The Small Schools Initiative is part of a relatively new trend in educational reform - breaking up large, comprehensive high schools into smaller academies. The goal is to replicate the environment of smaller high schools while simultaneously preserving the strengths of larger high schools. Small Schools have been successfully implemented in several cities around the country, including Chicago
Schools that have implemented small schools have had a decrease in dropout rates, an increase in student and teacher attendence and an increased graduation rate. Small schools help develop relationships between students and teachers. This, in turn, help students become better connected and more interested in school. Small Schools also average a greater percentage in Advanced Placement and honors classes and receive better standardized test scores.
However, the research is not absolute. Although research on traditional small schools is plentiful, research on small schools within larger schools is not as common and what is out there does not paint quite so pretty a picture. Schools implementing "academies" do tend to have higher attendance and graduation rates as well as lower dropout rates. Unfortunately, they often also result in a phasing-out of advanced classes, unless such classes are located in a specialized academy, which can lead to problems of its own. In general, although small schools works for minorities and people of lower socio-economic level, they tend not to work for students at a higher socio-economic level and Caucasian students.
Small schools have gotten a bit of a boost since being picked up by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Working through subsidiaries such as the Ohio-based KnowledgeWorks Foundation, the Gates Foundation waves money at school districts in order to encourage them to experiment with small schools.