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Reading List: Research on Small Schools

Professional communities and Instructional practices in small schools


** Stevens, David W. and Kahne, Joseph (2006) Professional Communities and Instructional Improvement Practices: A study of small high schools in Chicago. A Report of the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative Research Project, Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago. Available at


This study in seven Chicago High School Redesign Initiative schools focuses on the instructional improvement practices of teacher professional communities. The authors make a distinction between two types of activities in these communities: a) supportive practices, through which teachers provide support to one another for routine, everyday classroom responsibilities, and b) developmental practices, designed to improve collective instructional capacity and change core instructional practices. The study found that teachers in Chicago’s small schools were primarily involved in the former rather than the latter type of activity in their professional communities, that the demands on teachers’ time to perform multiple duties in their small schools distracted them from longer-range professional development, and that small schools both enable and constrain the development of teacher professional communities. The authors suggest several strategies for school and district leaders to foster teacher engagement in developmental practices.


Small Schools and English Learners


Bitter, C., Golden, L. (2008). Approaches to Promoting College Readiness for English Learners. Available at


This probe into college readiness for EL students grew out of the fifth meeting of the Collaborative in Sacramento, which focused on precisely that topic. At the request of Collaborative member Libi Gil, AIR researchers conducted a series of interviews at five small schools in San Diego with the aim of capturing practices that foster college readiness for students, particularly practices that address the specific needs of English learners. This draft document summarizes some key issues and highlights that emerged from an analysis of those interviews. The summary describes a comprehensive approach to addressing the needs of a large EL population in one school, as well as individual strategies in place at other schools, such as project-based learning, school wide AVID, and college trips. In addition, it describes the benefits of the personalized environment in small schools and some issues and strategies related to parent engagement.


Lee, V., & Smith, J. (1997). High school size: Which works best and for whom? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 19(3) , 205-227. American Educational Research Association. Available at


Lee and Smith, using three waves of data from NELS:88 and hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) methods describe the relationship between high school size and student learning, including effects both on the overall achievement of students and on the equitable distribution of achievement outcomes. The authors also examined whether effect sizes are consistent across high schools. Findings from this analysis suggest that (a) the most effective high schools enroll between 600 and 900 students. (In smaller schools students learn less and in bigger high school students learn even less), (b) learning is more equitable in very small schools, (c) enrollment size has a stronger effect on learning in schools with lower-SES students and also in schools with high concentrations of minority students. Implications for educational policy are also discussed in this article.


A glossary of small school terminology


Cotton, Kathleen. New small learning communities: Findings from recent literature. (2001) School Improvement Program, Creating Communities of learning and Excellence, Northwest regional educational Laboratory. Available at


This excerpted chapter provides an idea about the variety of concepts and definitions around Small Schools.