Benefits of Small Schools

February 22, 2007

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By Julie Ovenell-Carter

When it comes to schools, size matters. That's the verdict of SFU researchers Michèle Schmidt, Catherine Murray and Hien Nguyen in a recent study of how school size impacts educational quality and community engagement.

Schmidt and Nguyen are from SFU's Faculty of Education, and Murray from the School of Communication. Their study, Does School Size Matter? A Social Capital Perspective, was commissioned by Coquitlam parents in response to School District 43's proposal to close eight schools this spring. The report was presented to the school board's staff and trustees on Feb. 7.

The study confirms that small schools—generally under 300 students—foster “a cohesive sense of community” and not only have an academic achievement advantage, but also promote character development and emotional stability among their students. They are safer, have lower dropout rates, and provide a collegial working environment for teachers, as well as increased public confidence and parent satisfaction.

The study argues that small schools may in fact be more cost-effective than their large-school counterparts, when their high graduation rates and reduced expenses due to disruptive behaviour, violence, and vandalism are factored into the financial equation.

The authors point to a growing “small school movement” around the world, which shares “the conviction that experience in small schools builds better citizens, and provides a better bridge to social equality and civic engagement in later life.” They conclude, however, that “Canada is falling behind in the educational debate over the impact of small schools on social cohesion and civic engagement.”

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