According to the Department of Education’s Digest of Education Statistics for 2011-2012, 68.11 percent of students are enrolled in secondary schools with 799 students or less.
Relying on data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the Digest of Education Statistics provides annual reports on the characteristics of our nation’s education system. For a list of all Digest tables, click here.
Small schools have been the focus of a growing reform effort, and according to their advocates, students in small schools feel more engaged, have more individualized attention, and are less likely to fall through the cracks.
How to Use the Data
Although inconclusive, some research has shown that small schools can have a positive impact on student achievement. You can use the data on the percent of students in small schools to evaluate local reform efforts and compare your school and district to other schools and districts across the nation.
How the details were measured
The data is reported as the percent of students in high schools with 799 or fewer students. States with higher percentages are viewed more favorably than ones with lower percentages. The data cannot be broken down by race, ethnicity, or gender.
Limitations of the data
There is no universally accepted definition of a small school. The data also does not look at the full continuum of school size. Hundreds of high schools across the country have enrollments of more than 3,000 students.
Key Questions to Ask
What is the local context?
School configurations vary widely, and data on school size might not always reflect local nuance. For example, many high schools have created schools within a school in order to give a “small school” feel to a large institution. You will want to take these situations into account when comparing your school against state and national averages.
What is the average class size?
School size is just one indicator of a school’s intimacy. You should also look at average class size and student-teacher ratio, which gives a very rough sense of how much individualized attention students may receive from teachers.
To create its small schools indicator, Education Week, for example, pulled data from the Common Core of Data (CCD), an NCES database that collects enrollment data from every public school in the United States, and then calculated the percent of students in small elementary, middle, and high schools. As with high schools, Education Week established its own cutoff to define “small.” For elementary schools, the newspaper reported the number of students in schools with 350 students or less. For middle schools, they calculated the percent of students in schools with 800 students or less. The Education Week data on small elementary and middle schools is available on the newspaper’s Web site and is free to those who register. If you are interested in accessing the raw data for your school or district, you can access the CCD database.
According to recent research, small schools help boost achievement by fostering a more intimate, more achievement-focused school climate. Small schools also appear to help with the success of their lowest-performing students and close the achievement gap. (See Chicago Public School’s Small Schools Research for more information.) But before launching a small school reform effort, you should keep a few things in mind. First, creating small schools can be expensive. Districts typically need to hire more teachers and build more classrooms. Also, schools should not be too small. Some research has suggested that very small schools offer a narrow curriculum and do not have enough resources to help failing students. Also, the data on small schools is not conclusive.
Smaller classes benefit Burke County (NC) students—Reducing class size has helped this school district stay on track and increase student test scores.