Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Small-high school seminar

So the small-high school seminar I attended this week ended Tuesday afternoon and my brain is swimming in the things I've witnessed and discussed since Sunday. I will be going through my copious notes and drafting some posts to put up here as a result of attending this conference, as I doubt I would be given the space to write about the past three days in print.
As a sneak peek, I'd like to give you an idea of what we did and where we went here in sunny San Diego, thanks to the Education Writers Association and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-- one of the main movers and shakers in the small-school movement in the U.S.
  • Sunday was all about panels-- we heard perspectives from New York, Chicago and San Diego / L.A. from experts and researchers on how small high schools have been setup and what it is about them that works. We had some divergent opinions amongst our various panelists that I'll get into in subsequent posts.
  • Monday we travelled to Kearney High School campus, a public school in the San Diego Unified School District. The high school is one of three formerly "large" schools whose campuses were modified and now contains four "small schools" within the same physical space, a campus that houses approximately 2,000 students. We spent time in the School of International Business and the Construction Tech Academy.
  • Monday afternoon, we travelled to Lincoln High School, a large urban high school which closed for five years and then was re-opened four school years ago. It remains one large 2,400-student school administratively, but contains for small "learning community" campuses. All Grade 9s enter a social justice program, and then in Grade 10 attend one of three other campuses-- science and technology, arts or public safety.
  • Tuesday, we spent the morning and early afternoon at High Tech High, a publicly funded charter school located on former naval lands. The school has a mix of public and private-foundation funding, and contains three "small" high schools-- the original High Tech High, High Tech High International and High Tech High Media Arts. The campus we visited also contains a middle and elementary school campus.
For future purposes, the terminology here of "small" refers to schools of between 400-600 students per campus / administrative school division. We didn't actually visit a school campus where there was one standalone facility with 400-600 students, or, even, fewer than 400 students.
More on these schools and the sessions in the coming days as I review my notes and think of how to frame some posts. I did take some photos and even one video, which I'll embed as appropriate.


Anonymous said...

Interesting ER. The idea of schools with schools isn't a new one in the USA. It's also something that education reformers in Canada have known about and have tried to educate folks about for years.

In Ontario there have been similar conferences. The last one I believe was in 2001 and had folks from New York, Chicago and a few other places in the USA and Canada speak to the issue of creating choices not just outside the system but within it.

Ontario has been slow off the mark on this...very slow because the idea of maximizing facilities by creating those smaller (and different) schools seems to bring out the myths from the usual suspects.

Very glad you had a chance to see it in motion.

RetDir said...

Hi ER - I think your post confirmed what I know of the 'small' high school movement in the States - does the concept of making 'schools' of 400 - 600 within larger schools of up to 2400 capture it?

Education Reporter said...

Just to clarify, this was a conference for education reporters-- so it wasn't about presenting new ideas. It was about looking at covering them as reporters. Particularly since the sexy newness of the recent small-school initiatives are starting to lose appeal in some quarters.

Your comments drives at the heart of at least one or two related full posts where I'll lay out my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

ER "the sexy newness of recent small-school initiatives.."

I understood you.

I was attempting to point out that the small schools issue is not new in Ontario, or to reporters. I can think of two right off the top of my head - Margaret Wente and Moira MacDonald who have been covering small schools for a long time.

Not to mention several organizations in the province have been publishing on the benefits of small schools for a while.

Clearly Ontario might need to develop its own scale of "smallness" because most schools in my district except for a handful wouldn't even have enough students to qualify them for American "smallness".

RetDir said...

Good point Anon - if you accept 1500 as a reasonable size for a secondary school, and then break it down into smaller schools of 300, most rural boards would have to consolidate at a faster clip than is happening now, and the bus times would be significant (as they are for many Catholic rural secondary schools for this reason). Consolidation to create elementary equivalents (K - 8 for the purpose of this discussion) of about 600 students would eliminate 1 in 4 elementary schools in my previous board (one in three in certain parts of the board), and you would again be faced with long bus rides. It's hardly surprising that the American literature on rural boards mirrors the literature on ours - try the results of this ERIC search for a selection:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you trip was a worthwhile one ER.

May I ask you, what prompted you(other than just PD) to travel to California to learn what it is you felt you needed?

Is something like that not available in Canada? What are they doing differently that we're not? Just curious.

To Anon. 9:55am - the trouble that I find is that Margaret Wente and Moira MacDonald write for a larger and generally urban audience even when writing about small schools.
Small schools in urban centres are small because they're half-empty. Small schools in rural/small towns are small when they're full given the number comparison.

My concern at the moment is that we're closing schools in small boards faster than they are in urban boards and the savings found from rural closures will go to keep those larger urban schools afloat along with full-day "learning".

To the first Anon. - same goes for organizations like People for Education or the Society for Public Education. They may have been trying to get some focus placed on the benefits of small schools, but it doesn't appear from the action NOT taken by the system that anyone's listening. They also play to a largely urban-centric communities because neither group has gone over in rural, small town Ontario as they have in the GTA.

I do believe that of late though that the TDSB is looking to move to the school-within-a-school model
to retain students.

Education Reporter said...

Anon 12 Nov. 15:41
I attended this conference because as a journalist, the PD opportunities are limited to non-existent. I could not have attended this seminar had I not received a grant which covered the cost of travel and accommodation. My employer contributed zero dollars to my attendance (although they graciously agreed to let me book lieu days to be able to attend), and I am out of pocket for some costs because of my personal interest. Further, there is no Canadian equivalent to the Education Writers' Association. There are Canadian journalism organizations (I happen to be on the board of directors of the Canadian Association of Journalists), but they're general and not specific to education reporters.

In the U.S., there's a critical mass of education reporters because of the significantly larger media market. EWA membership has been great value for my dollar (even my $Cdn) over the past year.

While yes, these topics have been explored in Canada and Ontario, attending one of those conferences would not have been the same experience as attending this conference organized by journalists, for education journalists. We never exclusively explored just the topics-- there was a constant theme of how we should be covering these topics in our reporting. Also, many of the journalists were already familiar with the concepts. I would never have received that insight and opportunity for reflection attending a stakeholder conference.

So aside these PD reasons, I had interest in attending because I've seen small-school rationale presented and supported in the accommodation reviews I've covered here in Ontario. I wanted to learn more about those concepts and also see how they're being covered and what questions journalists are asking about the small-schools concepts. In the process, if I steal a little bit of my own thunder, some of those concepts have been misappropriated and used to argue for the continuation of status quo declining enrolment options-- not to actually reshape the way the school is run and improve instruction.

As to Anon, 9:55's comments, I don't want to steal any more of my own thunder. Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

A number of years ago ER there was a conference hosted by Ontario's then Education Improvement Commission (EIC).

It was called Shifting the Balance and was one of the best conferences I'd attended up to that point.

The breakout sessions were edgy and informative and open to parents, board and gov't folks alike.

The two breakouts I went to were the one with J. Wright from Angus-Reid which was instrumental in teaching about the finer points of polling and surveys, and why I never again believed the results of surveys and polls again.

The second breakout was entitled "Education and the Media" where three media panelists spoke of their experiences writing on education. Very few journalists, we heard, could write effectively about education and make it an interesting read to those not involved in education. The consensus of the three panelists was unless it's controversial no one really pays attention to education stories.

I write on education too and feel that either a Canadian Education Writer's "something" or something provincial would be beneficial.

I have to wonder why school boards take great pains to invite all partners(municipal leaders, parents etc.) to meet one-on-one with the school board but don't do the same with the media in their areas?

One of the reasons I like writing on education issues is to wade through the edubabble and some of those canned and scripted statements boards and gov'ts tend to release that only tell part of the story.

I have found in my experience that in my community at least readers would like to hear more from the folks who deliver education (principals, teachers, parents, trustees) in their neighborhoods than they do from a board administrator or politician.

It's really too bad that some boards don't allow their trustees more access to the press.

I posted a similar post earlier but it seems to have evaporated.

Anonymous said...

Hugo, the reason that there doesn't seem to be a Canadian version of the Ed Writers' Assn. is that normally, education reporters are the newbee reporter out of journalism school--not too far away from education themselves. They are young kids who think of education as high school stuff. The education beat is their training ground before they get moved onto bigger and better things. Big city papers are terrible for this!

I sympathize with the good education reporters, like yourself, who take the issue seriously.

Education Reporter said...

Anon 16 Nov. 12:13
Part of me also wonders how this practice is only further enhanced when Ontario seems to be moving towards greater provincial control of education.

Like so much else, U.S. K-12 education is as local as local gets. Hence, way more interest to a local readership / listeners / viewers since they have a lot more at stake in the results.

The difference in size of media market is important too-- many of my colleagues at the seminar worked in papers whose circulation is larger than our largest paper, the Star. 100+ journalists in some of the papers, with a team of education reporters. *sigh*