropout

> data. >>

January 16, 2001

Hello Friends and Colleagues:

While I'd love to agree with the many people here (and at Harvard Civil
Rights Project) who promote small schools, this is a dangerous diversion from
equity, desegregation, and justice. I don't think we can afford to allow the
system to destroy another generation of working class children while hundreds
of "progressives" tinker in the corners with a little project that's going
nowhere for the majority of poor kids. (Note that I say "another." As far as
I'm concerned, we've just finished the first decade of this stuff).

Here are some points to consider that have been left out of the aerie debates
I've heard. I use Chicago as an example because Chicago's is one of the most
vicious examples of what is being done to "failing" children in the most
oppressed communities. Anything that is promoted out of Chicago has to be
viewed against the background of the city's vast stretches of poverty and
segregation, and not merely highlighted against a vague background of the
hopes, wishes and dreams of articulate "progressives."

1. Chicago's smallest general high schools are all in the ghetto and they are
all "failures." Since the Vallas administration took over the school system
in 1995, there has been an additional brain drain on general high schools in
the harshest inner city communities. This is because the "competition" for
"good" students plus the addition of six "academic magnet high schools" has
left the old neighborhood schools with nobody but the lowest scoring and
poorest kids. This process has been achieved in five years, and is one of the
most devastating I have every seen.

2. The most successful high schools in Illinois are in the more affluent
suburbs. They are all between 1,500 and 3,000 students (one exception: Lake
Forest). Nobody in "civil rights" demands that these (mostly white, very
wealthy) schools become "small" -- and nobody talks about comparing what they
have with what the schools I worked in in Chicago's ghettos and barrios don't
have. By refocusing attention onto the "small schools" needs of the ghettos
and barrios without comparing and contrasting resources and other factors to
the large high schools that serve the right suburbs, we are voluntarily
withdrawing from he great debates on both equity and desegregation.

3. All of the small schools "research" I have seen is largely anecdotal and
does not include the equity, justice, and desegregation issues I outline
above. In some cases, the "small schools" promoters here in Chicago are
simply asserting talking points, which are no different coming from
progressive than they are when coming from conservatives.

4. In every case where small schools are created, even the most successful
ones, one of the major trade offs is to deprive inner city poor children,
almost all of them children of color, of the extra curricular activities,
curricular diversity, and variety of teacher and other experiences that come
with economies of scale. To ignore this is incomprehensible to me.

As I said above, I'm sorry to have to note this at this time, especially
given the fact that many of the people whom I respect the most promote some
version of small schools. In the larger picture, I hope it will at least be
recognized that when many politically active people spend a decade promoting
a chimera, one result may be that another 10,000 kids -- black and brown and
poor -- have been quietly disappeared from the system (as they have in

In the scales in which we are facing the horrors of segregation and the kinds
of color-coded class exploitation and oppression going on nowadays in the
United States, to divert resources, attention, and intellectual energy
towards small schools -- as opposed to the equity and justice projects which
would result from a focus on these contrasts I mention above -- is, to put
charitably, questionable judgment.

George N. Schmidt
Editor, Substance
5132 W. Berteau
Chicago, IL 60641

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