The October 20th issue of the Democrat & Chronicle carried a story about a study that concluded that smaller schools might help students academically, but that they "may not be good for the emotional well-being of every student".
Texas State University professor Tori Terling Watt examined small and large schools and compared the number of students experiencing depression and suicide attempts, and those who brought weapons to school.
Her conclusion was that in schools with less than 300 kids, males are four times more likely to attempt suicide and have a higher incidence of depression. If they attend a private religious school, they're more likely to bring a weapon to school or threaten to use it; the same goes for girls.
Watt's theory is that in a small school, those who are "different" stand out more because of the lack of diversity. It's easier, she says, to find someone like yourself in a big school, even though there's a higher degree of anonymity.
Watt used data from the National Longitudinal Survey, which surveyed 13,000 students in grades 7 through 12, from 1994 to 1996.
According to the article, there are 5 million students attending private school in the US from kindergarten through 12th grade, 62% of whom are in schools with less than 300 students. There are 47 million attending public schools in those same grades, 32% in schools with less than 300 students.
Using my handy dandy calculator, I figure that that means that in the US there are about 3,100,000 students in private schools with less than 300 students, and 15,040,000 in public schools with less than 300 students.
That's about 18,000,000 (that's 18 MILLION) students about whom Watt is theorizing, based on surveys from 13,000 students. (Feel free to check my math. I went to a large public high school so my academic skills in this area are lacking.)
And those surveys are six to nine years old - done before Columbine, and before the rash of other public school shootings that took place in its wake.
To be frank, it just makes common sense that in a smaller school, those students who are different stand out. But they stand out all over, not just in school - but in church, in boy scouts, on the baseball team, in the grocery store. OK, that causes stress, depression, and anxiety.
But I think the report is missing a few things. If I had to theorize, for example, many of those smaller schools are in rural areas, where bringing a weapon to school may be normal (we forget here in the big city that there are still areas of our country where people shoot their dinner and where carrying a jacknife in your pocket is like wearing a cell phone.)
Add to that the fact that many small private schools - religious schools, especially - take in problem students from the larger schools in order to help them make it through high school in one piece, and that might shed a different light on the data as well.
And let's not forget that students from small schools excel academically, and learn not just their ABCs, but grow in character as well. They don't get lost, they're not just a name, and the community is often heavily involved in their education.
Let's not condemn small schools with one tiny report that used a tiny student sampling and some fairly old data. I'd like to know how many students feel safe in a large school? How many students die at the hands of fellow students each year in small schools vs. large schools?
I'm not saying the conclusion is wrong - I'm pointing out once again that the media is portraying as fact a theory that hasn't been explored fully.