study says...

Small high schools send larger shares of students to college, new study says

Bard Queens student Omar Ferreira said he benefitted from the personal attention of a small school last year.

New York City’s small high schools are doing a better job than other schools at graduating their students, and they’re also sending more of them to college, according to a new study.

The research nonprofit MDRC found that 49 percent of students who entered a small high school between 2004 and 2007 enrolled in a four-year college, community college, or technical school, compared to 40 percent of similar students who attended other schools. Black males and poor students saw the biggest jumps in college enrollment.

The research enters an ongoing debate about the best model for high schools as the small-schools movement has recently lost much of its luster nationwide. The findings, celebrated by former city officials on Thursday, also became a proxy battle for the future of the city school system—now overseen by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a forceful critic of the school closures that made the small schools possible.

The findings come from the fourth installment of MDRC’s research on the city’s small-schools movement. The multi-year study examines a subset of 123 “small schools of choice” that opened between 2002 and 2008 with private funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and support from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration.

MDRC’s research focused on schools that were oversubscribed and admitted students through a lottery process, which in its first year included 105 schools. The lotteries enabled researchers to compare what happened to admitted students and similar students who “lost” the lottery and wound up attending mostly older, larger schools—a structure considered the “gold standard” in education research.

Earlier MDRC research has showed that the city’s small schools graduated more of their students than bigger high schools in their first years. Those findings spurred the growth of small schools in the city, even as similar experiments posted mixed or negative results in other cities. The Gates Foundation, which funds MDRC’s research, put $150 million into the city’s small schools before ending its small-schools giving in 2008, citing students’ low college-readiness rates. (Chalkbeat also receives funding from the Gates Foundation.)

The small schools also save taxpayer dollars by graduating more students within four years—about 15 percent per graduate less than other high schools, according to an associated paper.

Former schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott called the findings a “powerful validation” of Bloomberg’s strategy on Thursday. And critics of Mayor Bill de Blasio used the opportunity to point out that the current administration has not yet laid out a clear vision for helping the city’s struggling schools.

“This study could not be more clear,” Walcott said in a statement sent out by Bloomberg’s former chief spokesman Stu Loeser. “Our small schools initiative has been an incredible success.”

Not all small schools opened under Bloomberg were runaway successes, though. Some have already been shuttered for low performance, and even proponents note that a school’s size is no guarantee that it will thrive.

Robert Hughes, president of New Visions for Public Schools, an organization that opened and supported many of the schools included in MDRC’s study, said the schools succeeded because they had strong ties to the community, collaborated with the teachers and principals unions, and high-quality staffs that shared leadership responsibilities.

“I think it would be easy to assume it’s solely a victory of the prior administration,” Hughes said. “It’s certainly an endorsement of the small-schools strategy, but the report underscores how key factors that made them effective, and that are now promoted by Mayor de Blasio — particularly his focus on community schools with integrated services — are critical for every school’s success.”

Some researchers questioned whether the findings should be seen as a definitive endorsement of small schools in general. Because the research examined only small schools that had more applicants than seats — by definition, the popular small schools — the lowest-performing small schools may not have been included at all.

The study also didn’t look at all of the small schools opened during the Bloomberg administration. An additional 93 small schools opened from 2002 to 2008, but were left out because they were either academically selective, transfer schools, or combined middle and high schools.

“Would the same thing hold up if they looked at the whole small-school sector?” Norm Fruchter, a senior policy analyst for the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and a mayoral appointee to the of the city’s Panel for Educational Policy. “I think if we were looking at all small schools, the outcomes might well be worse than what the MDRC study found.”

A city spokesperson did not dispute the study’s findings, but suggested that the Department of Education under Chancellor Carmen Fariña would look to offer greater support to larger high schools, which received less attention and were often targeted for closure under Bloomberg.

“We are committed to ensuring that all of our students — attending high schools of all sizes – graduate on time and are successfully prepared for college and career,” said the spokesperson, Devora Kaye.

Read the full report here:

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.