Friday, July 02, 2010

Commentary on NY Times Editorial on Small Schools

From the NYCED Listserve

There is a lot wrong with this study, which I will go into more detail later, but the most astonishing thing about it is its kiss-ass tone; bowing and scraping to the gods on high, Bloomberg and Klein.

I quoted this before and will do this again:

Notably, New York City’s reform effort represented a partnership among a diverse group of people and agencies: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, theNYC Department of Education, a consortium of philanthropies, the teachers and principals unions, nonprofit intermediaries, and community groups. It took enormous courage and conviction, and years of unrelenting toil, for this group of people with diverging perspectives to tackle the problem of failing high schools. The logistics alone of simultaneously closing and opening schools at this scale are daunting to contemplate, making the results all the more impressive.

Yes, if you ignore the increased overcrowding, the skyrocketing discharge rates, the flooding of high needs students at the larger schools, and the way in which these schools were destabilized and their graduation rates fell as a result of the introduction of the new small schools.

Since this report compares the results of students who enrolled in the new small schools compared to those who “lost” the supposed random lottery to enter the small schools (which in many cases is not random at all) and entered the large schools instead, the relative performance of the two cohorts is larger the more destabilized the large schools became.

And we are supposed to laud Bloomberg and Klein’s great courage, conviction, and years of unrelenting toil for their relatively poor performance?

One bad sign is this:

In his former role at MDRC and currently at the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, James Kemple helped shape the scope and substance of

the report.

Indeed, Kemple is the head of the Research Alliance, the supposedly “independent” research group set up by NYU professors w/ Klein’s cooperation.

For what it's worth, it's my feeling that the op-ed dept and the editorial board are somewhat distinct. The Op ed people claim to be trying to represent a diversity of views, while the ed board is churning away at developing official Times positions. They seem to pay a lot of attention to a few powerful people they deign to make appts with, and little to anyone else, including their own reporting.

If Gates has closed the book on small high schools, why did they fund this report? What does it mean that they are associating themselves with these findings now?

On Jul 2, 2010, at 4:51 AM, Diane Ravitch wrote:


The New School study ("Collateral Damage") showed last year that small high schools were "succeeding" by policies that excluded LEP and spec-ed, overloading remaining large high schools with the most challenging students. Skimming works.

Yes, Gates did suspend its small schools funding, which reached $2 billion before it was dropped.

Last I heard Gates' internal studies had found exactly the opposite and they had suspended their program. Does this mean a possible reversal


Small Schools

School reform advocates are rightly excited about a persuasive new study showing that New York City’s small, specialized high schools are outperforming larger, more traditional schools, significantly narrowing the graduation-rate gap that currently exists between white and minority students across the city.

The study validates the small school policies of the Bloomberg administration, which has shut down 20 large, failing high schools and replaced them with more than 200 small schools, about half of which were the focus of this study.

Some of the large, factory-style high schools that were closed had enrollments of 3,000 or more and graduation rates under 40 percent. The new small schools, overwhelmingly in black and Hispanic neighborhoods, typically serve a little more than 400 students each. These schools have several other things in common. They have a rigorous curriculum. They offer a personalized approach to education, with teachers responsible for keeping close tabs on the performance of their students.

They are organized around themes — law, science, social justice. They get valuable support from community partners — colleges, cultural organizations or social service groups — that give the students extensive experience with a world of adults outside their families.

The study, done by MDRC, a nonpartisan research group and paid for by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, focused on about 21,000 students. Nearly half attended the small schools focused on in the study, and the rest attended schools that were mainly larger and older.

It found that the average graduation rate for students in the small schools was nearly 69 percent, nearly 7 percentage points higher than the rate for students in the traditional schools. That means that the small schools erased about a third of the 20-point graduation-rate gap that currently exists between white students and students of color in New York City.

These findings are especially encouraging given that most of the students studied entered the small high schools reading below grade level. The researchers plan to follow them through college into the world of work. The findings have breathed new life into the small-school movement. It should encourage Mayor Michael Bloomberg to replace more large failing schools and districts elsewhere to follow New York City’s example.

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