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Klein: Small high schools still succeeding, and more are coming

The high school report released today shows that the Gates Foundation’s support for small schools was worthwhile, according to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

His statement contrasts with the foundation’s own evaluation of its small schools spending, which it said last year had not produced the academic gains it had hoped. Bill Gates himself said in November that while New York City’s small schools have done better than others his foundation started, the schools still do not adequately prepare students for college.

Delivering introductory remarks before a panel discussion about small schools this morning, Klein said the Center for New York City Affairs report “confirms the work of the Gates Foundation,” which provided much of the funding that allowed the city to open small schools.

Today’s report “carefully documents” that the schools have gotten better results than the large schools they replaced, Klein said — and with the same type of students, contrary to the charges by critics who say the small schools’ students start off better prepared. (In the schools’ early years, they enrolled students who were slightly less at-risk, but they now admit their fair share of overage students, students with disabilities, and students who are learning English, the report concludes.)

Despite his generally favorable review, Klein disputed some of the report’s findings, especially around graduation rates. He said the report’s suggestion that graduation rates at schools other than small schools had fallen was not true. In fact, he said, new schools drove only a small portion of the system’s steadily rising graduation rate, with many large schools also improving. 

The report found that graduation rates have fallen in many new schools in just a few years. But Klein said the new schools’ graduation rates remain strong. “The results consistently are higher,” he said, adding that the new schools’ graduation rates appear to be stabilizing at about 70 percent, twice the typical rate of the large schools they replaced.

Klein also attacked the report’s core claim, that the surge in small schools displaced problems onto other high schools. He said the growth in the large high schools might have been fueled by a 15,000-student bulge in the high school population, not by pressure imposed by the new schools’ enrollment limits.

Tthe difficulty for large schools comes not when they receive more students, but when they don’t know how to serve those students, Klein said. Some schools, such as Hillcrest High School in Queens, whose principal sat on the panel, have actually gotten better even as their student populations have grown more challenging, he said.

Klein said he would continue to drive change by closing more failing schools and creating more small schools to replace them. About the aggressive school creation strategy he has employed so far, he said, “Did we make mistakes? Of course. Are we constantly learning? Absolutely.”