JUNE 17, 2009

The New Marketplace:
How Small-School Reforms and School Choice Have Reshaped New York City's High Schools

The Center for New York City Affairs at The New School today issued a report on the city's public high schools, revealing that Chancellor Joel Klein's high school reforms created valuable new opportunities but also caused collateral damage. Klein's reforms created 200 new small high schools and expanded high school choice, but weakened large high schools attended by tens of thousands of vulnerable students at risk of dropping out.

"The New Marketplace: How Small-School Reforms and School Choice Have Reshaped New York City's High Schools," explains that the majority of city teens continue to attend large high schools, despite the small schools initiative.

The 72-page report is the result of an 18-month investigation by 10 reporters, researchers and editors. Its findings include:

  • Attendance and graduation rates are higher at new small schools than at the large schools they replaced. Principals and students report the new schools are safer. Yet many small schools remain fragile, with attendance and graduation rates declining. (See "Handle with Care")

  • As the city closed the lowest-performing large schools to make way for small schools, thousands of students, including many new immigrants and children with special education needs, were diverted to the remaining large schools. Many of those schools suffered overcrowding and declining attendance and graduation rates. Some were subsequently closed. (See "A Case of Collateral Damage")

  • Twenty-six of 34 large high schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx saw their enrollments jump significantly as other high schools were closed. Of these, 19 saw their attendance decline and 15 saw their graduation rates decline between the fall of 2002 and the spring of 2007. Fourteen saw both attendance and graduation rates decline.

  • The expansion of school choice under Klein gave thousands of students entrée into schools they wanted to attend, decreasing the number of students rejected by all their high school choices from 31,000 in 2002 to 7,445 in 2009. (See "Winners and Losers: High School Choice")

  • However, the school-choice system depends on well-informed adult guidance. Many students lack adequate support in choosing and ranking their schools, and guidance counselors are under-equipped to support them. Special needs students and children of immigrants have a particularly difficult time getting the information they need to make an informed choice.

  • Thousands of students have been assigned to schools they did not choose or that are not appropriate for their educational needs. Students are assigned to schools up to 90 minutes from home, each way, by bus or subway. The more extensive the system of school choice, the more it sorts children into those who can navigate the admissions process and those who cannot.

The report also offers a number of recommendations, including:

  • The city should not limit its high school reform efforts to the creation of small schools. Midsize and large schools can be effective and should be supported.

  • The DOE should recognize that large high schools still serve the majority of students in New York City, and support them accordingly.

  • The city must ensure that the "default schools"—schools where kids who are not picked by the school choice process wind up—get the support they need to be successful.

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