To the Editor:
Regarding your coverage of a study of the New Century High Schools in New York City (Report Roundup, Oct. 24, 2007; “New Small Schools in N.Y.C. Post Higher Graduation Rate,” Oct. 31, 2007):
The report by Policy Studies Associates Inc. claims that a sample of small schools had increased graduation rates, compared with large schools with comparable student populations. At least as important, however, is the fact that most of these small-school graduates earned diplomas that are so deficient that New York state will eliminate them next year because they fail to meet accepted standards of college readiness.
Larger schools performed significantly better in producing Regents-level graduates, the only level that will be available next year. So it appears that, counter to their stated mission, the small schools are putting graduation over education, without the academic rigor that advocates claim.
But there is no way to check the accuracy of even this conclusion, since the parties involved refuse to make the underlying data publicly available (as I describe in my Jan. 25, 2006, Commentary “Come Clean on Small Schools”). And this is the final of four Policy Studies Associates reports. Subsequent data under the new graduation rules apparently will never be studied.
The PSA researchers, in defining success as “credit accumulation,” rather than subject mastery, do a disservice to the movement by gaming their data in this manner, informing small schools of these rules and then comparing them with students in large schools ignorant of PSA’s bottom line. Further, nowhere in the report or the Education Week coverage is there mention of the small schools’ exclusion of students with disabilities and English-language learners requiring self-contained classrooms, a matter of likely significance and the subject of a federal civil rights investigation.
Similarly, nowhere is there mention of class size or other characteristics of successful small schools to make their results replicable, so unique is the sample and the attention that has been heaped on it from the program’s inception.
The fact that your newspaper receives grant support from two foundations that also fund the organization that was instrumental in producing both the research and the program it evaluated leads me to question the way you presented this story.
David C. Bloomfield
The writer is a professor and the head of the educational leadership program at the Brooklyn College campus of the City University of New York.
A version of this article appeared in the November 14, 2007 edition of Education Week as Story on New Century Study Is Faulted on Many Grounds