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New Study Reveals Short and Long-Term Outcomes of Smaller Learning Communities


When it comes to school size, smaller is not always better. A new study released by the U.S. Department of Education indicates that while there may be less school violence, more student participation in extracurricular activities and a higher percentage of students planning to attend college, there also is a challenge in recruiting experienced math and science teachers and providing rigorous courses for talented students.

These are just a few of the short- and long-term outcomes of applying the structures and strategies of Smaller Learning Communities (SLC) to the operation and management of high schools.

The Departmentís SLC Program was established to address concerns about students who appeared to falter in large, impersonal high schools, as well as concerns about school safety, and low levels of achievement and graduation. The program provides school districts with funds to plan, implement, or expand SLCs in large high schools of 1,000 or more. It also allows them to implement the most suitable structure or combination of structures and strategies to meet their respective needs.

The Implementation Study of Smaller Learning Communities: Final Report was designed to evaluate the performance of the SLC program. The study based its findings on data from 119 grantees funded in 2000 and surveyed in the spring of 2002 and fall 2003. The report also used data from in-depth case studies of 18 grantees that intended to use freshman or career academies to structure a smaller learning community.

Other findings from the study included:

* The most prevalent structures were freshman and career academies.
* Schools chose to implement one or more SLC strategies, with block scheduling and teacher teams the most popular choices.
* Smaller Learning Community-related professional development, although provided by nearly all schools, was not very extensive.
* Most schools applied for SLC funds to increase overall student academic achievement, academic achievement of at-risk students and student motivation.
* Schools reported a number of factors to have a negative influence on SLC implementation, including scheduling and logistical issues, physical space, and school staffing needs, especially in terms of core academic teachers and guidance counselors.


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