In New York City, like most of the country "education reform" in the form of small schools is all the rage. The Department of Education (DOE) has touted the small school craze at the expense of the large traditional high schools in the city. It is common knowledge that small schools allow for a closer relationship between the students and staff and increases attendance when compared to the large high schools. However, there has been no long-term study showing that the academic performance in a small school environment is any better than in a similar large high school. In fact, when class size, economic, and community characteristics are similar in the two type of schools, there are little differences in the academic performance of the students. DOE however, has found a devious method to ensure that the student performance in a small school is statistically superior when compared to the large schools. How did DOE do this? They spiked the data to ensure the desired results.
First, the DOE took attendance figures that showed that the small schools had a 15% increase in attendance rates than the large high schools. However, what DOE failed to report that the 8th graders entering the small schools had a 91% attendance rate compared to a 81% attendance rate for the 8th graders attending the large high schools. The 5% difference can be attributed to the large school having more special needs students and poor academically performing students which will be bought up later in this article. Consequently, the small schools really did not show an improvement in attendance rates when compared to the large high schools.
Second, The small schools had a lower percentage of Special Needs Students (Special Education, Physical and Mental disabilities, and Non-English Speakers). The small schools averaged 12% of the student population in this category while the large high schools had 34%! Somehow the DOE failed to account for this difference in the student population of the two types of schools.
Third, the academic performance of the small schools showed a slight improvement over the large schools, based upon incomplete data (many of the small schools have not had a full four year graduation cycle). However, what DOE didn't tell the media was that the 8th graders entering the small schools averaged 15 points higher on the mandated English test and 20 points higher on the mandated Math test, when compared to the 8th graders entering the large high schools
Fourth, in New York State the students are classified by how well they do on state tests for English and Math. Students well below normal are level 1, students below normal are level 2, and students at or above normal are level 3. Interestingly the small schools, when compared to the large high schools had less level 1 students (poor academic performers) and more level 3 students. Listed below are the statistics.
Small Schools........................... Large High Schools
Level ............1.......... 2.......... 3 Level....... 1........ 2........ 3
English........ 10%.... 73% ....17% English... 35%... 56%... 8%
Math............ 38%.... 48%... 14% Math...... 64% ....30% ...6%
Fifth, Despite denials from DOE, the small school class sizes are capped (13-20 students per class) at levels below those found in the large high schools (30 students per class). Almost all studies show that the smaller the class size, the better the student academic performance. Furthermore, the small schools are allowed to screen the entering 9th graders to ensure the best possible student body, something the large high schools are not allowed to do. This screening is clearly reflected in the data above.
Finally, as more and more large high schools close down and the rich history and tradition with it, the excess students who do not get into the small schools (usually the weakest academic performers) are dumped into the already overcrowded large high schools further weakening the academic performance of the schools. The result, a new crop of small schools replace these high schools and the beat goes on.
I would like to thank Jonathan H., a chapter leader in a small Bronx high school for the statistics found in this article. Jonathan's article and comments can be found in Edwiz.