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Small High Schools Have Bigger Graduation Rates, Study Finds

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The policy of replacing big, comprehensive high schools with smaller schools is showing promising results, according to a new study. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

Students who get into one of the city's new small high schools have a significantly better chance of walking out with a diploma, according to a major study.

The second-year report in a five-year study by the respected research firm MDRC compares students accepted to one of 105 new small high schools by random lottery to students who applied to the same schools but did not get a spot.

"We were able to compare kids who went to these schools with kids who didn't, who in all other ways, expect the schools they went to, are the same. A study this large with that rigorous a methodology is almost unprecedented," said MDRC Study Author Howard Bloom.

Closing large high schools and replacing them with multiple smaller schools in the same buildings has been a hallmark of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's school reforms -- reforms that overall have shown mixed results. But this study is well respected by researchers and education experts. And the results are clear: Students at the small schools have an 8.6 percent better chance of graduating in four years.

"The positive results are not just for certain kinds of kids, they're for every sub group of kid that we studied. We studied them by race, ethnicity and gender -- all of those groups," said Bloom.

Of course, not all of the new small schools have worked. In fact, many of the schools the Department of Education wants to close this year for poor performance were opened under the mayor's watch.

"We do know that overall the small schools are successful. We also know that some of them are terrible failures. What we don't know is what makes some of them successful and some of them failures," said Clara Hemphill of The New School's Center for New York City Affairs.

That's one of the questions researchers plan to address as the study continues.

Another question is whether the new small schools are preparing students for college-level work. These results suggest students at the small schools are better prepared for college-level English, but no better off in math. And, of course, there's also the question of will the schools keep performing when they're no longer new?

"The small schools did start out with a lot of energy. The question is whether that can be sustained," said Hemphill.

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