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Knowledge From the Field

By Design Not Default: Optimizing District Spending on Small High Schools

Published: April 2009

Publisher(s): Education Resource Strategies

Funder(s): Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

View Report (26 pages; 540KB; PDF)
ERS Small School Design Tool

By Design Not Default: Optimizing District Spending on Small High Schools

Area of focus: Education Stimulus - General


Over the past three years, Education Resource Strategies (ERS) partnered with both schools and districts to understand spending in small high schools and document how these schools leverage all of their resources—people, time, and dollars—to best support student learning. Case studies focused on nine urban “Leading Edge” small high schools from across the country.

Key Findings and/or Recommendations

= Districts spent 10 to 20 percent more per pupil on small high schools than they did on large high schools for two primary reasons: Small high schools tended to be staffed and run like large high schools and districts deliberately awarded additional staff to small schools above required staffing levels.

= How much money districts spend may not be as important as how they spend it. What matters is that small schools are created by design and not by default.

= To create successful small schools, district decision makers must move beyond using their traditional resource allocation policies and practices toward strategies that ensure sufficient and equitable resource allocations across schools and strategic organization of school-level resources to improve instruction and better support teachers and students.

= The “Small School Spending” (SSS) tool allows district and school leaders to input current district practice (e.g., number of guidance counselors allocated to each school) and change the assumptions to model different scenarios in terms of school size, staffing ratios, etc.

Geographic Focus: National

Subjects/Keywords: ARRA funds; teacher quality; accountability; low-performing schools; leadership; school reform; improving student achievement; evaluation systems; teacher effectiveness; standards and assessments; data systems

+ Successful strategy
= Observation
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