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Learning from New York City’s Portfolio Strategy

How Policy and Practice Can Inform Research

(February 2011)

On November 18, 2010, the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, in partnership with the Future of Children Journal, hosted a research colloquium entitled “Learning from New York City’s Portfolio Strategy: How Policy and Practice can Inform Research.” Over the past eight years, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) has made substantial investments in improving the quality of its high schools, and is currently preparing the next phase of its high school “portfolio strategy” to improve student performance in the lowest performing high schools.

Given the breadth of the proposed portfolio reforms and the intended scale of their implementation, it seemed imperative that stakeholders convene to discuss the implementation and effectiveness of the portfolio strategy. To that end, this colloquium provided a unique opportunity for policymakers and practitioners to suggest how research could inform the ongoing high school reform process in New York City.

Attendees represented various sectors of the New York City education stakeholder community, including the Department of Education, the research community, community organizations, philanthropic institutions, and high school principals. The colloquium was organized around three different panels. The first presented a descriptive account of past, present, and future iterations of recent reforms and offered a comparative look at portfolio strategies in other urban school districts. The second panel examined current research on high school reform, with a particular focus on a single aspect of the portfolio strategy – the impact of new small schools over the last decade. The third panel was comprised of high school principals and provided a sense of both the challenges and opportunities of the portfolio strategy at the school level.

The purpose of this summary report is to highlight some of the key cross-cutting themes that emerged from the panel presentations and subsequent discussions. The event also generated a number of critical research questions – about external supports, accountability systems, and closing schools – that could help shape the work of the Research Alliance and other researchers examining New York City high school reform.