Considering a Small High School?
By Norm Fruchter
The deadline to file applications for NYC high schools is December 3rd, 2010. Current high school choice involves almost 400 schools, of which more than half are relatively small high schools (serving grades 9-12) and secondary schools (serving grades 6-12). These small schools are relatively new; the first 50 were started in the mid-1990s, and most of the rest were created since 2002. The high school choice process has always been complicated and pressured for many students and their families; the existence of so many new small high schools increases that complexity. So what do we know about these new small high schools?
The city’s small high schools have already been extensively studied. Generally, the findings show that small schools overall enroll higher percentages of Black and Latino students, higher percentages of students from poor families, and higher percentages of poorly performing students, than the city’s high schools as a whole. However, historically, the small high schools have enrolled fewer Special Education and ELL students, though that gap may be disappearing.
In terms of performance, small high schools on average have higher graduation rates (though not necessarily higher Regents graduation rates in past years), higher attendance, and higher rates of credit accumulation than all the city’s high schools. Studies have found that students selected by lottery to enroll in small schools had higher credit accumulation, attendance and graduation rates than students not selected.
These findings suggest that the new small high schools overall are producing positive results for their students. But some cautions are necessary. First, individual small school performance varies considerably. Several small high schools started under Bloomberg and Klein, such as Global Enterprise High School and New Day Academy, are now being closed for poor performance. Second, some studies suggest that small school performance declines as the schools age. Third, and perhaps linked, several studies have found higher principal and teacher turnover in small schools.
So here are some things to look for if you’re considering a specific small school. First, go to the Department of Education’s website at www.schools.nyc.gov and type in the name of the school, then click on Statistics. This will lead you to a list of different types of information about the school. Go to the Accountability and Overview Report for information on the student population, especially if the young person considering a small school is a Special Needs or ELL student. This same report gives a Teacher Turnover Rate and the percentage of teachers with fewer than three years’ experience for every school; see how the school you’re considering does on these indicators. Second, look at the Progress Report, where each high school’s performance rating is based on its graduation rate, rate of credit accumulation, Regents completion and Pass rates. Each school’s performance in these categories is compared to a set of similar high schools and to high schools citywide, so you can see well how the school you’re considering stacks up. Finally, the Quality Review (available on that same Statistics page) offers an analytic report on each school’s instructional organization and teaching culture.
These sources should provide much of the data necessary to make an informed choice. Good luck!