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Report: City’s small schools push damaged large high schools

The city’s drive to open new small high schools has taken a serious toll on older, larger schools, and there are signs that the new schools’ success could be short-lived, according to a report being released today.

The report, an analysis of the small schools bonanza by the Center for New York City Affairs, concludes that the city must do more to support large high schools, which continue to enroll the vast majority of city high school students despite the proliferation of small schools, and which are straining under the burden of enrolling the system’s neediest students. 

At the core of the report is the finding that as small schools opened, large schools nearby suffered huge jumps in enrollment, especially among low-performing students and students with special needs. Those schools have seen attendance decline, disorder increase, and graduation rates drop, according to the report. In some places, these shifts have caused the city to restructure the newly troubled large schools, displacing at-risk students once again, the report concludes.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein told researchers that he understands that his strategy of closing low-performing schools and replacing them with new options could inflict some collateral damage on large high schools. “This is about improving the system, not necessarily about improving every single school,” he said about the strategy at the center of his reforms since he took office in 2003.

The report backs up the city’s claim that the small schools graduate their students in higher numbers, but it raises questions about how long the schools can sustain their success. The small schools have higher teacher and principal turnover rates than other high schools, and many have already seen their initial graduation rates drop, the report finds. Plus, a higher proportion of small schools’ graduates have left school with the less rigorous state diploma type, which could prove to be a problem now that the state is requiring all students entering high school to earn the more rigorous diploma type.

Today’s report comes on the heels of a smaller-scale report released yesterday about the failure of new small schools to enroll and serve students who are learning English. Tomorrow, the City Council is taking up the state’s new graduation requirements, which advocates have called “a looming crisis” for the city students who are most at risk of not graduating.

I’m about to head to an early-morning panel discussion about today’s report, which is set to include Chief Schools Officer Eric Nadelstern; the principal of a large high school that appears to be doing well despite surging enrollment; Michael Mulgrew of the teachers union; an outspoken parent activist; and Pedro Noguera, the New York University professor who has published his opinions on this site. Klein is also speaking, and the panel is being moderated by the report’s lead author, Clara Hemphill, who also founded the Web site Insideschools.org (and was my boss when I worked there). I’ll have more from the panel discussion and from the report later today.

The New Marketplace

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