The central office has been pretty quiet in the last year about the direction of the small schools initiative, a silence that has worried some proponents of the reform — especially in light of some of the skeptical statements made by school board members at meetings.
Today, in an advisory about a new small schools report, the administration announced the schools were “headed in a positive direction.” This might come as a relief to those wondering where the district stands on the subject. Here’s the release:
Oakland Unified School District Press Advisory
New Report Sees Small Schools Headed in a Positive Direction
The results of the first phase of external evaluation of OUSD’s new small schools
show some promising results for Oakland students and families
Oakland – September 26, 2007 – The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) will release the results of the first phase of external evaluation of its strategy to create new small schools throughout the city at tonight’s meeting of the Board of Education.
The Small Schools Movement began in Oakland in the late 1990s as a community response to overcrowding, inequity, and poor performance in Oakland’s public schools. Teachers, parents and community leaders came together to develop safe, positive and personalized small learning environments for students.
Small school creation has been a critical component of OUSD’s work over the past six years to develop a portfolio of schools that provides families with at least two quality school options in each neighborhood.
The study of Oakland’s New Small Schools was conducted by Strategic Measurement and Evaluation, Inc. from February to August 2007. Two external evaluators from Strategic Measurement and Evaluation, Inc. reviewed student and school performance data, conducted 29 in-depth interviews of teachers and principals at three new small schools, surveyed 659 teachers at New Small Schools and comparison schools around the district. The sample comparison schools included all three of the district’s remaining large high schools, as well as three middle schools and four elementary schools selected based on their similarity to the New Small Schools in terms of achievement levels, the composition of the student body, and the communities they served.
The study conducted by Strategic Measurement & Evaluation outlines seven key findings:
1. The New Small Schools serve students, families, and communities in large, overcrowded, and low performing schools.
2. New Small Schools accelerate both student CST ELA and Math achievement more frequently than do the comparison schools.
3. Most New Small Schools are achieving CST and CAHSEE scores that meet or exceed projected average levels. Compared to the traditional schools that students moved from, the graduation rates at the New Small High Schools were higher, ranging from 69 percent to 97 percent compared to 61 percent to 80 percent at existing comparison high schools.
4. There are examples of increases in the percentage of students being designated proficient or higher on the CST as students move from existing traditional schools to the New Small schools.
5. The average student, parent, and teacher satisfaction ratings achieved by New Small Schools were higher than the student, parent, and teacher satisfaction ratings achieved by a sample of comparison schools and compared favorably to overall district levels.
6. The survey data indicate New Small Schools are generally implementing proposed designs that address school culture, instructional program, professional learning community, parent, and community engagement.
7. New Small Schools can achieve high levels of organizational functioning during the first year of operation.
Kirsten Vital, OUSD’s Chief of Community Accountability, responded to the study:
“Our New Small Schools bring stakeholders together in new ways to create the conditions for student success, which is a major but not singular step in raising student achievement. There are a number of new small schools that have leveraged these conditions to accelerate student achievement.”
Vital outlined next steps saying: “Having established these preconditions in almost all the new small schools, it will now be critical to press forward with academic rigor and quality instruction while holding schools accountable for performance and providing adequate levels of support.”
The district has shifted its small schools strategy over time, based on lessons learned, to focus on providing more structure and support for the incubation process and ongoing monitoring and intervention.
In order to continue to improve the effectiveness of new small schools OUSD plans to do a more in-depth analysis about how years of implementation, type of incubation, district support, and differences at elementary, middle and high school levels impact student achievement results.
This fall, OUSD will work with an external evaluator on the second phase of the small schools evaluation to address these areas. Results of this study are expected in 2008.