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Before the small schools movement, there was 'Bridges Institute'

It’s a maxim touted often by city officials, even in the face of mounting criticism: Small schools that serve entirely low-performing, high-need populations can work.

In the Community section today, Lehman College education professor Rosa Rivera-McCutchen says her research supports that claim. But she says the success of small schools is often hampered by inexperienced teachers and ineffectual policies.

Rivera-McCutchen’s Community section contribution is part of “Useable Knowledge,” a GothamSchools feature that aims to promote policy based off of educational research. In the series, researchers present their research and findings, as well as policy implications that could inform education policy locally and elsewhere. And readers are invited to join the conversation.

Rivera-McCutchen studied “Bridges Institute,” a small, pseudonymous Bronx high school that opened in the mid-1990s in the model of progressive educator Deborah Meier’s Central Park East Secondary School. She found that the progressive pedagogy yielded impressive results, but that city policies that fostered new small schools ironically hurt Bridges, by causing overcrowding and increasing staff turnover.

Rivera-McCutchen writes,

With the rapid-fire creation of (and subsequent demise) of small schools in NYC, particularly in the Bronx, understanding how to successfully implement small school reform is critical. … Small size is not a sufficient reform strategy to improve urban schools in low-income black and Latino communities. It has to be coupled with strong school leaders and teachers who understand their students have been historically underserved, and who are committed to educating students as matter of social justice.

Read Rivera-McCutchen’s complete research report in the Community section, then leave a comment to ask her about her work. She’ll respond to questions in a future Useable Knowledge post.

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