Harvard Educational Review
  1. Summer 2008 Issue »

    Editor's Review of Small Schools and Urban Youth: Using the Power of School Culture to Engage Students

    by Gilberto Q. Conchas and Louie F. Rodriguez; Foreword by Hugh Mehan

    By James P. Huguley
    Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008. 134 pp. $56.95 (cloth).

    Of the various reform initiatives that have descended on urban schools in the last fifteen years, perhaps none has been more celebrated than the small schools movement. New York City implemented a small schools approach fifteen years ago in order to improve students’ engagement and achievement at the high school level (Ancess & Allen, 2006). In 2002 alone, New York converted twelve failing high schools into forty-seven smaller school communities, and the results of that initiative have been promising. Bosman (2007) reports that while the citywide graduation rate was at 50 percent in 2006, the rate for the forty-seven small schools was 71 percent. In one remarkable case, the Bronx’s Evander Childs High School served 3,300 students in 2002 and graduated just 31 percent of its senior class that year. Today, Childs has become three smaller schools in the same building, each graduating 80 percent of their seniors in 2006.1

    These results are encouraging and confirm the suggestions of a wide body of research on the impact of small schools. Cotton’s 1996 and 2001 reviews of the relevant literature on school size, climate, and student performance found that on average, when compared to large comprehensive urban high schools, smaller learning communities were associated with a wide array of student benefits. These benefits included more positive attitudes toward schooling; lower levels of antisocial behavior; greater degrees of extracurricular participation; higher attendance rates; fewer dropouts; greater feelings of belonging; better interpersonal relationships in school; healthier self concepts; and higher standardized test scores. Clearly, these findings make a compelling case for the effectiveness of small schools as an instrument for urban school reform.

    Yet the small school movement is not exempt from critique. Skeptics of these reform efforts have raised the question of exactly which kinds of students are enrolled in small public high schools, since many of these schools have admissions criteria and application processes. Skeptics have also noted that the New York City smaller schools have fewer special needs students and English-language learners, groups typically associated with lower standardized test scores (Bosman, 2007). And it can be said more generally that an application process of any kind inherently creates a selection bias, whereby students who are less likely to complete an application, perhaps because of lower motivational levels or less parental engagement, may be left out of these public institutions. A sizable portion of small schools in urban settings fit these categories, leading to some healthy skepticism of their accomplishments.2

    Still, many of these institutions seem to be highly effective, particularly in serving urban Black and Latino students, groups that are typically associated with the educational achievement gap in the U.S. Ideally, when smaller schools use personalized educational approaches that their structure can facilitate, such students seem to achieve at higher levels. Yet in reality, small schools do not consistently capitalize on these opportunities to create equity. According to Pedro Noguera, “Small schools . . . are not necessarily better than large ones. . . . Unless small schools have all the essential features associated with school effectiveness, they are unlikely to be any better than the big schools we have at the present” (2002, p. 61). Similarly, Visher, Teitelbaum, and Emanuel (1999, cited in Cotton, 2001) note that

    researchers who have studied small schools have stressed that reducing school size alone does not necessarily lead to improved student outcomes. Instead, they concluded that school size should be seen as having an indirect effect on student learning. . . . School size acts as [a] facilitating factor for other desirable practices . . . that tend to promote student learning (p. 6).

    Theresa Perry takes the discussion one step beyond the false assurances associated with small schools, suggesting that social reproduction may be facilitated through the ways in which small schools are integrated into their larger districts. In describing her frustrations with the inability of some small schools to close the racial achievement gap, Perry suggests that rather than acquiescing to the latest “one-trick pony” of school reform, we need to ask several tough questions of these schools regarding the racial distributions of enrollment in their high-level math and science courses; the types of colleges, college majors, and professional tracks to which their graduates matriculate; and any pointed curricular differences between small schools that serve more Black and Latino students versus those that serve more White and Asian students (Perry, 2003). In sum, the concern here is that small schools could become a district-level tracking mechanism that limits opportunities for underserved students, especially those of Black and Latino descent (Perry, 2003; see also Ancess & Allen, 2006).

    Some key takeaways from the literature mentioned above are that small schools have the potential to be agents of equity in the face of the achievement gap by both reducing structural limitations that may be found in overextended large schools while simultaneously providing personalized psychosocial supports3 that reduce achievement disparities. This potential can only be actualized, however, when these schools take full advantage of effective organizational, social, and pedagogical best practices that are ideal in small school settings. In other words, once we have achieved the first step of making the structural shift to small schools, we have a unique opportunity to implement strategies that can promote equity in American education and begin to address the racial achievement gap in our schools. This second step, however, requires the acknowledgment and implementation of strategies that are both specific to Black and Latino high school students and that are also specific to the urban context. Fortunately, this is the precise niche that Conchas and Rodriguez address in their informative volume, Small Schools and Urban Youth: Using the Power of School Culture to Engage Students.

    In this study, Conchas and Rodriguez focus on three key assertions. First, they identify the quality of the relationships among members of the school communities, both student-teacher and student-student, as being primal for the academic success of Black and Latino urban students. Second, they suggest that the development of these relationships should be woven into an intentionally cultivated school culture.4 Third, they emphasize that without attention to school cultures, small schools will not be successful simply because they are smaller. In their words, “We specifically argue that small school structure provides opportunities for enhancing school culture and that relationships and personalization are fundamental in constructing school success” (p. 2). These authors suggest that relationships and personalization are building blocks that set the foundation for high achievement in small urban high schools. Furthermore, based on their analysis, I would suggest that an emphasis on school cultures holds great potential for addressing specific psychosocial antecedents to the racial achievement gaps in the United States. On the student side, these psychosocial issues include differences across groups of students regarding issues of school engagement, educational aspirations, educational expectations, and parental investment. On the teacher side, they include the impact of variation in teachers’ perceived responsibility for student performance, the effect of teacher demand and encouragement, their interpretations of students’ stylistic presentations (for discussions of these hypotheses see Fordham & Ogbu, 1986; Ainsworth-Downey & Darnell, 1998, Ferguson, 2002; Diamond & Spillane, 2004; Carter, 2005; and Diamond, 2004).

    Developing Cultures of Achievement, Support, and Positive Peer Pressure in Small Schools

    Small Schools and Urban Youth is a six-chapter volume that chronicles two cross-comparative analyses of the cultures of small high school learning communities. One group of learning communities was located in Oakland, California, with data collected between 1996 and 1999. The other was in Boston, Massachusetts, with data collected between 2001 and 2003.5 In Oakland, two magnet academies within one larger high school, Baldwin High, are compared and contrasted: the “Medical Academy” and the “Graphics Academy.” Both of these academies were highly successful as defined by the college matriculation of their students. The Medical Academy had an open enrollment format and actively recruited underachieving students for its program. Approximately 79 percent of its most recent graduating class had matriculated to four-year colleges, with another 19 percent going on to two-year postsecondary schools. The Graphics Academy was an invitation-only successor of the old AP and honors track system of the main high school, and nearly 100 percent of its graduates went on to four-year institutions. The authors also report that the Graphics Academy, perhaps due to its history, also seems to have an edge in terms of opportunities for rigorous courses, with all of its core courses having Honors or Advanced Placement offerings.6

    Overall, the findings discussed in the volume portray both of these academies as successful learning communities serving mostly students of color in the urban context, but also with important differences in their school structures and cultures. After the introduction, the next two chapters of the book compare the outcomes associated with the structural and cultural differences of these two academies, including differences in levels of student academic achievement, psychological well-being, academic confidence, and inter­ethnic harmony. For both schools, deliberate attempts at creating cultures of achievement and personalized education — where teachers take an active role and responsibility for holistic student development — yielded positive outcomes in the aforementioned domains. In their differences, however, we see important distinctions that have implications for addressing achievement disparities.

    The contrasts across learning communities lie in the area of student well-being and interethnic harmony. Essentially, Conchas and Rodriguez portray the collaborative, team-oriented culture of the Medical Academy as an exemplar of holistic student development with attention to community building and interethnic collaboration. In this school, pedagogical strategies in the academy utilized team projects and other collaborative educational techniques to encourage student cohesion, a sense of community, and a peer culture of high achievement. As one student reported, “The Medical Academy is like a community of a group of people that are working together . . . and if one is not doing good, the other helps . . . to make it better, to make everything better” (p. 20). Another student attributes this development more directly to the faculty’s direction: “We are like a community because they are always telling us to work together and more things are going on for us to unite. We help each other to fulfill our goals in school and [to prepare to] go into health careers” (p. 20).

    The authors applaud this effort in cultivating a collaborative and high-achieving culture at the Medical Academy. They note that these types of peer relationships lead to healthy levels of competition and stronger student engagement, which in turn resulted in higher levels of academic success. Additionally, the authors report that the academy’s sense of community and achievement values broke down racial and ethnic tensions that existed elsewhere in Baldwin High School’s other programs and mainstream track. In particular, students at the Medical Academy reported feeling more comfortable talking to people of other races, which served to counter stereotypes and facilitated the development of friendships that may not have otherwise happened. Perhaps what is most important here is the fact that the Medical Academy’s student population had a similar makeup to that of the larger school in terms of ethnicity and achievement indicators, suggesting that their levels of success are not due to the academy having a select group of students, the condition Perry warns us against (2003).

    In contrast, the Graphics Academy consisted of a select group of students who were placed in a highly competitive, academically exclusive, and relatively stressful community. Conchas and Rodriguez paint a picture of a school culture that, while generally concerned with meeting students’ individual needs, prioritized its attention on the higher-achieving students, thereby creating a level of unhealthy competition that took a psychological toll on some students in the academy. As one student noted, “You’re always trying . . . to catch up . . . and always comparing yourself to others. I always feel depressed” (p. 36). Several students reported feelings of alienation, depression, and encapsulation from the other members of their own ethnic groups (particularly Latino students). Thus, the high levels of success came at a social cost for this “elite” group of learners.

    On a more alarming note, the authors also report that the racial composition of the Graphics Academy was not comparable to that of the larger high school. While the overall composition of Baldwin High School was 65 percent Black, the Graphics Academy was only 25 percent Black. In striking contrast, while Baldwin was only 20 percent Asian, the Graphics Academy was 56 percent Asian. In response, the authors rightfully assert that “while the intentions of the Graphics Academy are honorable, the outcomes of that academy’s structure reproduce the status quo” (pp. 34–35). Indeed, Conchas and Rodriguez identify evidence of Bourdieu’s (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977) idea of social reproduction in schools with Perry’s (2003) observational nuance, whereby the most rigorous (at least by traditional standards) learning community is merely a large-scale track where Asian and White students are disproportionately represented. In further discussion, Conchas and Rodriguez question the Graphics Academy’s recruitment and enrollment processes and priorities: “The fundamental factors that mediate distinct cultures [in the two academies] derive from the academy enrollment process and specifically the recruitment process. Who do teachers target for enrollment and why? Are teachers concerned with equity issues, or are they reinforcing the status quo?” (p. 53).

    Viewing these conclusions in the context of the larger achievement disparities and the racial achievement gap, this issue of small schools as reconstituted tracking systems needs to be addressed in earnest before the larger movement manages to gain sweeping support, particularly at the federal level. Inequality in school resources is certainly a primary consideration in the achievement gap debate, and small schools have the potential to adjust for this disparity. With that said, allowing our small schools to be the primary mechanism of a between-school tracking system simply masks structural inequality with a seductive, but insidious veil. Moreover, such a reorganization fails to utilize the primary benefit of the small school structure: helping alleviate the psychosocial stresses that contribute to racial achievement disparities. In short, using small schools to cater to the highest-achieving students is a tragic waste of resources.

    While I agree with the authors that the potential for tracking and social reproduction is problematic, I am not convinced that the Graphics Academy culture — outside of its questionable recruitment practices — is detrimental to student success in general terms. The sometimes unsavory reality is that a culture of competition may better prepare students for a world that is highly competitive, given that Western society’s most celebrated higher education institutions, for example, are highly competitive. This society’s most celebrated professions are, arguably, highly competitive as well. And while the data suggests that some students reported psychological cost, Conchas and Rodriguez also acknowledge that some students found the Graphics Academy’s workload and culture to be motivational and fulfilling. A more targeted inquiry into this particular school culture phenomenon is needed before we can determine if the costs of a highly competitive culture outweigh its socially sanctioned benefits. To be clear, both of these models had commendable records of student success. And while the Graphics Academy may not be right for all students, particularly those with needs for more holistic support, if we hope to close the gap we must recognize that both types of communities may be needed in order to meet the individual needs of learners.

    Why Size Matters: Exploring the Mechanisms behind the School Size Effect

    Chapters 4 and 5 of this volume explore a question that is in some ways more fundamental than the cultural comparisons of the previous two Oakland chapters: What is it about small schools that yields the potential for high achievement in the urban context? The key word here is possibility, because, as noted in previous research, size alone does not guarantee results in urban school reform. Yet, while previous literature generally acknowledges the problems with that assumption, Conchas and Rodriguez describe the issue in a more nuanced way, noting that “much of the school reform literature, particularly within the small schools movement, either fails to articulate the connection between school size and academic and relational quality or assumes that personalization just occurs as a function of size” (p. 63). With this observation, the authors begin to fill the void in the literature by providing student perspectives on how the mechanisms of a culture emphasizing interpersonal relationships and personalized education can promote achievement.

    In these chapters, the scene changes to Boston, Massachusetts, where the authors compare two small learning community settings that have achieved very different outcomes for their students. The first is an autonomous small high school called High Achieving Academy (HAA), which started as a pilot school7 in 1998, free from the constrictions that teachers unions and district mandates place on traditional schools. The other, Grand High School (GHS), was a large comprehensive school of more than 1,500 students that was divided into smaller career academies. Both schools served similar demographic populations: They were majority African American (76% at HAA, 59% at GHS), and both had substantial Latino populations (16% at HAA, 34% at GHS). For both schools, then, greater than 90 percent of the total population was Black and Latino, with the remaining 7 or 8 percent a mix of Asian American, multiethnic, and White students.

    The schools, however, had substantially different levels of achievement, with HAA being the higher-achieving community. In 2003, 70 percent of the students at GHS failed the English portion of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exam, and 84 percent failed the math. For HAA, those numbers were only 17 percent and 54 percent, respectively. Both schools did, however, show substantial improvement in 2003. For GHS, the percentage of failures in math and English dropped to 56 percent and 49 percent, respectively; at HAA, those numbers were 11 percent and 40 percent. Thus, we have a picture here of two urban schools with comparable student populations, both utilizing small learning community structures and both with substantially different but still improving levels of achievement.

    At High Achieving Academy, the authors describe a school environment where personalization of students’ individual needs is a top priority. In unpacking personalization of education in the urban secondary school context, Conchas and Rodriguez provide data on two key points of inquiry: how school culture proves to be a more powerful force in producing personalization than does school size; and how school size interacts with particular school processes to shape, and perhaps enhance, the potential for personalization. They suggest that while size does help facilitate these fertile achievement conditions, relationships and personalization of the education process are the mechanisms for improved levels of achievement. Complementing the ideas previously raised by Noguera, Perry, and others regarding the limited potential of small school reform in a structural, cultural, and pedagogical vacuum, Conchas and Rodriguez ultimately assert that school cultures become a priority over school size in urban reform.

    In the Boston study, we see two schools where personalized relationships between students and adults were featured, yet these relationships were qualitatively different across contexts. For HAA students, the school made deliberate efforts to individualize support, help, encouragement, and care. HAA, as an institution, made relational developments a priority, and, in turn, many students attributed their academic success to the personal attention and care that they received from faculty members. Unfortunately, at Grand High School the authors report that while there was opportunity for such relationships in the small learning communities, such personal investments were more anomalous than systematic.

    Conchas and Rodriguez note that at the base of this culture of personal relationships at HAA are the principles of authenticity, reciprocity, support, and respect. Teachers engage students by sharing their own personal stories, incorporating students’ out-of-school personal narratives, and showing respect (which is deemed to be particularly important in the urban context) to students in ways to which the students can relate. The authors also effectively point out that a holistic approach to student engagement is critical in the urban context. At HAA, teachers sought to support students’ nonacademic needs with informal counseling and other resources whenever possible. The authors describe the need for such an approach concisely, saying, “Teachers in high-poverty schools deal with issues that extend beyond the academic content yet are the very issues that often influence a student’s disposition in school” (p. 82). Here we see that in not acknowledging the students holistically, those same students may not be in a position to succeed in school in the same capacity. It seems, then, that in the urban context, engaging the whole student appears to be a wise investment of time and resources.

    In stark contrast, students in the small learning communities of GHS seemed to feel that there was no room for personal affairs in student-teacher relationships. As one student put it, “Everything the adults need to know, they know. It’s not like you can tell your own life to everybody. . . . You need to keep your other stuff to yourself” (p. 83). What is striking about this student’s comment is that it does not acknowledge that having a more personal relationship with a teacher is even an option, let alone a practice beneficial to the students’ educational endeavors. This perception of a hard boundary against the personalization of the educative process is, as the authors demonstrate, reflective of a culture in which personal relationships are possible due to the smaller size and student-teacher ratios, but are a function of individual teachers’ practices and are thus anomalous. Hence, we see the major contrast between GHS’s less deliberate, smaller learning communities and the intentional and holistic student development of HAA’s school culture.

    Although causal claims are not possible with this data, Conchas and Rodriguez’s analysis of the Boston schools presents some compelling evidence that the intentionality of the High Achieving Academy’s school culture development surpasses the potential of GHS’s haphazard cultural milieu in terms of raising achievement. In the context of the MCAS scores discussed earlier, it is fair to say that students attending the institution that prioritized holistic care and quality personal relationships performed better on achievement outcomes than did their counterparts who attended schools that had the structure in place but not the culture.8 Furthermore, the Oakland analyses show us that pro-achievement peer norms can also be a product of intentional school cultures, and the combination of these cultural elements can help previously underachieving students reach higher levels of educational attainment. In the end, the authors note that “the major point is that relationships are central to creating a meaningful educational experience for all children, and it is important to build a school culture that reflects the importance of relationships” (p. 118). Certainly, this conclusion is universal (such an outlook is practically understood in independent school communities), but this finding is particularly important in the urban school context, given the unique psychosocial issues at play.

    High Potential: What Small Schools with Personalized Cultures Can Mean for Racial Achievement Gaps in U.S. High Schools

    Both the Oakland and Boston school culture cross-comparisons, with the emphasis on the impact of personalized and relational school culture, mesh well with existing achievement gap findings around potential psychosocial issues related to racial educational attainment disparities. Directly applicable is Ferguson’s (2002) finding that Black students were less likely than their White counterparts to be responsive to teachers’ high demands in isolation, but were more likely to note the importance of encouragement when discussing what they need from teachers. In Conchas and Rodriguez’s book, as part of the benefit of the relational emphasis in the schools, students report benefiting explicitly from the encouragement their teachers give them. Thus, in this study we see an illustration of that very principle in action.9

    Additionally, Carter’s (2005) discussion of nondominant cultural capital in the context of urban students is of particular importance here. Carter’s work shows that when Black and Latino students are less engaged in the formal educative process in urban schools, this disengagement may be in response to a rejection of their cultural presentations by the adults at their schools. However, in the context of the data from Small Schools and Urban Youth, it seems less likely that we would find such attitudes among the faculty at the Medical Academy or High Achieving Academy.

    In addition, we must consider the “Acting White” hypothesis, the notoriously popular but empirically embattled explanation for the Black-White achievement gap put forward by Signithia Fordham and John Ogbu (1986). In a recent analysis, Ferguson (2006) argues that high-achieving Black students who feel that people like them in their school who are accused of acting White are also more likely to have personal styles associated with White youth. He found that stylistic indicators like listening to rock music and using Standard English in informal settings were strong predictors of whether Black students were accused of acting White. And for these predictors the achievement variables fall out of the statistical model. In other words, Ferguson suggests that personal style, not achievement levels, cause one to be accused of acting White. Again we see a psychosocial conflict that might be better addressed through an approach that emphasizes personal relationships and school cultural norms, such as the one in place at the Medical Academy, a community that values tolerance and challenges stereotypes.

    Other relational explanations for achievement disparities include lower teacher expectations for Black and Latino students (Ferguson, 1998) and fewer examples of teachers feeling responsible for student achievement in mostly Black urban schools (Diamond & Spillane, 2004). Clearly, these could be addressed through faculty cultural development at the school level as well. Thus, we see that several perceived psychosocial antecedents to racial achievement gaps can be connected to the nature of the relationships between student and teacher and/or student and student. In turn, what is most promising about the emphasis on school culture that Conchas and Rodriguez advocate is that this method addresses all of these issues by setting the standard for a systematic network of relationships based on mutual respect, holistic student support, and the personalization of education for students. In short, ideas that Noddings (1992), Meier (2002), and others have described broadly are particularly applicable in the context of racial achievement gaps in urban high schools. These studies suggest that caring and trusting relationships are showing positive results in the urban school context, and what is needed now is a systematic approach to making these relationships part of the fabric of these learning communities.

    The findings provided by Small Schools and Urban Youth are tremendously helpful, but additional research is still needed. First, while the data is compelling, it is not confirmatory of a causal relationship between school culture and achievement. Future researchers with the goal of informing policy should seek to confirm the causality and pervasiveness of these phenomena through large-scale quantitative studies, preferably with experimental designs. Second, while Conchas and Rodriguez did a nice job of reporting the main tenets of effective personalized school cultures, their study, perhaps by design, did not target faculty or staff in exploring the nuances of personalized school culture development. Thus, while we can see from this inquiry how effective certain cultural values may be at the school level, we do not get a sense of exactly how to create, implement, and sustain these norms from a leadership or staff perspective. A logical next step would be a “manual,” if you will, that can be provided to other school leaders so that they can attempt to bring the culture of achievement, support, and personalization to their urban high schools.

    From a policy standpoint, the elephant in the room is the issue of scale: Can prioritizing school culture have a major impact on large urban comprehensive high schools? The authors suggest that the potential in that context is lower, and I would agree. Fundamental to Conchas and Rodriguez’s argument is that small learning communities with lower student-teacher ratios and more sustained student-teacher relationships make these cultural systems possible. The good news, however, is research suggesting that small schools need not be more expensive than large ones, and that when run effectively and economically, they can be cheaper in some instances (Cotton, 1996).10 Yet, while there are calculations regarding the cost of size, for the cost of culture there are few clean estimates. Anyone familiar with the charter school movement will be familiar with teachers working long and intense hours, particularly when outside the reach of union standards, as at HAA. Still, we do not know if such hours and heroic efforts are necessary for effective implementation of cultures of personalization on a systemic level. From a research perspective, it would be helpful to explore the intersection between school effectiveness (across established indicators), school size, costs in terms of faculty time, and costs in terms of material resources, in order to understand effective school cultures. Such findings could help garner political support for an important reform initiative. Conchas and Rodriguez’s work is very encouraging in its suggestion that intentional and relational school cultures have some potential to narrow educational achievement disparities. It is unclear at the moment, however, whether the currently available research on the impact of school culture has enough power and predictive capability to sway the political and public will toward a focused investment in this area. Moreover, it is still unclear how exactly to achieve these cultural conditions in schools in a policy sense.

    James P. Huguley


    1. The small school movement has picked up more than policy momentum; it has also picked up some lucrative support. As of 2004 the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had provided more than $375 million in grants to small school development in the U.S. (Copland & Boatright, 2004), and, to date, has spent more than $100 million in New York City alone.

    2. It should be noted that according to Cotton (2001), only about half the literature on small school effects finds advantages in the small school structure. Still, Cotton reports that none of the literature finds large school advantages in the indicators discussed. Thus, she concludes that small schools are, at worst, equal to larger schools. In concert with other research, I think it’s a safe conclusion that small schools have a higher potential for effectiveness, particularly in the urban context.

    3. By “psychosocial” I refer to phenomena that pertain to one’s personal perception of and positioning among the various social strata in the institution. Psychosocial supports are those that identify how a student’s individual perception and social roles factor into his or her achievement and that address any necessary issues. Such an intervention can be fairly simple and individualized, such as providing upper-class mentors for nervous and intimidated freshmen in high school. Or they can be more comprehensive and communal, such as creating a holistic culture of achievement within a student body that is unaccustomed to such norms.

    4. By school cultures, the authors are referring to the behavioral norms and values that the school community holds within and across the school’s social strata (that is, across and among students, teachers, and administrators).

    5. More recent data would be ideal, particularly in the case of the Oakland study. Still, the data’s associated findings and conclusions are in line with the current literature.

    6. The study does not report whether or not the Medical Academy had any Honors or Advanced Placement options. The authors, however, make a point of juxtaposing the academic tracking structures of the two academies. Thus, my assumption is that if there are such courses available at the Medical Academy, they are more limited (pp. 16–17).

    7. Boston’s pilot schools are considered model learning communities and are largely autonomous, although they are still public city schools.

    8. What would be most helpful in strengthening the evidence around the association between school culture and achievement in these schools would be comprehensive data on students’ achievement levels prior to entry into the academies. These data, however, seem to be outside of the scope of this study.

    9. Ferguson’s work was actually in suburban schools, but the finding was ethnically based nonetheless.

    10. Cotton cites studies reporting that when “cost per graduate” is considered instead of “cost per pupil,” small schools were significantly more economical.


    Ainsworth-Darnell, J., & Downey, D. B. (1998). Assessing the oppositional culture explanation for racial/ethnic difference in school performance. American Sociological Review, 63, 536–553.

    Ancess, J., & Allen, D. (2006). Implementing small theme high schools in New York City: Great intentions and great tensions. Harvard Educational Review, 76, 401–416.

    Bosman, J. (2007). Small schools are ahead in graduation. New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2008, from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/30/nyregion/30grads.html?ref=education

    Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J. (1977). Reproduction in education, society and culture. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

    Carter, P. (2005). Keepin’ it real: School success beyond Black and White. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Conchas, G., & Rodriguez, L. (2008). Small schools and urban youth: Using the power of school culture to engage students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

    Copland, M., & Boatright, E. (2004). Leading small: Eight lessons for leaders in transforming large comprehensive high schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 85, 762–770.

    Cotton, K. (1996). School size, school climate, and student performance. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Retrieved November 10, 2007, from http//www.nwerl.org/scpd/sirs/10/c020.html

    Cotton, K. (2001). New small learning communities: Findings from recent literature. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Retrieved November 10, 2007, from www.nwrel.org/scpd/sirs/nslc.pdf

    Diamond, J., & Spillane, J. (2004). Teachers’ expectations and sense of responsibility for student learning: The importance of race, class, and organizational habitus. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 35, 75–98.

    Ferguson, R. (1998). Teachers’ perceptions and expectations and the Black-White test score gap. In C. Jencks & M. Phillips (Eds.), The Black-White test score gap (pp. 273–317). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

    Ferguson, R. (2002). What doesn’t meet the eye: Understanding and addressing racial disparities in high-achieving suburban schools. Harvard University Achievement Gap Initiative. Retrieved November 18, 2007, from http://www.agi.harvard.edu/Search/download.php?id=%2034

    Ferguson, R. (2006). New evidence on why Black high schoolers get accused of “acting White.” Harvard University Achievement Gap Initiative. Retrieved November 18, 2007, from http://www.agi.harvard.edu/Search/Search4.php?SearchWhat=keyword

    Fordham, S., & Ogbu, J. (1986). Black students’ school success: Coping with the burden of “acting White.” Urban Review, 18, 176–206.

    Meier, D. (2002). In schools we trust. Boston: Beacon Press.

    Noddings, N. (1992). The challenge to care in schools: An alternative approach to education. New York: Teachers College Press.

    Noguera, P. (2002). Beyond school size: The challenge of high school reform. Educational Leadership, 59(5), 60–63.

    Perry, T. (2003). Reflections of an African American on the small schools movement. Voices in Urban Education, 1, 4–11.
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    Summer 2008 Issue


    Hijacking Education Policy Decisions
    Ballot Initiatives and the Case of Affirmative Action
    Michele S. Moses and Lauren P. Saenz, University of Colorado at Boulder
    Different Worlds and Divergent Paths
    Academic Careers Defined by Race and Gender
    Juanita Johnson-Bailey and Ronald M. Cervero, The University of Georgia
    Language and the Performance of English-Language Learners in Math Word Problems
    Maria Martiniello, Educational Testing Service
    The New Outspoken Atheism and Education
    Nel Noddings, Stanford University, Emerita
    Beyond NCLB and AYP
    One Superintendent’s Experience of School District Reform
    Ron Sofo, Freedom Area School District, Pennsylvania

    Book Notes

    Teacher Mentoring and Induction
    edited by Hal Portner

    Brick Walls
    by Thomas E. Truitt

    After the Bell
    edited by Maggie Anderson and David Hassler

    Call 1-800-513-0763 to order this issue.