The first in our “On the Table” Series, this is a close reading of Scenario #1 currently under consideration. The FTF analysis of this and others can be found here:
Scenario #1 – Retain Current Building Array
Here, we look at the first Scenario under consideration by the Futures Task Force (FTF). Well, not really under any serious consideration as it was dismissed by its members at the beginning as unworthy of consideration. But that raises serious questions: If you believe the state of our educational infrastructure is untenable? …and the only solution you are pursuing is further consolidation? Schools of similar size and smaller are the pride of other Maine communities. Schools the size of Katahdin do not “die”; they are killed, for the mistakenly perceived economic development purposes of the potential receiving community. How do you “kill” a school, and simultaneously invest in the children within? Is, “…if we could get a building condemned, that would solve our problem!” Is that the language of investment and pride?
I’ll leave that to our readers to answer….
The FTF lists “small class size” as a “challenge”, though parents, communities and private schools would tout it as an advantage. As vital as teachers are, they are also the most visible – and low teacher/student ratios drive business-minded people crazy. So crazy, in fact that they are willing to spend more to relinquish this natural advantage, that elite private schools, are larger urban ones spend a great deal to emulate, than it would cost to maintain it.
We hear “duplication of services” quite a bit, and it bears remembering that services children receive are “duplicated” elsewhere as well. Are educational services in Houlton “redundant”? Bangor? Alaska? The Pre-K-12 units are 20 miles apart, and much farther for children. Distance costs, it does not save. The view of the leadership, that services offered to Katahdin’s children are “redundant” and should be eliminated is unsubstantiated. RSU 3, touted as a model for RSU 50, is a similarly large district in terms of square miles — with 8 schools.
To deem Katahdin “inviable” is an admission that children within are presently being shortchanged, and parents reject the notion that it is “unavoidable”. Our readers are clearly as committed to small, local quality and cost-effective education as the leadership is to dismantling it.
Small schools around the state that serve their children, taxpayers and communities very well cast doubt over claims that our decline is “unavoidable”. I would like to share with you a passage from a letter I received from a parent in Stockton Springs:
“…Searsport High School has worked hard at coming back from losing their accreditation in the 90’s and has been working towards becoming a STEM school. The program is so popular and successful here that schools in Maine, New England and beyond have visited our campus and talked with teachers and students for advice and direction. The superintendent said more schools needed to close and he had Searsport High School on the chopping block even though our test scores were higher than Belfast and even though we are so close to becoming a STEM school. He wanted to move us into a school that is too small and falling apart, while our school is newer with modern improvements and state of the art lab, etc. If we moved to Belfast, we would have had to use modular classrooms as the school isn’t big enough to accommodate us. That was Belfast’s way of being able to say to the state they need a new school sooner rather than later. Basically it boils down to our communities wanting local control of our school tax dollars and control over keeping the momentum going with creating a STEM school..”
MDOE reports enrollment figures of 156 for Searsport District H.S. Have any of our Board members gone to Searsport? Perhaps Easton, with an enrollment of 100?
Claims that a larger, consolidated school would maximize opportunity are unfounded both anecdotally, and in the research.
“researchers have found that “it takes a lot of bigness to add a little variety”—that is, “on the average a 100% increase in enrolment yields only a 17% increase in variety of offerings” (Pittman and Haughwout, 1997)” ~https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/education-on-a-human-scale/
“Ted Sizer said no school — elementary, middle, or secondary — should have more than 200 students.” ~http://www.schoolreport.com/schoolreport/articles/schoolsize_9_98.htm
“Even the smallest schools (100-200 students) are able to offer core curricula comparable to schools of more than 1,200…” ~https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/jack-and-the-giant-school/
“The percentage of student participation has been shown to peak in high schools with 61 to 150 students.” ~http://www.schoolreport.com/schoolreport/articles/schoolsize_9_98.htm
More recommended reading, excerpts:
“Given that educational administrators have, in many cases and situations, held considerable power, school consolidation has often been achieved by over-riding public opinion on the basis of claims about the educational and financial benefits of larger schools. These alleged benefits are not supported by any significant evidence, and the more researchers have looked at the question of school size, the more clear it becomes that small schools are actually superior” ~Education on a Human Scale
“… Impoverished places, in particular, often benefit from smaller schools and districts, and can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs….” ~ Beware the Oversimplifiers
“Busing is expensive and affects students and their families in many negative ways. An alternate, beneficial strategy for using an existing large building is to reconfigure the grade span in the facility to include students from kindergarten through 12th grade. In rural areas, drawing students from a wider age range will increase the pool, narrow the geographic area in which they live, and cut their transportation time to and from school. In any area, there are many social and pedagogical benefits to bringing students of all ages together, as well as benefits from making the school more accessible to the community. The best SWaS will serve elementary, middle, and high school students within the same facility….” ~Dollars & Sense – The Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools
Children are not “regional units”, and are not scaleable. Not only do they stubbornly resist our attempts to align childhood with how we think, but they cost dearly. The research and community aspirations are clear, that Pre-K – 12 on either side of this district is warranted.