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Scaling and Sustaining Positive Effects of the New York Small High Schools Initiative


Gordon Berlin, President, MDRC
Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education, Stanford University
Robert L. Hughes, President, New Visions for Public Schools
James H. Shelton III, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education
Adam Tucker, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Bob Wise, President, Alliance for Excellent Education

States and districts face enormous challenges in designing and executing effective strategies to raise the performance of urban high schools serving large numbers of students who are far behind grade level as entering ninth graders. Beginning in 2002, New York City closed more than twenty large failing high schools and opened more than 200 new small high schools. At the same time, the city implemented a centralized high school admissions process that assigns over 90 percent of the roughly 80,000 incoming ninth graders each year based upon their school preferences.

Taking advantage of lottery-like features in the New York City admissions process, MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research firm in New York City, is conducting a rigorous study of more than 100 nonselective “small public high schools of choice” in New York City. Their findings show that these schools narrow the educational attainment gap, increase students’ likelihood of earning credits and graduating in four years with a Regents diploma, and improve their college readiness. This year’s report, Sustained Positive Effects on Graduation Rates Produced by New York City’s Small Public High Schools of Choice, confirms the impact of the reform and allows examination of a second cohort to reach graduation. The findings show positive achievement and graduation effects for virtually every subgroup, including students with low entering proficiency in math and English, males and females, blacks and Hispanics, and students eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch.

What are the lessons learned from the New York City small high schools of choice initiative that can help districts and states create sustainable strategies to markedly improve the graduation rates and trajectories of large numbers of traditionally underserved students? On April 3, 2012 the Alliance for Excellent Education and MDRC cohosted a webinar to discuss the findings of the MDRC report and facilitated a conversation among education leaders about the design and implementation of an effective large-scale high school reform. The webinar also included a question and answer period to address questions submitted by viewers across the nation.

Supplemental Materials:

This event is made possible with support from

The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, DC-based national policy and advocacy organization that works to improve national and federal policy so that all students can achieve at high academic levels and graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship in the twenty-first century. For more information about the Alliance, visit

MDRC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research firm in New York City. MDRC is dedicated to learning what works to improve the well-being of low-income people. Through its research and the active communication of its findings, MDRC seeks to enhance the effectiveness of social policies and programs.

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