When I was in grade school, one of the annual highlights of my summer was the day my friends and I went on a field trip to an old one-room schoolhouse. To all of us, the day was an opportunity to “be like Laura [Ingalls]” by dressing up, having spelling bees, and reading lessons out of McGuffey Readers.

Admittedly, our enthusiasm for nostalgia clouded our understanding of any educational benefits we experienced in our brief stay in a one-room school. But according to a recent article in The Sacramento Bee, there are still a few children who experience – and recognize – those benefits year round:

“Tucked away in a corner of Marin County where dairy cows outnumber residents, Lincoln is a ‘well-kept secret,’ says county School Superintendent Mary Jane Burke. It has remained much the same for more than 140 years, even as other county destinations became known for hiking and dining spots, enclaves of wealth and self-help culture.

There has been talk about merging the county’s three one-room schools, but Lincoln’s board, staff and parents are determined to keep it independent.”

The reason why parents and staff are determined to keep these one-room schools running is two-fold:

1. Community Bonds – Because grade sizes are small, the children are forced to form multi-age friendships. These friendships last far beyond the grade school years and into adulthood, as former student and now parent Janeen Brady will attest. The community nature of the school also fosters parent-teacher communication and understanding, for “the teacher knows everyone’s parents, siblings and maybe grandparents, and can tell if the dog really ate the homework.”

2. Tailored Instruction – As teacher Sandy Doyle explains, the school’s small, community-like environment enables her to know where the students are at and how best to help them. She also has a small army of assistants in the older students, who are quick to jump in and teach the younger children, often unwittingly solidifying their own learning in the process.

While the students, parents, and teachers are fans of the few remaining one-room schools, the state isn’t as enthusiastic. As Sandy Doyle explains, California has tried to shut these schools down by limiting funding, a fact that seems consistent with the push to consolidate schools and districts in the last century (chart below).

We’ve long bought into the idea that bigger is better. But when it comes to schools, is it possible that smaller, more local schools can offer surprising educational benefits that today’s mammoth institutions are missing?

PublicSchoolGrowthImage Credit: berlyjen bit.ly/1eBd9Ks