Research summary

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WHO CONDUCTED IT: W. David Stevens, senior research analyst for the Chicago Consortium on School Research; Joseph Kahne, education professor at Mills College in Oakland, Calif.

WHAT THEY STUDIED: Researchers evaluated the quality of professional development at seven of 23 small high schools that are part of the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative. During 2004-2005, they interviewed 59 principals and teachers, observed 47 staff meetings and conducted case studies at three schools.

WHAT THEY FOUND: Despite good working relationships and frequent meetings, small school teachers rarely engaged in long-term, in-depth efforts to improve instruction. Meetings were instead consumed with administrative matters; discussions about teaching were confined to immediate concerns, such as a particular lesson. Researchers identified a lack of instructional leadership and heavier workloads at small schools as obstacles to planning high-quality professional development.

Look for the full report, “Professional Communities and Instructional Improvement Practices: A Study of Small High Schools in Chicago,” online at www.consortium-chicago.org.

Other studies in this series:

“Chicago High School Redesign Initiative: A Snapshot of the First Year of Implementation,” August 2003

Researchers interviewed staff and students at the five small high schools that opened in 2002 inside three large high schools, Bowen, Orr and South Shore. Students reported receiving more personal attention in their new small schools than they had at the larger one. Teachers described more enthusiasm for teaching and greater participation in school decision-making. But schools also complained of inadequate facilities and equipment and tension with their host school. They also reported insufficient planning time for their new programs and little schoolwide focus on improving instruction.

“Notes from the Ground: Teachers, Principals and Students’ Perspectives on the Chicago High School Resdesign Initiative, Year Two,” September 2004

Researchers interviewed staff at the five small high schools opened in 2002, and six more that opened in 2003. Teachers and principals reported high levels of trust among staff and fewer violent incidents among students than they had experienced at their larger schools. However, teachers had still not defined as a group what high-quality instruction should look like, and students reported that some classes challenged and engaged them while others did not.