Study: Closing Low-Performing New York City High Schools Helped Students

WNYC's SchoolBook blog

Closing large, low-performing schools in New York City was a trademark of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's approach to chronically failing schools. The controversial policy got some validation on Thursday from a report looking at what happened to the students who would have attended these schools.

According to the Research Alliance for New York City Schools at New York University, most of the middle schoolers ended up going to smaller high schools that performed better both in terms of the achievement and attendance of incoming students. In turn, their overall graduation rate rose to about 55 percent compared to a 40 percent rate for the now-closed schools.

“Combined with other recent research that has documented the positive effects of New York City’s small high schools, our results offer support for the strategic use of school closures as part of a multi-dimensional high school reform strategy,” said Dr. James Kemple, executive director of the Research Alliance and the new report’s author. 

In 2013, another study done by research group MDRC also found students attending smaller high-schools were 10 percent more likely to graduate on time than students at other schools. 

The Research Alliance study was the first to look at a wave of school closures between 2002 and 2008. During those years, 29 large, low-performing high schools were closed as a part of the Department of Education's large-scale school changes. The city then developed a portfolio of more than 200 new high schools, most of them small and unscreened. 

While the study showed clear gains for students in the wake of a closure, they did not fare especially well, Kemple said, with fewer than half earning a Regents diploma. 

"I think it's important to keep thinking about additional strategies that are going to be required to not only get those students to graduate, but be prepared to succeed in college," said Kemple. "Fifty-five percent graduation rate leaves a lot of room of improvement."

Kemple also said the study didn't look at the impact of school closure on educators, parents, and neighborhoods. 

The president of the union representing school principals, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, echoed this sentiment.....

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