New York City Schools See Large Success With Small Schools

by : Patricia Hawke

New York City Schools started converting many of its massive high schools into smaller, thematic schools in 2002. The 2006 graduates who were the first students in New York City Schools to have spent their entire four-year high school experience in the smaller venues had impressive results. And the 2007 results continue to look good. Graduation rates of the 47 small-sized New York City Schools are significantly higher that the city’s overall rates. The small schools report a 73% graduation rate while the city reports a 60% rate.

These numbers are important to several different groups within the New York City Schools. The small schools initiative is a major component of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to improve the New York City Schools. The first installation of the smaller New York City Schools were funded with over $30 million from groups like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporations and the Open Society Institute.

Individual results from the small schools are impressive. Eight of these New York City Schools reported 90% graduation rates. Some schools reported jumps in graduation rates from the 40-percentile to the 90-percentile range. Does that mean that everyone is in love with the smaller New York City Schools? Well, there are come concerns. Skepticism tends to focus on the fact that these schools have lower numbers of ESL (English as a Second Language) and special education students. The questioners complain that the success takes place in an “artificial environment."

Bloomberg concedes that this is true. But he says that the schools still serve an at-risk population: African –American and Hispanic students. Recent studies confirm that these students in the New York City Schools are far less likely than their white peers to graduate. Educators in the smaller New York City Schools scoff at the artificial environment complaint. Many feel that this “artificial environment" is providing these students with a far better reality. But what about the needs of special education and ESL students?

Both are significant concerns for New York City Schools. A June 2006 report found that 9.5% of the city’s special education students are still not being mainstreamed. New York State encourages mainstreaming, the process of having special education students attend classes with their regular education peers. This is far higher than the national rate of 4%.

And the concerns of English Language Learners continues to impact overall graduation rates for a city with a high population of speakers of ESL. So New York City Schools still have a lot of challenges to address before the Mayor can kick back and put up his feet. Still, when the largest school district in the country can claim a success of this size, it’s encouraging for everyone.