A counterintuitive take on school reform
My work doesn't speak to the small schools movement but to the very expensive movement to require class-size reductions statewide. This has occurred in California, Florida, and elsewhere. All else being equal, it's better to have fewer other kids in the class. But the problem with these across-the-board class-size reduction mandates is that they essentially force school systems to go on teacher-hiring binges. So the benefit of fewer children in the class is offset on average by a reduction in teacher quality as school systems dig deeper into the labor pool. In California, there were no benefits observed, and yet it's an extremely expensive intervention. A one-third reduction in class size requires roughly a one-third increase in per-pupil expenditures.
Frankly, we don't have a whole lot of high-quality evidence on small schools yet.
Do you see any reason to be optimistic about where we're headed?
I actually see a lot of reason for optimism. It's important to note that student achievement has not gotten worse. There's a "myth of decline" that it's important to get out of the way as wellpeople pine for a golden age when schools were better and kids were better. It just didn't exist.
The ideas of accountability and school choice are becoming more acceptable. Because the evidence shows these reforms have promise, we have reason to expect that they will be yielding better results in the future as they are adopted on a broader scale. Gradually, over time, school systems will experiment with merit pay, greater choice, different kinds of accountability systems. Through trial and error and careful examination of the evidence, they will gravitate toward more-effective policies and discard less effective ones.