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Educational Equity and School Structure: School Size, Overcrowding, and Schools-Within-Schools

by Douglas Ready, Valerie Lee & Kevin G. Welner - 2004

Consistent with the Williams v. California suit, our focus in this article is on educational equity, particularly the interface between equity and school organization. We concentrate on two structural issues, school size and school overcrowding, and one specific school structure, schools-within-schools. We organize the article as an interpretive summary of existing studies of these topics, concentrating on how these structural issues relate to social stratification in student outcomes, particularly academic achievement. Our evidence is drawn from both national studies and, when available and appropriate, from research that discusses the effects of school structure in California. We use this evidence to define which size high schools are best for all students (600900 students), which responses to school overcrowding are appropriate (building more schools rather than adding portable classrooms or multitrack year-round schooling), and how creating smaller learning communities in high schools can work well for everyone by reducing the potential for internal stratification. California policies, however, have not promoted these responses. In many cases they have actually exacerbated inequality in educational outcomes and assisted the transformation of the social differences students bring to school into academic differences. We advocate reforms that are associated with high achievement and achievement that is equitably distributed by race, ethnicity, class, or family origin. Reforms that raise achievement of children at the lower end of the distribution without damaging those at the top are ones toward which we believe our nation should strive. By offering empirical evidence of practices that lead toward this important goal, we hope to inform the important debates surrounding the Williams case.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 10, 2004, p. 1989-2014
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11679, Date Accessed: 5/6/2021 5:33:44 PM

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About the Author
  • Douglas Ready
    University of Oregon
    E-mail Author
    DOUGLAS READY is a doctoral candidate in Educational Foundations and Policy at the University of Michigan. Recent research on high school organization was published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis and the Brookings Institutionís Education Policy 2003. Additional work examining educational equity is forthcoming in Sociology of Education and in a volume for the Economic Policy Institute. He will be an assistant professor of Education Policy and Leadership at the University of Oregon beginning March of 2004.
  • Valerie Lee
    University of Michigan
    E-mail Author
    VALERIE LEE is a professor of education at the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on issues of educational equity, particularly on features of schools that are linked to both excellence (more learning) and equity (the social distribution of learning). Her recent books include Restructuring High Schools for Equity and Excellence: What Works (Teachers College Press, 2001) and Inequality at the Starting Gate (with David Burkam, Economic Policy Institute).
  • Kevin Welner
    University of Colorado
    E-mail Author
    KEVIN WELNER is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder School of Education, specializing in educational policy, law, and program evaluation. He is codirector of the CU-Boulder Education in the Public Interest Center (EPIC). Prior to embarking on a career in educational policy, he practiced law in Los Angeles. His recent work includes "Locking up the Marketplace of Ideas and Locking Out School Reform: Courts' Imprudent Treatment of Controversial Teaching in America's Public Schools" (UCLA Law Review, Vol. 50). Welner is the author of two books, the most recent of which is Legal Rights, Local Wrongs: When Community Control Collides with Educational Equity (SUNY Press, 2001).
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