The Bill Gates sponsored MRDC study has once again falsely claimed that Bloomberg's small schools outperformed the closed large school they replaced. However, if one looks closely at the data the MRDC used to demonstrate their conclusions, you can find some very obvious flaws in the study.
First, and I must say most importantly, is the "peer effect". In the closed and closing high schools the DOE has been and are "warehousing" students with disabilities and self-contained special education students into these schools. Even the State Regents Chancellor, Meryl Tisch, has said as much here. When you put a significant amount of special needs students, especially ones with behavior and attendance issues, it will destabilize the school. Even the "good students" will realize that the school is becoming an unsafe and non-stable environment and start acting up as well. The impact of the "peer effect" on teenagers is a given and when a school gets too many struggling students, it will affect the student body. The study by NYC Community for Change shows this when it came to the self-contained students. Table 1 in the report found that the closed schools averaged almost 12% self-contained students of the school's student population while the small schools that replaced them averaged less than 4%! Moreover, under Chancellor Joel Klein these small schools were allowed to exclude special needs students in the school's first two years as policy during the 2005-2009 school years.
Second, many of the small schools have small class sizes, while the closed and targeted high schools are programed for 34 students, the contractual limit. Even many education reformers admit that class size does matter. Some of the principals of the more successful small schools have credited their academic achievement to small class sizes.
Third, the eighth grade attendance figures between the students going to the closed high schools and the small schools show a 10% difference for the class of 2006, with the lower figure at the soon to be closed high schools. That means that the small schools used attendance as a means to determine which student to select.
Fourth, the Annenberg Study debunks the assumptions used to justify the MRDC study and questions the success of these small schools. More information can be found on the NYC Public School Parents blog here.
Finally, the so called "unscreened small schools" are really screened. They ask for the student's grades, attendance and want recommendations from teachers and Administrators. Jennifer Jennigs reported this in her observations at three of these schools.
My observations revealed that many schools used applications, mandatory information sessions, and much stronger language to deter unwanted applicants. For example, 12 unscreened schools shared a similar application requiring that students provide the most recent report card and two letters of recommendation, one from an eighth-grade teacher and one from a guidance counselor, assistant principal, or principal. The application also asked for the student’s test scores, retention history, and involvement in advanced courses during the eighth grade. Finally, the application included additional questions requiring a narrative response….The district’s application system provided opportunities for unscreened schools to choose higher achieving students. Through this computer system, each school received a list of students applying to the school, although the school did not know whether the student ranked it, for example, 1st or 12th. ….
In conclusion, the Bloomberg/Wallcott small schools are not a success that they falsely claim but a result of steering and "warehousing" the most difficult of students into closing and struggling schools. It is like comparing "apples and oranges". It is time the media exposed this travesty. For the DOE it is "children last"...always.