Much of the push for education reform revolves around smaller schools, smaller class sizes, and as much one-on-one time with teachers as possible. Yet some schools have eschewed this model, opting to focus instead on changes that don’t require a complete overhaul of the entire school system. In Brockton, Massachusetts, Brockton High School, which caters to over 4,100 students, proved that the focus doesn’t necessarily need to be on decreasing class size, but on retooling the structure of classes. Without cutting class size, Brockton High saw an abrupt increase in testing performance by incorporating reading and writing into every subject, even gym.
Although this may not seem immediately intuitive, on one level it makes a great deal of sense: some of the highest-ranked colleges and universities in the United States feature first-year lecture courses seating a hundred or even a thousand students. A student may never know more than a fraction of his or her peers in the class, but he or she will be offered innumerable resources and opportunities to succeed. Brockton High School didn’t have the option of teaching only a few hundred students–not only does its large student body make it one of the largest high schools in the country, but it is also larger than many private colleges–so it focused on the quality of education that the students were receiving and what they needed to be successful. In math class, students solved problems and then wrote out explanations of how they had done so. One science teacher asked her students to write out the steps to make a sandwich, starting not with putting the sandwich together but with opening the cupboard or refrigerator. The school has seen a sharp rise in English test scores and is working to make similar improvements to math scores.
Although some may argue that the country’s best schools are charter schools, the charter-school model is not always feasible–and it isn’t the only model that works. If more schools followed Brockton High School’s lead and focused on the things they can change–from curriculum to quality of textbooks and other materials to structure of the school day–perhaps we’d see similar levels of drastic improvement elsewhere.