New Research Validates Reform Efforts in NYC High Schools. Carnegie Corp Comments on Findings

Grantees in this story

New York, New York, June 23, 2010–Carnegie Corporation of New York welcomed today the release by MDRC of a major new research report, Transforming the High School Experience.  Based on data from a study of 105 academically nonselective small high schools of choice the report shows definitively that transformation for student achievement gains at scale within large, urban school systems is achievable.

Read MDRC press release.

The report focuses on the new schools created by the New York City Department of Education in partnership with New Visions for Public Schools and other school development organizations with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation and the Open Society Institute through the New Century High Schools initiative. Partnerships with more than 225 community, cultural and higher education institutions help enrich students’ learning and stimulate academic achievement.

The MDRC report tracks more than 20,000 students.  The study’s rigorous design relied on New York City’s lotteries for high school admission to the new nonselective small schools.  It compares the outcomes of those who entered the new small schools of choice with those students whose lottery placement resulted in attendance at another NYC high school.   Important findings include:

-- By the fourth year of high school, Small Schools of Choice increased overall graduation rates by 6.8 percentage points, which is roughly one-third the size of the gap in graduation rates between white students and students of color in New York City.

-- Most of the effect on graduation was driven by an increase in New York State Regents diplomas

-- Small Schools of Choices’ positive effects are seen for a broad range of students, including male high school students of color and students with lower academic proficiency, whose educational prospects have been historically difficult to improve.

“The Initiative was really about reinventing urban public high school education to create schools with the power to bring far larger numbers of under-prepared adolescents to meaningful graduation standards,” said Michele Cahill, Vice President, National Program, and Program Director, Urban Education at Carnegie Corporation of New York who, in 2001, shaped the Initiative along with the Gates Foundation and the Open Society Institute.  “Like many urban districts, New York City had some excellent high schools, but far too many students attended large, persistently low-performing schools that were anonymous, stratified, organizations lacking accountability for student achievement. Their conditions were the exact opposite of what was needed,” she said.

Cahill continued, “Small schools that will achieve these kinds of results at scale require bold changes at both the district level and in schools and classrooms.  Size can enable personalization but needs to be accompanied by strategies to recruit and support effective principals and teachers, increase internal accountability for student learning, strengthen curriculum and innovate in instructional practices to engage students and accelerate their learning. Mobilizing and engaging community assets to the same outcomes is also critical.”

Prior to rejoining Carnegie Corporation in 2007, where she was a Senior Program Officer in Education from 1999 to 2002, Michele Cahill held the position of senior counselor to the chancellor for education policy in the New York City Department of Education under Chancellor Joel Klein. Cahill was a member of the Children First senior leadership team that oversaw and implemented the full-scale reorganization and reform of the New York City public schools. She oversaw the Children First reforms in secondary education, including new school development. Cahill led a number of research and development projects and co-managed the cross-functional school restructuring processes for more than four years. 

“This is a moment in the history of school reform when we have crossed the threshold from aspiration to true, measurable achievement,” said Vartan Gregorian, President of Carnegie Corporation of New York.  “Since the 1983 release of the landmark report, A Nation at Risk, which famously warned that, ‘The educational foundation of our society is presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people,’ education reformers have struggled to create models of excellent schools. However, the challenge of bringing reform to entire complex school districts and systems has been largely unsuccessful, especially because the public expects three key goals to be met: academic excellence, retention of students and equity for all schoolchildren.”

Gregorian continued, “Today, with the release of this new report, we finally have the news that we’ve been waiting decades for: with vision, dedication and carefully constructed strategies to stimulate and enrich student learning, graduation rates can be significantly improved in large, urban school systems.   Carnegie Corporation of New York is proud and delighted to have supported this effort in partnership with the Gates Foundation and the Open Society Institute.”

The New Century consortium was launched in 2001 as a public-private partnership with the New York City Department of Education with $30 million in grants from Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Open Society Institute.  In 2007, Carnegie Corporation invested an additional $10 million in a second phase of the New Century High Schools initiative for a total investment of $20 million.