Education in New York City

Research on New York City’s schools offers the opportunity to gain insight to guide policy for urban districts everywhere. NYC is engaged in a number of experiments and reforms (e.g., small high schools), and given its diversity of students, variety of schools and differences in settings, the city’s education system is robust site for research on issues facing urban education.

Select Publications

Public Schools, Public Housing: The Education of Children Living in Public Housing (2010)

Amy Ellen Schwartz, Brian J. McCabe, Ingrid Gould Ellen, and Colin C. Chellman
Urban Affairs Review, 20(10): 1-22
In the United States, public housing developments are predominantly located in neighborhoods with low median incomes, high rates of poverty and disproportionate concentrations of minorities. While research consistently shows that public housing developments are located in economically and socially disadvantaged neighborhoods, we know little about the characteristics of the schools serving students living in public housing. In this paper, the authors examine the characteristics of elementary and middle schools attended by students living in public housing developments in New York City. Using the proportion of public housing students attending each elementary and middle school as our weight, the authors calculate the weighted average of school characteristics to describe the typical school attended by students living in public housing.

They then compare these characteristics to those of the typical school attended by other students throughout the city in an effort to assess whether students living in public housing attend systematically different schools than other students. They find no large differences between the resources of the schools attended by students living in public housing and the schools attended by their peers living elsewhere in the city; however, we find significant differences in student characteristics and performance onstandardized exams. These school differences, however, fail to fully explain the performance disparities amongst students. Our results point to a need for more nuanced analyses of the policies and practices in schools, as well as the outside-of-school factors that shape educational success, to identify and address the needs of students in public housing.

Click here to download the full paper

Age of Entry and the High School Performance of Immigrant Youth (2010)

Leanna Stiefel, Amy Ellen Schwartz and Dylan Conger
Journal of Urban Economics. 67: 303-314

In 2005, immigrants exceeded 12% of the US population, with the highest concentrations in large metropolitan areas. While considerable research has focused on how immigrants affect local wages and housing prices, less research has asked how immigrants fare in US urban public schools. Previous studies find that foreign-born students outperform native-born students in their elementary and middle school years, but urban policymakers and practitioners continue to raise concerns about educational outcomes of immigrants arriving in their high school years.

The authors use data on a large cohort of New York City (NYC) public high school students to examine how the performance of students who immigrate during high school (teen immigrants) differs from that of students who immigrate during middle school (tween immigrants) or elementary school (child immigrants), relative to otherwise similar native-born students. Contrary to prior studies, their difference-in-difference estimates suggest that, ceteris paribus, teen immigrants do well compared to native-born migrants, and that the foreign-born advantage is relatively large among the teen (im)migrants. That said, their findings provide cause for concern about the performance of limited English proficient students, blacks and Hispanics and, importantly, teen migrants. In particular, switching school districts in the high school years - that is, student mobility across school districts - may be more detrimental than immigration per se. Results are robust to alternative specifications and cohorts, including a cohort of Miami students.


Click here to download the full paper 

Spending, Size, and Grade Span in K-8 Schools (2009)

Ross Rubenstein, Amy Ellen Schwartz, Leanna Stiefel and Jeffrey Zabel
Education Finance and Policy. 4(1): 60-88
Reorganizing primary school grade spans is a tractable and relatively inexpensive school reform. However, assessing the effects of reorganization requires also examining other organizational changes that may accompany grade span reforms.Using data on New York City public schools from 1996 to 2002 and exploiting within-school variations, the authors examine relationships among grade span, spending, and size. They find that school grade span is associated with differences in school size, class size, and grade size, though generally not with spending and other resources. In addition, we find class size and grade size differences in the same grade level at schools with different configurations, suggesting that school grade span affects not only school size but also class size and grade size. We find few relationships, though, between
grade span and school-level performance, pointing to the need to augment these analyses with pupil-level data. We conclude with implications for research and practice.


Click here to download the full paper

The New York City Aspiring Principals Program: A School-Level Evaluation (2009)

 Sean P. Corcoran, Amy Ellen Schwartz and Meryle Weinstein

In 2003, New York City embarked on a unique experiment to increase its pool of qualified school administrators. Through the creation of the Leadership Academy, the district asserted significantly greater responsibility for training and developing its own school leaders. Today, the Leadership Academy works with hundreds of principals annually and its Aspiring Principals Program (APP) graduates are currently responsible for 15 percent of the city's schools.

This report represents the first systematic comparison of student outcomes in schools led by APP graduates after three years to those in comparable schools led by other new principals. We find that APP principals were placed in schools that are demographically and academically distinct from schools led by other new principals. APP principals were more likely to be placed in schools that were low-performing and trending downward. Controlling for pre-existing differences in these schools, we find that APP schools improved apace with the city in English Language Arts, while comparison schools fell behind the city-wide average. By the third year the differences in these schools' trajectories becomes statistically significant. In math, both groups' scores improved over time, but we find no statistically significant difference in these schools' gains.


Click here to download the full report

Does Title I Increase Spending and Improve Performance? Evidence from New York CIty (2009)

Meryle G. Weinstein, Leanna Stiefel, Amy Ellen Schwartz and Luis Chalico
IESP Working Paper #09-09

In this paper, the authors examine the impact of Title I on school spending and school performance, using New York City public school data. Based on a regression discontinuity design (RD) with panel data, and including separate analyses for elementary/middle and high schools, the authors estimate local average treatment effects of Title I.

Overall, the results indicate that Title I changes the mix of spending, enabling high schools to significantly increase the amount of money they spend on direct services to students and to improve their pupil-teacher ratios (while reducing experienced teachers). Elementary and middle schools do not increase spending as much, which is consistent with our finding that state compensatory education funds may be supplanting some Title I funding in schools. Since schools just below the Title I cutoff are similar to those just above the cutoff, this finding may be an equitable, albeit unintended result.

Finally, additional Title I spending does not improve the achievement of students and may even reduce school-wide average test scores in elementary and middle schools. These effects for both spending and scores seem to increase with the length of time schools are Title I eligible and to be stronger for ones that are always Title I eligible compared to those that go in and out of eligibility.


Click here to download the full report

Why and How Does Source Country Matter? The Effects of Home Countries and Immigrant Communities on Foreign-Born Student Achievement (2008) 

Dylan Conger, Amy Ellen Schwartz and Leanna Stiefel
IESP Working Paper # 08-05

This paper explores the effect of the economic conditions of source countries and the human capital characteristics of coethnic immigrant communities on foreign-born students' reading and math achievement. The authors use data on New York City public school foreign-born students from 39 countries merged with Census data on the characteristics of the city's immigrants, and United Nations data on the economic conditions of countries. Next, they estimate regressions of student achievement on home country and coethnic immigrant community characteristics, controlling for student and school attributes.

They find that children from middle income nations and nations where English is an official language have lower reading scores than students from other nations, though no such effects are observed for math. Children from immigrant communities with higher levels of income and educational attainment perform better in school than children from other communities. Yet children in highly English proficient immigrant communities test slightly lower than children from less proficient communities.


Click here to download the full paper 

Schooling and Identity for New Americans

Cynthia Miller-Idriss and Ann Morning

This pilot study explores the role that schools play in shaping concepts of race and nationhood. Our goal is to examine how identities emerge and are transformed during the transition to adulthood and how this process might vary between immigrant, second-generation, and later-generation youth. The project includes both interviews and ethnographic observation in a public New York City high school, to be conducted during the fall of 2006.

Small Schools Effectiveness and Stability in Teachers and Students (2007)

Robin Jacobowitz and Meryle G. Weinstein
IESP Occasional Paper

A two-year mixed methods study to explore the process and outcomes of small high school development in New York City across the past decades. The authors examine how school-level student and teacher populations change over time in small New York City public high schools, the organizational and instructional practices that contribute to positive small school learning environments and how changes in these populations over time may influence school practices.

Funded by New Visions for Public Schools, the project produced two reports. This report focuses on how student and teacher populations at the NYC small high schools change from year to year as they develop during the first ten years of their existence.


Cost Effectiveness of Small High Schools

Leanna Stiefel, Amy Ellen Schwartz, Patrice Iatarola, and Colin C. Chellman

Is it less expensive to raise performance in a big school than in a small school? Is there evidence that small school sizes are better for some students (e.g., disadvantaged students) but not others?


The Race Gap in Test Scores

Leanna Stiefel, Amy Ellen Schwartz, and Ingrid Gould Ellen

In this project, we examine the size and distribution of the gap in test scores across races within New York City public schools and the factors that explain these gaps. How large are racial and ethnic performance differences in New York City schools and how much of the gaps can be explained by student backgrounds, schools and classrooms? Are there mutable school or education programs that can help improve black and Hispanic student performance? How do gaps change over time in the New York City school system?

Small Schools and Teacher Recruitment and Retention

co-Principal Investigators: Leanna Stiefel and Amy Ellen Schwartz

How is recruitment and retention different in small and large schools? What are the characteristics of teachers who are recruited to small high schools versus larger high schools? Are teachers in small schools more likely to be recruited from outside the district? Are they recruited from large schools? How do the characteristics of teachers change as small schools mature? Do they begin to resemble the characteristics of teachers at larger, established high schools? Are levels of retention different?

Small Schools and College Preparation and Outcomes

co-Principal Investigators: Leanna Stiefel and Amy Ellen Schwartz

Do small high schools better prepare students for college than larger schools? Are the effects the same for all students or do they differ across groups of students (English language learners, immigrants, racial and ethnic groups, etc.)? Do small high schools deliver better college outcomes than larger schools in areas such as applications, matriculation and GPA? Are college outcomes produced equally well by small schools or are some schools too small, for example, to provide the in-depth, specialized work needed to prepare students for college? Do newly created small schools have a different impact on students than older small schools?

Systemwide Effects of Small School Reform

co-Principal Investigators: Leanna Stiefel and Amy Ellen Schwartz

To what extent did the creation of new small high schools succeed in increasing the performance of all the district’s students? Did gains in new small schools come at the expense of losses in the existing schools? What evidence is there that creating small high schools might be effective as a system-wide reform? How does such a reform “go to scale” such that it will have a larger impact on the entire school system? How do existing schools become small? How is a location chosen for new small schools?

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) program

Dorothy Siegel

The goal of the ASD program is for every child to be able to function successfully and comfortably in mainstream settings and in the community, with decreasing need for professional support. The role of the Institute is to facilitate the development of the ASD program throughout the New York City public school system. The Institute collaborates with Hunter College's School of Education to provide training for teachers and other program staff and with NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education to provide placements for student teachers.


Click Here for Additional IESP Publications on Education in New York City