4,100 students prove ‘small is better’ rule wrong

With 4,100 students, Massachusetts’ Brockton High School is an exception to what has become conventional wisdom in many educational circles, reports the New York Times: that small is almost always better. A decade ago, Brockton High was a case study in failure; only a quarter of the students passed statewide exams, and one in three dropped out. Then Susan Szachowicz and a handful of fellow teachers decided to take action. They persuaded administrators to let them organize a schoolwide campaign that integrated reading and writing lessons into every class in all subjects, including gym. Their efforts paid off quickly. In 2001 testing, more students passed the state tests after failing the year before than at any other school in Massachusetts. The gains continued: This year and last, Brockton outperformed 90 percent of Massachusetts high schools. And its turnaround is getting new attention in a report, “How High Schools Become Exemplary,” published last month by Ronald F. Ferguson, an economist at Harvard who researches the minority achievement gap. At education conferences, Szachowicz—who became Brockton’s principal in 2004—still gets approached by small-school advocates who tell her they are skeptical that a 4,100-student school could offer a decent education. “I tell them we’re a big school that works,” she says…

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Laura Ascione

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