Sustained Positive Effects on Graduation Rates Produced by New York City’s Small Public High Schools of Choice

Howard S. Bloom and Rebecca Unterman
April 2, 2012

During the past decade, New York City undertook a district-wide high school reform that is perhaps unprecedented in its scope, scale, and pace. Between fall 2002 and fall 2008, the school district closed 23 large failing high schools (with graduation rates below 45 percent), opened 216 new small high schools (with different missions, structures, and student selection criteria), and implemented a centralized high school admissions process that assigns over 90 percent of the roughly 80,000 incoming ninth-graders each year based on their school preferences.

At the heart of this reform are 123 small, academically nonselective, public high schools. Each with approximately 100 students per grade in grades 9 through 12, these schools were created to serve some of the district’s most disadvantaged students and are located mainly in neighborhoods where large failing high schools had been closed. MDRC researchers call them "small schools of choice" (SSCs) because of their small size and the fact that they do not screen students based on their academic backgrounds.

In June 2010, MDRC released a report on the effectiveness of 105 of the 123 new SSCs, based on an unusually large and rigorous study that takes advantage of lottery-like features in New York City’s high school admissions process and includes data on 21,000 students from four cohorts who entered ninth grade between fall 2005 and fall 2008. That report demonstrated that SSCs are markedly improving academic progress and graduation prospects, particularly for disadvantaged students.

This policy brief extends the analysis by a year, adding information on high school graduation rates for the 2006 cohort and providing a fifth year of follow-up for the 2005 cohort.

Also check out a webinar from the Alliance of Excellent Education covering this report on April 3 at 1:00pm.



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