Skip to content

Considering a Small High School?

November 8, 2010

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 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!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dee Alpert permalink
    November 9, 2010 1:16 am

    C’mon, Norm. You know that none of the data parents can get has been audited and verified by independent entities. We’ve all heard far too many and highly repetitive stories re administrators pressuring staff to go along with questionable credit recovery schemes, f’rinstance. And all credit recovery done prior to the Oct. 2009 Board of Regents resolution was done without any legal authority at all and should be discounted … except that the NYCDOE conveniently didn’t require that “recovered” credits be counted and reported. Ergo, reported graduation numbers are as useful as Monopoly Money; maybe less so.

    Then there are the repetitive stories re administrators pressuring staff to inflate Regents exam grades. Last “investigation” of this I read, made public this week, at Bayard Rustin, done by the NYCDOE’s in-house investigators, was a whitewash of major proportions. Finally, the noise about the gross data irregularities in the NYCDOE’s teacher added value reports illustrates that data NYC’s principals submit is what is called GIGO by computer professionals, i.e., Garbage In: Garbage Out.

    Both the NYCDOE’s web site and that of the NYS Ed. Dept. contain fine manuals and memos telling principals and other administrators how to scrub and manipulate data they submit so as to make it come out the way they want.

    I’m soooo happy that progeny is past this point in his educational career now. If I had to use available NYCDOE data to help him select an appropriate NYC high school … first thing I’d have to do is hire an auditor to vet the data and see which, if any, could be relied on … for any purpose whatsoever.

  2. History Teacher permalink
    November 25, 2010 5:36 am

    All of Dee’s comments are true. But she didn’t mention the pressure on teachers to give passing grades to as many students as possible, regardless of how they perform. Though I think this is starting to happen in the big schools, too. Not so much in the form of direct pressure from the principal, but from fear of being closed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: