Compared to other similar districts, City Schools has a larger percentage of small schools. These schools have benefits, but they also come with challenges:

  • It’s harder to organize a wide range of programs in schools with small numbers of students
  • With less flexibility in staffing, it’s harder to organize resources effectively to support instructional interventions for small groups of students
  • Fewer students may mean too few students for two classes at a grade level, leading to larger than average single class sizes, or to a need to combine grade levels in a single class
  • Teacher leadership is limited by the relative lack of teams to share content
  • Teachers must have a wider range of expertise
  • Administrative and operations costs are spread over fewer students, a challenge in City Schools’ student-based funding model

Baltimore City public schools with fewer than 350 students cost about $940 more per student (on average) than the district’s larger schools. For City Schools, this difference equals an investment of approximately $13.4 million.

At the same time, City Schools has a higher number of small schools than other comparable districts.

12 thoughts on “District Footprint – Small Schools

  1. Christine Layton Reply

    I’ve been trying to figure out how what these numbers are based on and how they were calculated. So far–after a lot of research–I’ve only been able to find studies that show the “increased” cost for high schools (grades 9-12). So far, I’ve found NOTHING that supports that smaller schools are more costly for elementary or middle-school students (grades K-8). I’ve even gone so far as to email the authors of the high school analysis to ask if they’re aware of any K-8 analyses and whether they believe their 9-12 analysis can be generalized to K-8 schools. I’ve yet to receive a response. Based on what I’ve found, it appears that there’s an assumption being made that the results for high schools can be applied to K-8 schools. Maybe this is true, but I don’t see any evidence to support what can’t be shown to be anything other than a false assumption.

    • City Schools Communications Team Post authorReply

      Thank you for your comment – the original post was a bit confusing and we have corrected it above.

      To clarify, the analysis comparing the cost per student at smaller schools vs. larger schools was done based on schools in Baltimore City Public Schools – not nationwide. The numbers represent expenditures at actual city schools with fewer than 350 students as compared to expenditures at larger schools.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Christine Layton Reply

    As an evaluation researcher, the first thing that came to my mind in reviewing this webpage was, “How are you defining “small school”? In particular, I think it’s a huge error to lump all small schools together. For example, while *on average* they may be relatively inefficient, I’m pretty certain that there’s a huge range. I.e., some small schools may do better than larger schools. Likewise, what do we know about the benefits of smaller schools? As I understand things, smaller schools’ limitations may be offset by benefits like better educational outcomes. I support addressing the BCPS’ budgetary issues, but not at the expense of its students.

  3. Anonymous Reply

    I was planning on sending my son to a small neighborhood school next year. It has a great reputation among parents and is racially and economically mixed, which is something we are actively seeking in a school. What luck that it happens to be in our neighborhood. The budget gap has spooked us, and while we love Baltimore city and still hope that we can go to our neighborhood school, we have to look at other options. I know other parents with young kids who haven’t entered the school system yet are feeling the same way.

    Research shows that diverse schools reduce achievement gaps and improve outcomes for all students. Why eliminate or cripple a school that is a success, and in the process drive out middle- and high-income families and their tax dollars, just because of some arbitrary criteria?

    Baltimore has long focused on attracting young professionals to live in the city at the expense of the people who already live here. But the only way to convince many of those young professionals to stay as they get older is to have a thriving public education system. There are some bright spots in public education in Baltimore! Please don’t kill them.

  4. Protect Community Schools Reply

    Where can we see how these numbers were calculated? And when the estimate compares costs per pupil to “larger schools,” how much larger? Please let us know where we can see the details.

    In the meantime, talking only about annual costs may ignore long term benefits to the students and city of having smaller community schools. When these are considered, (and even if not) smaller schools may well be worth the investment. Decisions should not consider the size in isolation.

    Our daughter attends a small but thriving school with a racial and socioeconomic mix. Smaller community schools can be places where students are nurtured and encouraged to be intellectually curious. Our teachers often team up for discussions with teachers at other schools to collaborate I have not seen building capacity as a bar to staff support. Many challenges are not insurmountable with technology these days, and I’m impressed with what I see teachers doing.

    In short, it seems to me that it’s not a matter of the size of the school per se that is most important.

    Finally, this focus on school size touches on bigger issues. We have witnessed students leave our fail to enroll in city schools because of lack of resources and gradual funding cuts. In this city, too frequently that means wealthier (often) whites leave and poorer families remain as funding cuts continue and resources dry up. Then you have a small school with few resources and no leverage or power to demand more. Then the school is seen as a failure, and we have failed the students for years as budget cuts continue, until finally it is closed. We need to think about how these funding cuts impact communities over time.

  5. Anonymous Reply

    On NPR, Dr. Santelises spoke about the social injustice of providing fewer opportunities to students in arts and drama, specifically, when we have to make cuts. However, if we consolidate schools, we can eliminate leadership positions, and provide some of these vital extracurricular classes. We could expand opportunity in both extracurricular activities as well as expanding social and emotional supports through consolidation.

    Also, when we provide supports through priority funding is sustainability a part of the plan? Through these grants, we have consultants who are training teachers, but we know we have a high teacher turnover rate. We also have literacy specialists in those same schools, that are not in classes, but should be providing support in literacy, along the same lines as these consultants… not to mention we have district staff that should also be well versed in these practices. So, in one school we have three levels of literacy support, and yet, the model is not a train the trainer model. We layer on plan after plan sometimes, don’t create specific measurable goals, and then we add more support. We need to be more careful about including performance measures in our decisions, and really reflecting on decisions.

  6. Re Reply

    Is there any research on small schools vs. large schools? The research may help answer the question about the better investment. Larger schools have more staff which lends itself to more collaborative teams and organizational concerns. Perhaps the leadership in our district needs to analyze how prepared the administration is to handle large school populations, social & emotional development of our students, and support educators in providing quality programs and instruction.
    The city politicians need to support schools because strong schools may increase the city population therefore increasing the school population. It has to be a collaborative effort among all agencies.

  7. C. Grayson Reply

    Obviously – there needs to be an immediate restructuring of the AU’s and the pay scale. I don’t know why new teachers are making almost as much as I am – go figure. (City School’s Created That Monster)
    Immediate closure/combining of schools that have student populations under 400.
    Reduction of the number of teacher professional development days.
    Immediate halt on purchasing any new ELE or Mathematics program.
    Reduction in the number of network personnel.
    Halt on allowing small/tiny schools have a Principal/Assistant Principal and A Lead Teacher.

    The only perk I have as a Baltimore City School Teacher is the BC/BS. Don’t take that away because that is OUR ONLY perk – our exceptional health coverage.

    Furloughing has already proven to be illegal.

  8. B'More Thoughtful Reply

    Does this analysis include charter schools?

    This analysis makes a good point about how small, underutilized traditional schools with declining enrollments in a city with a declining population affect a district’s overall financial sustainability. I also understand that in a city of neighborhoods and in a city with transportation challenges, no community wants to see their neighborhood school closed, and we have to be thoughtful in how we condense schools and do a lot of community outreach there, particularly in connection with the 21st Century Buildings project.

    I want to be careful though re: this conversation extending to charter schools and forthcoming per pupil allocations. A small, filled to capacity charter school with a wait list that maximizes the space in their facility has a different story to tell than a small neighborhood school with declining enrollment and empty classrooms.

    D. Renee makes a very good point above re: small charter schools. Yes, it’s a more fragile operating model, especially with year over year per pupil funding cuts for charter school students. But we need to think about why they exist and thrive: because the traditional model isn’t serving children well, in terms of academics, social emotional learning, parent outreach, disciplinary procedures, school culture, and a general lack of thoughtfulness about how to approach things like homework, trauma, and racial integration.

  9. Anonymous Reply

    The demands to meet student needs is always increasing. Small schools have the potential to create strong, effective school communities. P

  10. Angela Reply

    I am in a Charter School. I am seeing no difference in the teaching process, behavioral or academics. Students here are just being pushed from grade to grade, graduating then having no where to go or anything to do because the help is in appearances only and not real support/structure.
    Why are Charter Schools even given funding when as even those on North Avenue are quick to state “They are a Charter School, they do what they want”. You don’t know how many time I hear that answer when you see them doing something wrong and call to question it and told its wrong but as soon as you says its Charter, it becomes a different. Either they are part of City Schools or not but should not be given so much leeway to basically do and say what they want. There needs to be so much more and better accountability in schools and headquarters who also use the buddy system and not being upfront and honest and in a lot of cases not even checking on some schools but saying they have.

  11. D. Renee Reply

    It is Baltimore City’s public school’s failure to provide promising schools that have resulted in the rise of smaller, charter schools. As a parent of a public charter school student, I believe that if the public schools had higher performance levels, consistency and expectations, parents would have the confidence to send their children to the public schools, thus a decreased number of public charter schools with a higher cost per student rate.

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