Thursday, March 21, 2013

What is a Neighborhood School?

A foundational element of the Community-based Education Reform movement is the neighborhood public school. Most people know, intuitively, what a neighborhood school is. It's important, however, to have a clear written definition.

It should be noted that the scope of this article is only to define the terminology and nothing more.

Basis of the Definition: Neighborhood School

Neighborhood public schools are the school assigned to all nearby children of a certain grade level and are free. They are so named and so assigned because of geography, which in turn is rooted in practicality.

There are two essential drivers of the practicality of a local neighborhood public school.

First, schools tend to hover around a certain size range, and don't tend to grow either much larger or much smaller (i.e. plus or minus an order of magnitude). There has been a lot of research in the area of school size, and it seems to indicate an idea size of no less than two and no more then four classes per grade, assuming that it's possible to provide the necessary programs within those parameters.

However, without going into a long discussion about school size, here we stipulate that economies of scale will drive a school to not be too small, but that factor will wane after a certain level and other factors (e.g. geography, community) will take over as the decisive factor in determining school size.

Second, in the present state of human technology, the physical proximity of things largely drives their practicality. Hence we assign children to schools based in the place they live, and their physical proximity to a school. This is modulated by another purely practical factor, which is human governance: city and district boundaries. It might be further modulated by other practical factors such as roads and transportation and so forth.

Put these factors together, one after another, and you have the basis of a neighborhood school. It should first be sized appropriately, which in turn drives its geographical scope. If the local student population exceeds its appropriate attendance, a new school should be built based on the same two general factors above. If a school's attendance shrinks, it can be combined with another school according to the same principles.

What Neighborhood Schools Are and Are Not

Within the primary and secondary factors determining the attendance you will not find choice as a factor. Advocates of "choice" rightly consider the neighborhood school model the antithesis of what they support.

Thus a neighborhood school is by definition a reflection of it's local community. A charter school (or any form of "choice school") on the other hand, is a reflection of individual choices. Hence we community reformers believe that strengthening the community around a neighborhood school will strengthen the school, and weakening that community (by, for instance, introducing charter schools which strip neighborhood schools of funding and the most engaged students and parents) will weaken neighborhood public schools.

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