Thursday, January 31, 2008

Follow-up To Smaller Schools

I received the following email regarding my earlier post about Smaller Schools [personal identification removed]:

Enjoyed reading your blog and your perspective on smaller schools. But I must respectfully disagree with your hypothesis, that smaller schools will require more money in staff and support services, larger class sizes and that school buildings will have to be abandoned.

First, please go to and see how they organize a school.

Second, for integration of technology into education as a means to increase learning and change the paradigm of teacher as knowledge source go to

As a requirement for smaller schools, 400 or fewer students, funds shall go directly to the building, not to the district. Site management is also required joining authority and responsibility at the work site -- a successful business model that represents one of the keys to the success of a very large organization, Toyota, and a smaller one, Patagonia (and W. L. Gore before it was sold). Site management also creates the opportunity for innovation in education that District bureaucracies and political committees unintentionally kill.

To improve the chances for smaller school success, and encourage the effective utilization of very expensive capital resources, schools should be run year round (we are no longer a farm based society), classes should be available from 8:00 AM until 10:00 PM and teachers allowed to collaborate on the development and delivery of curriculum to achieve a learning goal, not successful content regurgitation (The outcome of NCLB and the AYP compliance).

The new Parker High School in Howell, Michigan is attempting to incorporate some of these innovations. They have a brief PowerPoint presentation on the web that explains them in more detail. This experiment may fail since it depends upon local support and a bureaucracy to survive, and must comply with the pseudo scientific accountability of standardized testing.

Finally, take a small journey into a long ago and far away educational model that was abandoned due to World Wars, economic depression and the tyranny of Fredrick Taylor's misunderstood and myopically applied "Scientific Management"; read a little book, "Totto Chan: The Little Girl at the Window" that, in a humorous and delightful way, describes the educational philosophies of Dewey and Pestalozzi.
My response was:
I appreciate your communication regarding this subject and understand that there may be benefits for at-risk children from smaller schools with less students per teacher.

My points were that:
  1. unless you kept the student-teacher ratio the same, you would increase costs
  2. your administrative staff costs would be higher because you are replicating many times what you do once at a larger school
  3. the facilities would not be comparable in many ways [physical education/sports/libraries] or would be very costly to make them comparable
  4. the talent/knowledge pool among the teachers would be narrower than those found at larger schools with a greater number of teachers
  5. the curriculum itself is unchanged which is a separate and important issue, but may be more limited with a smaller teaching staff
  6. the plan does not adequately address the issue of what happens to the existing facilities as students are removed... more schools mothballed with continuing expense to the districts? [students for proposed new schools have to come from somewhere]
Certainly, students can benefit from more individual attention if class sizes are reduced. So will individual tutoring benefit them. That can be achieve now without the added expense of 100 new schools. Simply hire more teachers.

This effort does not address the overall content of education. I agree that it can address discipline problems and possibly reduce dropout rates. But the arguments that smaller schools are qualitatively and experientially better than larger schools for all students simply does not resonate with my knowledge of larger suburban schools.
If you, dear reader, choose to go to you will see some interesting examples of new educational approaches. I agree that they appear promising.
But compare those shining examples to what you see at large inner city schools and ask if the transition to schools of 400 students or less can be made without the enormous costs I outlined above... far more than simply new facilities. Detroit or Saginaw or Benton Harbor schools are a planet away from educational utopia. org.
The principles of smaller schools, smaller student-teacher ratios, creative use of technology, and practical application of learned subjects can be applied to existing facilities and dedicating the resources toward more teachers, technology, and creative curricula through a university model... while retaining the advantages of more extensive shared facilities.
I would argue that an existing model for high school facilities should be something similar to Lake Orion, Michigan as opposed to a middle school of 400 students. While I believe 1,000 to 1,200 students are more likely to achieve a sense of school "spirit", this high school demonstrates that even larger schools offer much more to the students and community than schools of 400 could possibly achieve... especially with regard to the facilities and the variety of curriculum options... options that realistically address the variety of interests that students have as opposed to trying to interest all students with a limited curriculum and losing many.

Lake Orion High School
495 E. Scripps Road
Lake Orion, Michigan 48360
Todd Dunckley, Principal

The Lake Orion High School is a student-centered facility housing 2200+ students in grades 9-12. Opened in 1997, it has the latest in technology and includes a state-of-the-art auditorium, field house, and natatorium for student and community use. Lake Orion High School was selected as a Michigan Blue Ribbon School and is recognized as a 1999-2000 Blue Ribbon Exemplary School by the U.S. Department of Education. Lake Orion High School offers a broad-based curriculum with numerous options for all students. Specifically in technology, classrooms offer courses for the in-depth study of communication, lasers, robotics, construction, manufacturing, power and energy, and other developing technologies.


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... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
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SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

About Me

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)