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MARKED IMPROVEMENT: New York City’s Small High Schools of Choice Boost Graduation Rates by 8.6 Percentage Points, MDRC Analysis Finds

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“While more certainly needs to be done if all students are to be prepared for college and careers, the small school strategy as implemented in New York provides a solid foundation on which to build.”

A new report from MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research firm, finds that small public high schools of choice in New York City narrow the educational attainment gap; markedly improve graduation prospects, particularly for disadvantaged students; and boost students’ college readiness in English. According to the report, Sustained Positive Effects on Graduation Rates Produced by New York City’s Small Public High Schools of Choice, students attending these schools had a 67.9 percent on-time graduation rate, compared to 59.3 percent for students who did not—a difference of 8.6 percentage points.

“These results demonstrate clearly that high school reform at scale is possible, with potentially important implications for federal School Improvement Grant funding as well as high school turnaround efforts underway in every district in America,” said Gordon Berlin, president of MDRC. “While more certainly needs to be done if all students are to be prepared for college and careers, the small school strategy as implemented in New York provides a solid foundation on which to build.”

The small schools of choice (SSCs) featured in the report are small, academically nonselective, public high schools. Each serves approximately 100 students per grade in grades nine through twelve and was created to serve some of the district’s most disadvantaged students. Located mainly in neighborhoods where large failing high schools had been closed, SSCs “provide a realistic choice for students with widely varying academic backgrounds,” according to the report.

The report finds positive graduation effects for virtually every subgroup, including students with low entering proficiency in math and English, males and females, blacks and Hispanics, and eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch. It follows a June 2010 MDRC report showing that SSCs increased students’ likelihood of earning credits, progressing through school, and graduating in four years with Regents diplomas. This year’s report extends the analysis by one year and allows for examination of a second cohort of students to reach graduation.

The complete report is available at http://www.mdrc.org/publications/614/policybrief.pdf.

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