A study and comparison of the perceived advantages and disadvantages of five open-space high schools in Texas



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The turmoil in American education, which had been generated in part, by the emergence of the Soviet Union as a rival of the United States for control of space, created a climate for new ideas to be tried and accepted. One result was the acceptance of the open space school. The proto-type was the British Infant School, which had arisen in England following World War II. As various educators visited these schools, they felt that their roots lay in the prairie schools of early America and in the writings of Dewey. Proponents of these new schools refer to them as being "humanistic" or "child centered." The advantages usually stated are that the child can learn more, working at his own pace. Also, in this type school, that the students can gain acceptance by their peer group more easily, and that as the students gain acceptance by the peer group more easily, they can move from one group to another and talk during the work sessions. Research conducted in open space schools has tended to focus on the cognitive domain and no clear preponderance of evidence has been found which demonstrates the superiority of the open space school to the traditional model. None of this research has focused on the open space high school. The purpose of this study was to compare teacher and administrator perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of the open space high school. Then, to compare the perceptions of teachers with less than three years experience with the perceptions of teachers with three years or more experience. And finally, to compare the schools themselves for evidences of commonality or non-commonality in their origins and functioning. The instrument used to record the perceptions of the respondents was the "Open Space School Questionnaire," developed and piloted by William Clay Kaelin in the open space elementary schools of Broward County, Florida. Oral interviews were also carried out with personnel who had been in the districts from the time of planning to the present. These were carried out in order to compare the objectives for moving to the new programs and buildings and how the functioning of the new plan affected the original objectives. Significant differences were found in several areas. The first was that teachers felt that the open space school hampered their efforts to maintain discipline while administrators felt the opposite. A second finding was that teachers with less than three years experience provided much more flexibility in dealing with teacher-pupil interaction and resolving pupil problems than the more experienced teachers. The newer teachers also were much more willing to alter their lesson plans and schedules to meet the students desires than were the more experienced teachers. A finding that should be considered by any district that is planning an open space school involved continuity. Students who had been in open space schools, K-8, previously, did not have any special problems when moving into the open space high school. Those districts that had discontinuous open space programs perceived problems with students in the open space high school. It is recommended that educators formulate a more cogent rationale for the open space school, so that it can be instituted, not as a fad, but as a educational answer to an educational need. Secondly, more research should be carried out to document claims of cognitive gains by students in open space schools. There are enough tests now available that focus on problem-solving skills and achievement process that would adequately measure that domain. Finally, there are several tests available at the present time which would adequately measure the desirable affective changes that are claimed by open space school proponents. These claims, too, need to be adequately documented.