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New Schools: Students Getting Passing Grades? Yes. Ready for College? Not So Much.

According to data recently released by the city, students graduating from the high schools created under Bloomberg are less prepared for college than the students in older schools with similar populations. In fact, on average, older schools outperform newer ones by 40%. Even though students in newer schools are less prepared for college, they are being awarded classroom credits more quickly. Credit accumulation matters for Bloomberg’s high-stakes accountability formulas. College-readiness does not.

The college ready data was released in June, and it is based upon the percent of students who earned a minimum of 75 on the English Regents and a minimum of 80 in math. It’s not that the Regents are such great tests, or that they necessarily assess what students need to for college. But students below those 75/80 benchmarks are far more likely to need remedial classes once they get there. (Of course, if — as the city plans — higher grades on the Regents become part of school accountability, those grades will mean less and less in future years).

I broke all high schools into ten groups of similar schools, and then compared old and new schools in each group. Here are the results:

Percent of students college ready at old and new schools

The college-readiness data above is based on the 2010 graduates. The college-ready rate is low all over, but 40% more of the students in older schools graduated college-ready than in newer schools. In the seventh groups, the older schools outperformed the newer ones by 136%. The average difference in percentage points across all groups was 4.3.

But curiously, the 2010 graduates in newer schools had accumulated high school credits more quickly than their peers in older schools, even though they were ultimately less well prepared for college. Specifically, if we examine their credit accumulation for 9th, 10th and 11th grade (12th is not available), we find that a greater percent of new-school students were earning 10 or more credits every year.

New schools pass more students than older schools, grades 9, 10 and 11

The average difference across the three years was 4.7 percentage points. In grade nine, the gap is even wider: 6.1 percentage points over all, with stunning differences especially in the 5th group. In that group, the difference in credit accumulation between old and new schools was 19 points, even though these students in the old schools were nearly twice as likely to be ready for college.

Percent in Group 5 earning 10 or more credits as 9th gradersPercent college ready Group 5

Assigning reasons for the differences between old and new schools is a tricky business, and maybe what we are seeing here is just a one-year fluke. What’s more, these are averages, and many individual new schools are doing quite well. Still, we do know that newer schools employ fewer experienced — and fewer tenured — teachers, and that could affect both credit accumulation and the higher number of students ready for college. We already know that high schools began logging steep rises in credit accumulation as soon as it became a significant factor in the rewards and consequences of high-stakes accountability. Tenure enables at least some teachers to resist the pressure to pass students who are not ready to pass, or to protest against bad credit recovery schemes.1 In newer schools, more teacher are still untenured, and without a voice.

As for college readiness, a wide body of research concludes that teachers with experience are better at raising student achievement. In addition to all the statistical research,2 a study described recently in American Educator suggests one reason why this might be so (click here, but article starts on page 13). In the study, researchers gave cards with world history concepts and content to a group of social studies teachers with varying levels of experience and asked them to arrange the cards any way they wished. Experienced teachers made more sophisticated connections between content and concepts. That’s what college readiness is all about.

Old schools or new, the combination of low college ready rates and high credit accumulation should give pause to anyone who has bought the ed-reform rhetoric these past few years. Even as Tweed began to bamboozle the public with promises of an “end to social promotion” and “high expectations,” or, more lately, “rigor,” there was more and more pressure in the schools to pass kids at any cost because passing them had been “incentivized.” In particular, starting in the 2006-2007 school year, when the graduates highlighted in this post were in grade 9, credit accumulation became a significant factor in the school Progress Reports and schools could be forced to close on those results.

So credit accumulation went up. And when it went up more in new schools than older ones, a New York based research organization, MDRC, claimed this was a sign of their success. Joel Klein pushed that claim and The New York Times bought it, giving the study a central place in a stunningly uncritical encomium it published when Klein left.

…the city’s policy of replacing large, factory-style high schools with smaller, specialized high schools was vindicated earlier this year. An exciting study earlier this year showed the smaller schools outperforming larger, more traditional schools…. (bold added).

Exciting? In any case, the incentivizing credit accumulation worked out pretty much the way it was supposed to as far as politics and perception were concerned.

But ultimately, credit accumulation is not about politics and perception. It is about students. And while the NY Times was busy patting Joel Klein on the back for his phenomenal success, students, pumped up by the credits they may have barely earned found themselves wholly unprepared for college. The Times, Klein, MDRC — none of them will pay the price of it. But students will.

Notes on the research

  1. I created ten groups of similar schools by using the DoE’s peer index, which gives a rough estimate of the level of student preparedness when they enter high school. The index includes incoming scores, special education levels, and the percent of 9th graders students entering overage.
  2. All high schools with a peer index were placed in a group, but only those with both college-ready and graduation rates could be used in the comparisons.
  3. Newer schools are all those that opened in September 2003 or later.
  4. Groups averaged 10 new schools and 20 older schools. Some were nearly even. The group with the lowest needs, however (group 10), had only two new schools.
  5. Citywide, old schools outperform new schools for college readiness at double the rate (23% vs. 11%), but because the old schools include selective and other very low-need high schools, the comparison is unfair.

1 Credit recovery allows students to pick up credits for classes that they did not pass, and was unregulated through the years these students were in grades 9-11. During the 09-10 school year the state issued guidelines. They do not impact this study, and how they have affected student achievement n NYC remains unclear

2 This is why value added formulas generally do not place new teachers in the same statistical pool as those who are experienced



  • 1 Meyer
    · Jul 18, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    A school by school breakdown would be interesting and useful to reduce the impact of outliers. (Alternatively, a graph displaying medians could be similarly useful.)

    Would those graphs show similar results or is there a wide variation among either new or old schools?

  • 2 Gene J. Mann
    · Jul 19, 2011 at 6:27 am

    Another great job of research, Jackie. Of course, I’ll “steal” it for The Organizer.

  • 3 15 Year Vet
    · Jul 19, 2011 at 9:23 am

    This is great. Older schools by the way generally mean older teachers who have not cut their teeth under these watered down standards. It’s not the fault of the young teachers, but of the Department that has trained them.

  • 4 David
    · Jul 21, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Great work Jackie. I have taught in a new small high school since it opened in 2003. Previously I worked for 11 years in a large high school. I am not surprised at all by your findings. The effect of having experienced teachers to push back against number hunting principals is important as you noted. I would add that the loss of departments and and department chairs is equally impotant. These APs who knew their subject matter, taught classes, and represented often a large group of teachers were an effective counterbalance to a principal being pressured by superiors to produce certain outcomes. I think that one of the main reasons for the push for small high schools is the increase in control Tweed can exert on them. One ramification of this control is shown by this excellent study.

  • 5 Phyllis C. Murray
    · Aug 3, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Reflections on the Poor in Minority Schools: Past and Present

    By Phyllis C. Murray

    History is not everything” John Henrik Clarke once wrote, “but it is the starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are, but more importantly, what they must be.”

    As educators we know what must happen to change history. And one by one we try in our classrooms. However, the failure of local and state governments to provide funding to economically poor citizens will compromise our efforts and the future of this great nation. “Recently, more economists are drawing the conclusions that a good education is one of the gateways to wealth creation for individuals as well as for nations.” (Education Trust) Yet, benign neglect seems to be the mantra of many in political office who turn their backs on the ones who need quality education the most.

    Our New York State and New York City Legislators are not ensuring that adequate funding to NYC Public Schools becomes a day to day reality in our public schools. And as educators, we know that the resources needed to implement new programs designed by the city are inadequate. Thus, we should not be surprised to learn that “New York also stands out for neglecting to fairly fund poor and minority school districts. In 2005 we learned that New York was spending $2,280 less per student in its poorest districts than it was spending on students educated in its wealthiest school districts. Even after New York was ordered to deal with these funding gaps, policy makers have failed to take action.” (Education Trust Report 2005)

    Educators are aware that economic poverty does not have to mean intellectual poverty. There are gifted and talented students among the economically poor and minority students. Therefore, many resourceful educators continue to teach without adequate funding. They use their own personal resources to compensate for this deficit. And these truly dedicated educators have seen miracles happen daily for years as their students’ dreams are realized. Fortunately, this is not a new phenomenon throughout the nation. Good Teachers have always made a difference in the lives of their students. Case in point:

    Directly after the Emancipation Proclamation “the exceptionally gifted rose above the staggering obstacle of quasi-freedom,” said Martin Luther King at the UFT Spring Conference in 1964. “It is precisely because education is a road to equality and citizenship that it has been made more elusive for Negroes than many other rights. The warding off of Negroes from equal education is part of the historical design to submerge him in second class status.” And today we can see this happening as the rich-poor gap is allowed to widen in NYC, New Orleans, Alabama, Mississippi, and even Washington, DC, the nation’s capital.

    King reminded UFTers in 1964 that: “education for all Americans, white and black, has always been inadequate. The richest nation on earth has never allocated enough of its abundant resources to build sufficient schools, to compensate adequately its teachers, and to surround them with the prestige their work justifies.” Therefore, when we read the report “Rich-Poor Gap Widens not only for individuals but for schools in general,” we cannot be surprised.

    Yes, history is a clock. It tells us where we are, but more importantly, what we must be. If we are the union, we must continue to fight for equity for all. We must press on to City Hall, Albany and Washington, DC. in a quest to secure public schools that reflect a democratic nation. Because, the children are waiting.

    Phyllis C. Murray
    UFT Chapter Leader
    Region 2