Not All Small Schools Are Created Equal, IESP Study Finds

Urban districts around the country have jumped on the small school reform bandwagon replacing large comprehensive high schools with a myriad of small schools and schools-within-schools. These schools are created with a wide range of resources and supports in the hopes of bolstering student performance, notes Steinhardt Professor Leanna Stiefel of NYU’s Institute for Education and Social Policy (IESP).

In a recent study supported by the Institute for Education Science, U.S. Department of Education, Stiefel and IESP affiliates, Amy Ellen Schwartz and Matthew Wiswall, looked at two sets of New York City small high schools — those created before 2002 and those after — to evaluate student measures of success.

What they found:  small high schools created in the most recent wave of New York City school reform had higher graduation rates; and students had higher math and English Regents exam test-taking rates than students in older small high schools.

While New York City’s old and new small schools differ in a variety of ways, the most important differences may lie in their higher expenditures per pupil and in the New York City Department of Education institutional policies that govern their creation and practices.

Which lead the researchers to question:  Is a small school necessarily better by virtue of being small?

“The evidence from New York City suggest that the success of small school reform efforts will depend significantly on how these new schools are created and supported,” Stiefel said.

Visit the IESP website to read working papers from the Small Schools study.

(Photo:  Leanna Stiefel.)