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Brief: MDRC study left out a key slice of the student population

A group of elected officials are touting a policy brief that they say throws cold water on Mayor Bloomberg’s small schools movement just a day after a comprehensive study gave it a ringing endorsement.

The six-page brief, compiled by the Coalition for Educational Justice, focuses on how the new small schools serve students with special needs and concludes that they tend to under-enroll students whose disabilities are severe. It cited eight closed large high schools where the small schools opened up in their buildings that served significantly fewer self-contained students. A complete copy of the brief is below.

The six-page paper comes a day after MDRC published a study that found that all kinds of students at more than 100 small high schools graduated at higher rates statistically identical students who attended larger schools.

The brief’s focus didn’t necessarily debunk the MDRC findings, but attempted to raise additional issues about school closures.

“While it is commendable that the new small schools are producing higher graduations rates, it is not clear that these schools serve the same population,” the paper says. “The MDRC study does not include students in self-contained special education or collaborative team teaching; the omission of those high-needs students increases graduation rates in the new small schools.”

In response to CEJ’s brief, Howard Bloom, one of the authors of the MDRC study did not disagree. But he said that the purpose of the study was not to exclusively track students with disabilities.

“They are just factually different perspectives,” Bloom said of the two papers’ conclusions. “They’re talking about different issues.”

“What we’re saying is that these new schools made a positive change for a very large population of highly-disadvantaged students and we stand by that quite firmly,” Bloom added.

In a statement, a Department of Education spokesman pointed to the MDC study as evidence that the city’s school closure policy worked and that they had no intention of ending it.

“We refuse to go back on a strategy that has dramatically changed thousands of lives for the better, and given families better options in neighborhoods that had long been neglected,” said Matthew Mittenthal.

Meanwhile, at a press conference this afternoon to discuss CEJ’s findings, about a half dozen elected officials took the opportunity to sound off on Mayor Bloomberg’s decade in office as the head of the city’s schools. Few specifically pointed to details mentioned in CEJ’s brief and they instead focusing on a report from last week’s City Council hearing which showed that just 13 percent of the city’s black and Latino students are college ready. More than two dozen parents from some of the schools set to be phased out held red signs that said “13%.”

“The mayor has had control over the public school system now for more than 10 years, so if the school system is failing, it’s failing on his watch,” said state assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries.

Jeffries, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, did not specifically criticize Bloomberg’s small schools initiative or the MDRC study, which U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan endorsed yesterday. But at the same time he called Bloomberg too trigger-happy when it came to closing schools.

“That shouldn’t be the effort of first resort,” Jeffries said. “It should be the effort of last resort when everything else has been tried to improve the quality of the education of our children.”

School Closures Policy Final FINAL