Small Schools of Choice improve graduation rates and college enrolment

A new update on New York high schools Small Schools of Choice has shown that the positive effects of the approach continue into postsecondary education.

In the 1990s, New York City instituted a high school reform effort called Small Schools of Choice (SSCs). SSCs have 100 students in each year group and emphasise academic rigour and strong student/faculty relations. Students apply to their preferred schools and are selected by lottery.

Researchers at MDRC examined the effects on postsecondary education of attending SSCs in a longitudinal study of more than 12,000 mostly disadvantaged students. They found that students at SSCs had higher graduation rates and were more likely to attend college the following year than the control group of students who applied to SSCs but attended other schools.

Attending an SSC increased graduation rates in the four cohorts studied by an average of 9.4 percentage points. Students at SSCs were more likely than the control groups to remain enrolled in college more than three years later. SSCs made these gains at a 14-16% lower cost per graduate than the control schools (mostly due to higher rates of graduation and fewer students needing a fifth year of high school to graduate).

Source: Headed to College: The Effects of New York City’s Small High Schools of Choice on Postsecondary Enrollment (2014), MDRC

Evaluating New York City’s small schools of choice

The latest findings have been published of a rigorous study on the effectiveness of 105 “small schools of choice” (SSCs) in New York City. These academically nonselective schools, each with approximately 100 students per year in grades 9 to 12 (age 14–18), were created to serve some of the district’s most disadvantaged students. They are located mainly in areas where large failing high schools had been closed. According to MDRC, which carried out the research, the schools emphasise academic rigour and strong and sustained personal relationships among students and faculty. In addition, most were founded with community partners who offer additional teaching support and resources, and provide students with additional learning opportunities.

A 2010 study showed that SSCs are markedly improving academic progress and graduation prospects for their students. In this new policy brief, the analysis is extended by a year, and shows that SSCs have positive and sustained impacts on graduation rates, as well as a positive effect on a measure of college readiness.

Source: Transforming the high school experience: How New York City’s new small schools are boosting student achievement and graduation rates (2010), MDRC