By guest blogger Madeline Will
New York City’s small high schools raise graduation rates and boost college enrollment—at a lower cost per graduate—than the city’s larger, more traditional high schools, according to the latest findings in an ongoing longitudinal study.
Since 2002, New York City has closed 31 large, struggling public high schools that were graduating 40 percent or fewer of their students and replaced them with dozens of small schools. MDRC, a New York-based research firm, released the new findings today that look at 84 of the 123 “small schools of choice,” which are academically nonselective and serve mostly low-income students and students of color.
The multiyear study compares the academic outcomes of students who won their first admissions lottery and enrolled in one of the small schools with their peers who sought admission, lost the lottery, and enrolled in other high schools in New York City. (The study is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which also provides some support to Editorial Projects in Education, the publisher of Education Week.)
The latest findings show that the small schools raise on-time graduation rates by 9.4 percentage points and boost college enrollment by 8.4 percentage points. This effect held true across subgroups, particularly for black males, whose graduation rate from small schools is 12.2 percentage points higher than their peers in the control group. The graduation rate for students eligible for special education services is 13.4 percentage points higher than that of the control group.
And, the study found, it was less costly for small schools to achieve those gains, since more students were successfully graduating within four years and driving down the need in those schools to provide an expensive fifth year of high school.
“Given the challenges that are facing America’s urban high schools, you just have to be impressed and heartened by these findings,” MDRC’s president Gordon Berlin said in an interview. And, he added, the schools have been seeing positive results year after year.
This year, MDRC added a fourth cohort of students who entered 9th grade in the fall of 2008. Berlin said he hopes the study will continue to track the four cohorts of students as they advance through college and into their careers.
“We want to understand if (these) students are more likely to complete college and how they’re likely to do in the labor market,” he said.
Forty-nine percent of the small-school students enrolled in postsecondary education after graduating from high school on time. Almost 20 percent chose a two-year community college or technical school, while 9.3 percent chose a “noncompetitive” four-year institution and 8.3 percent chose a “competitive” school.
Berlin said other cities have tried out small high schools, but many of those efforts mostly focused on the size and made few other substantive changes.
New York City’s small schools of choice, on the other hand, are focused on personalized learning and are centered around community or industry themes, like film, law, or coastal studies.
“All of that really improves the relevance of education,” Berlin said.
See the full report and latest findings on MDRC’s website.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.