There’s been a lot of talk about “equity”, suggesting that it’s unfair to upgrade Wildwood and not Fort River. We agree that Amherst should upgrade both facilities, just as it upgraded Crocker Farm some years ago. That does not, however, require reconfiguring the grades and moving our kids to age-grouped mega-schools — there are a number of alternatives, including dual renovation of both Wildwood and Fort River.
But “equity” usually refers to disparate impacts on minority and disadvantaged communities. And based on the research, it is clear that large schools and extra transitions particularly harm kids with disabilities, and kids from minority and disadvantaged communities.
Our most vulnerable children, in other words, who will pay the price for the mega-school. The proposed dollar savings of consolidating ELL and SPED programs do not look as favorable when compared with the actual harms this will do to children.
Parents know this intuitively. One parent wrote that large schools seem like “prisons”, and another community member representing communities of color reminded the School Committee that the racially biased disparate discipline practices that plague Amherst’s schools are reinforced in larger schools, that require more “discipline” to maintain order. In fact, virtually all people of color who have spoken at public forums have been opposed to the mega-school and reconfiguration.
These three review articles summarize the educational research, and all three are consistent: Kids from disadvantaged social and economic backgrounds are harmed by larger schools.
- Leithwood, Kenneth, and Doris Jantzi. “A Review of Empirical Evidence About School Size Effects: A Policy Perspective.” Review of Educational Research 79, no. 1 (March 1, 2009): 464–90. doi:10.3102/0034654308326158. A lengthy review article examining 57 empirical studies of school size effects; the weight of evidence clearly favors smaller schools. This is especially true of schools with large proportions of students from disadvantaged social and economic backgrounds. (PDF)
- Ready, Douglas, Valerie Lee, and Kevin Welner. “Educational Equity and School Structure: School Size, Overcrowding, and Schools-within-Schools.” The Teachers College Record 106, no. 10 (2004): 1989–2014. Reviews multiple studies and their own original research. They find that small schools are usually helpful to minority and lower SES students. (link)
- Seth Gershenson & Laura Langbein, “The Effect of Primary School Size on Academic Achievement”, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, v.37, n. 1S, pp. 135S-155S (May 2015). doi: 10.3102/0162373715576075. A recent review article showing that socioeconomically disadvantaged students and students with learning disabilities are particularly harmed by larger school sizes. (PDF)