My View

When it comes to high schools, bigger is worse

February 10, 2014 

I am offering this article as a nonpartisan, objective opinion with regard to the upcoming Clover district school bond referendum. That referendum proposes, in the face of the current size and projected growth of student population in the Clover High School, to extend and expand its capacity to absorb a larger number of students.

I am a senior with no children or grandchildren currently attending, or likely to attend, Clover High School. So I have no particular prejudice with regard to the bond issue. Instead, I’m addressing the issue strictly out of concern that families residing in Clover andLake Wylie, receive the best possible quality education for their children.

Background

In 2006, at the point of seeking the bond issue to fund Oakridge Middle School, and, as recently as two years ago, the Clover school board rejected the idea of a “mega” high school and was committed to two high schools in the district, including a new high school in Lake Wylie.

And now, with no public input, no sufficient survey of affected parents and no indication of authoritative studies to support the proposition, the school board is moving forward for a vote for a $99 million bond issue, the largest proportion of which is intended to fund and expand the enrollment capacity of Clover High School, already at 1,980 students.

Some facts

When you plan looking out 20 years, it’s an important consideration to seek optimization of the school’s academic performance and results. There is approximately $52 million of costs of the $99 million being sought to expand the size of Clover High School that could much better be applied to the costs of obtaining a proper site, centrally located within the Lake Wylie area, and constructing a second new high school as a way of dealing with the already burdened student population at Clover High School, as well as the experienced and projected growth within the two areas of Lake Wylie and Clover.

We are blessed with a capable Superintendent, Marc Sosne, who is well-equipped to oversee and manage a two high school Clover district. Yes, there may be an incremental cost for a second high school over the expansions of the existing Clover school, but any new required funding, distributed across the combined population of Lake Wylie and Clover, could be economically accommodated.

I am supplying two sets of data that show the benefits by restricting the size of a high school student population. In addition, I am providing the organizations whose studies support and confirm the criteria of setting a target size to gain the resulting benefits.

An examination of the populations of the high schools in York County, as well as across the state, show Clover High School is at a size that should not be exceeded.

There are a series of authoritative studies that have examined and confirmed a correlation between sizes in terms of student enrollment and the quality of education that clearly establish that “bigger is not better” when it comes to high schools. These studies were found to apply to schools in urban areas, suburban areas and even more rural areas.

The studies by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; NYU’s Institute For Education and Social Policy; Harvard, Michigan, UNC, Stanford, Texas, Illinois and Virginia; State Departments of Education in North Carolina, Washington, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Florida, Kentucky, California, Idaho, Indiana, among others found:

• Benefits and disadvantages of high schools with 600-1,800 students: academic achievement increases, higher test scores, higher grades, higher subject area achievement, greater critical thinking skills, more years of advanced education following high school, higher levels of achievement following high school; lower levels of truancy, attendance problems, lower drop-out rates, 10 percent to 15 percent higher graduation rates, lower incidences of substance abuse/drugs, lower incidences of gangs and cliques, less violence, thefts and disciplinary incidents; more positive attitudes toward school, faculty and subjects, higher participation in extra-curricular activities, higher level of loyalty and attachment to school, higher student self-esteem and self-confidence, more positive social interaction between students, students feel safer and more secure, students not over-looked, alienated or overwhelmed by large crowds, minorities and the poor experience major overall advantages.

• Advantages for teachers: knowledge of students, more detailed, more personal; teacher/student relationships much closer; learning activities more individualized, experiential and world relevant; classes smaller; scheduling more flexible; less bureaucracy; more cross-discipline interaction among teachers; less departmentalization; curriculum breadth more comparable; better integrated education; and teachers confer more with each other on students, curriculum and philosophy.

• Advantages for community: greater parental involvement; greater sense of community involvement and pride; greater involvement of school in community improvement; enhanced position as central focus of a true, reasonably-sized community; cost per graduate lower due to a higher graduation rate; and slightly higher cost per student annually.

Conclusion

In my judgment, the school bond referendum for all of these reasons, and simple logic, should receive a “no” vote.

And, action should be taken to obtain a site adequate for a new high school to be built in the central part of the Lake Wylie area.

Clover High School would be contained within the optimum size of no more than 1,800 students and the new high school would be designed to accommodate a similar population.

This would be a win/win for both Clover and Lake Wylie, and should ensure the Clover School District would continue to rank among the best academically in York County and South Carolina.

Further, it would enhance property values and be an important magnet for attracting major employers to this area, worthy objectives for us, the residents of the Clover School District.

Fred Glickman is a Lake Wylie resident.

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