Small learning communities or professional learning communities

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  • 1. 3. Small Learning Communities or Professional Learning Communities?In this paid column in Education Week, author/consultant Richard DuFour responds to aprincipals question about reorganizing his high school into separate houses or Small LearningCommunities with interdisciplinary teams. The principal asked if the SLCs would be better thancontent-specic Professional Learning Community teams in which teachers had been working. DuFour said no, stick with content-specic teacher teams. Furthermore, he continued,there is little in either the history of American education or recent developments in the eld thatsuggests converting schools into SLCs will improve student achievement. DuFour cites thendings of James Conants 1959 Carnegie study, which argued that any high school with fewerthan 400 students was ineffective and inefcient. Two recent studies by the American Institutefor Research (2005) and SRI International (2006) looked at schools that had been organized intoSLCs with the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They found that studentattendance and achievement, especially in mathematics, were worse in the Gates schools than inother high schools in their districts. The studies also noted the high staff turnover due to thedemanding and unwieldy teacher workloads often inherent in small schools. Although therehave been some isolated examples of apparently successful small schools emerging from therestructure of a large high school, says DuFour, these have been the exception rather than therule. The best hope for improving schools, say the experts, is to emphasize continuousmonitoring of student learning, tighten school culture, and pay greater attention to issues ofcurriculum and instruction advice that the Gates Foundation has heeded. Small Learning Communities arent the answer, says DuFour. Ultimately the culturemust change to impact classroom practice and student and staff expectations, and the beststrategy for improving schools at any level will focus less on the structure of the organizationand more on building the capacity of people within the schools to create a new culture theculture of a PLC, with its intense focus on each students learning, collaborative and collectiveeffort to promote that learning, and hunger for evidence of student learning to inform andimprove professional practice and to better meet the needs of the students we hope to serve.Are Small Learning Communities (SLCs) Synonymous with Professional LearningCommunities (PLCs)? by Richard DuFour in Education Week, Feb. 23, 2011 (Vol. 30, #21, p.26), no e-link available

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