Friday, November 21, 2008

Organizational Size Matters

In our conversations about education change, Stevan Kalmon and I explore the conditions that support change in schools and districts. Recently we discussed the Rule of 20 as defined by the Coalition of Essential Schools: that classrooms of no more than 20 students, and schools with no more than 20 classrooms provide ideal conditions for learning to take place.

Taking it a step further, Stevan posited that districts should have no more than 20 schools. Go too far beyond that number and the bureaucracy required to hold things together pushes conditions toward rigidity. Change is difficult and there is great pressure to hold to a uniform way of doing business. Go too far below the Rule of 20 and districts/schools/educators tend toward isolation; new inputs are limited; organizations are not at critical mass for dynamic action.

Of course, great things can happen at either end of the school district size spectrum. But larger districts must cope with a higher degree of complexity. One of our Learning Partners, Eagle County School District, near Vail, Colorado, seems well poised for change. With 19 schools, it meets the Kalmon Corollary of the Rule of 20. Eagle has a dynamic and forward-thinking new superintendent in Sandra Smyser, and a smart staff of professionals steering the district toward a vision of 21st century learning. Under John Kuglin’s tech leadership, the district is integrating tech tools in support of its instructional goals in innovative ways.

I suspect we’ll learn lessons from Eagle that will prove useful to others interested in developing intelligent learning communities. We’ll keep you posted.

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