National Forum Policy Statement

The National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform recommends that national, state, and local policymakers provide resources and support to create small schools at the middle-grades level. In those cases where small schools are not feasible, the National Forum recommends that district and school leaders break down large middle-grades schools into smaller schools or small learning communities that create a personalized environment for teaching and learning. “Smallness,” whether small learning communities or small schools, is a necessary but not sufficient organizational structure that enhances teaching and learning at the middle level.

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Why Small Learning Communities and Small Schools?
A majority of the 14 million young adolescents (grades 5–8) enrolled in U.S. public schools continue to fare poorly on national and statewide performance assessments. Many eventually tune out or drop out of school.
One reason for this low level of achievement is that too many middle-grades students attend large, impersonal schools where substantial numbers of students are not purposefully engaged in learning, lack meaningful relationships with adults, and are increasingly alienated from school. Creating small schools and small learning communities represents a giant step toward personalizing middle-grades education and establishing the right conditions for enhanced teaching and learning.
Although currently embraced by high school reformers, small learning communities were first identified by middle-grades leaders nearly 30 years ago as conducive to young adolescents’ learning. While “smallness” is not an end in itself, it does help create conditions for student success by fostering a shared vision, shared leadership, a professional collaborative culture, and structured time for teachers to talk about instructional practice, as well as time to visit each others’ classrooms (Louis & Kruse, 1995). Smallness also allows educators to design and implement individual learning plans that meet the full spectrum of student needs, smaller student/teacher ratios, and more opportunities for students to engage actively in both courses and extracurricular activities. For these and other reasons, an extensive body of research suggests that small schools and small learning communities have the following significant advantages:
• Increased student performance, along with a reduction in the achievement gap and dropout rate
• A more positive school climate, including safer schools, more active student engagement, fewer disciplinary infractions, and less truancy
• A more personalized learning environment in which students have the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with both adults and peers
• More opportunities for teachers to gather together in professional learning communities that enhance teaching and learning
• Greater parent involvement and satisfaction
• Cost-efficiency
Ultimately, creating successful small learning communities and small schools at the middle level increases the chances for students to be successful in high school and beyond.