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Tales of Two Schools, Large and Small

When the initial cohort of fifteen new small high schools started under Children First graduated their first class last June, Chancellor Joel Klein made a point not only of praising the work of these schools, but of making invidious comparisons with the large, comprehensive schools they were replacing. To hear the Chancellor, the contrast could not be starker: the new small schools are the crown jewels of Children First, complete academic successes; the established large comprehensive schools they are replacing are symbols of a failed educational past. For Klein, these are the best of schools and the worst of schools.

In an era of evidence based educational reform, we thought it would be an interesting experiment to put Klein’s Manichean worldview of New York City high schools to an empirical test. Using data from the latest published School Report Cards available at the Department of Education’s own web site, we did side-by-side comparisons of new small schools and the large comprehensive high schools in the buildings where the new small schools had been sited. Five such pairings can be constructed from the available data: the small Bronx Aerospace and the large Evander Childs HS; the small Bronx Guild and the large Adlai Stevenson HS; the small HS for Teaching and the Professions and the large Walton HS; the small Marble Hill HS and the large John F. Kennedy HS; and the small Pelham Prep and the large Columbus HS. The DOE does not provide a school report card for the last year of schools which have completed phasing out, so we were unable to make the same comparisons with regard to the new small schools placed in the South Bronx HS and Morris HS buildings. Nonetheless, this sampling is a large portion of the universe, and the trends are virtually identical in each particular instance. Data tables for each of these pairings are found at the end of this posting.

In every specific comparison between a new small school and a large comprehensive school, the small school took in higher percentages of students meeting standards and ready to do high school work, and lower percentages of students at risk for dropping out. Much larger percentages of the incoming ninth and tenth grade of the new small schools had met or surpassed standards on the 8th grade New York State English Language Arts [ELA] and Math exams than the incoming class in the large comprehensive schools. Most strikingly, in one instance the small Pelham Prep had five times as many students meeting ELA standards and more than three times as many students meeting Math standards as the large Columbus HS.

The small schools all had lower percentages of Special Education students in their entering classes, and generally had lower percentages of English Language Learners [ELLs]. Nearly 1 in every 5 students entering the large Columbus were Special Education, and nearly 1 in every 4 students was an ELL. By contrast, the small Pelham Prep had no entering Special Education students and only 1% of the class, a single student, was an ELL. Similarly, the large Evander Childs had almost twice as many entering Special Education students as the small Bronx Aerospace; 7% of Evander Childs students fell into the more severely disabled category, while Bronx Aerospace had not a single student in that category. Evander had nearly four times as many entering ELLs as Bronx Aerospace.

[The mission of the small Marble Hill is the education of ELLs, and it has an unusually high percentage of entering ELLs for a small school. This is a detail worth mentioning, and not simply because Marble Hill deserves credit for educating a high needs student population. Klein and the DOE attempt to mask the reality of the ELLs in the new small schools by using aggregate statistics: a small minority of small schools – Marble Hill and the International High Schools – are dedicated to the education of ELLs, and they skew the average numbers, obscuring the low numbers in the great majority of new small schools. The scandalous reality here is that DOE policy exempts new small schools from having to accept ELLs and Special Education students in the first two years of their existence.]

The small schools had a higher percentage of the students with the demographic profile that generally predicts a successful completion of high school. The entering classes of the small schools had better 8th grade attendance records than the classes at the large schools. Many fewer of their incoming students were overage for their grade – a sign that they had either been left back or had their education disrupted.

As a general rule, therefore, the DOE had created enormous concentrations of the highest needs students in the large, comprehensive schools. The large school Walton has only 1 in 20 incoming students meeting ELA standards, for example. By contrast, the small schools have much more diverse student populations, with much smaller numbers of the most at risk students. One might think that the large schools would then receive greater resources, especially given the legislative and regulatory mandates governing Special Education and English Language Learning. But amazingly, it is the new small schools which receive the greatest support from the DOE. The small Bronx Aerospace spends 55% more on direct services for its students – the bulk of which is instruction — than the large school Evander Childs spends on direct services for its students. The Bronx Aerospace classes are much smaller: the ratio of students to teachers in the large Evander Childs – 19 to 1 – is 70% greater than the ratio in the small Bronx Aerospace – 11 to 1. And the large Evander Childs is overcrowded at 124% capacity, while Bronx Aerospace is not even at full capacity, at 84%.

Indeed, Bronx Aerospace has the highest spending of all schools, large and small, examined in this sampling; it spends 31% more than the nearest small school. It also has the highest graduation rate for its first graduating class, 93%. A graduation rate this high is an accomplishment for any school, and an extraordinary credit to the hard work of the Bronx Aerospace teachers and students.

But when Chancellor Klein and others at Tweed praise the Bronx Aerospace graduation rate, they inevitably compare it to the graduation rate of the phasing out Evander Childs, 31%. They never disclose how the DOE has concentrated the highest needs, most at risk students in Evander Childs and other large schools, or that it has given greater supports and resources to Bronx Aerospace and other new small schools. Having created a competition in which one school runs on a flat surface and the other school runs up the steepest of hills, Tweed pretends in an intellectually dishonest fashion that they are running the same race.

The problem here is NOT Bronx Aerospace or the other small schools. Every school, large and small, should receive the funding and supports that Bronx Aerospace receives. Every student should have the lower class sizes that Bronx Aerospace students enjoy. All schools should have diverse student populations, rather than some schools facing enormous concentrations of the highest needs students.

The problem is that Chancellor Klein and the DOE provide the necessary conditions and supports for success to some schools, those small schools they can claim as the product of their “reforms,” but not to all. There is a massive failure of stewardship and leadership at Tweed, on the part of a Chancellor that has had many opportunities to improve all schools and treat all schools equitably, given the longest tenure of a New York City public schools chancellor in decades. Tweed pretends that Bronx Aerospace and Evander Childs are running the same race because an honest assessment would lead to the inescapable conclusion that a great deal of the responsibility for Evander Childs’ low graduation rate resides with those occupying the offices of DOE headquarters in the old Boss Tweed courthouse.

These days Chancellor Klein has taken up the language of the long and hard struggle for educational justice, presenting himself as the new champion of equity. But rhetorical posturing is no substitute for real action. With an historic opportunity to bring a measure of this equity to New York City public schools that will not be seen again for many years, Chancellor Klein is resisting the expenditure of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity funds on such proven programs such as reducing class size for all, including the large comprehensive high schools. Better, he says, that it fund his effort to engineer school funding formulas.

Large school students, who remain the great majority of New York City public high school students, deserve better than that. The small schools, which began as part of a profoundly democratic movement in American education, building inclusive learning communities that embraced all students, deserve better than that. English Language Learners, Special Education students and students living in poverty deserve better than that. Students of color deserve better than that. Chancellor Klein is failing them all.

A “hat tip” to Daniel Tirado and Maisie McAdoo for assistance with the data compilation.

BRONX AEROSPACE [SMALL SCHOOL] AND EVANDER CHILDS [LARGE SCHOOL]

CATEGORY

BRONX AEROSPACE

EVANDER CHILDS

INCOMING NINTH AND TENTH GRADES

MEETING STANDARDS ON 8TH GRADE ELA EXAM

27.2%

11.1%

MEETING STANDARDS ON 8TH GRADE MATH EXAM

38.1%

12.8%

PART-TIME SPECIAL EDUCATION

8.6%

9.8%

FULL-TIME SPECIAL EDUCATION [MOST SEVERE DISABILITIES]

0.0%

7.2%

TOTAL SPECIAL EDUCATION

8.6%

17.0%

ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS

4.3%

16.8%

AVERAGE DAILY ATTENDANCE IN 8TH GRADE

91.5%

74.8%

FREE LUNCH

58.2%

81.4%

OVERAGE FOR GRADE

19.4%

56.4%

RECENT IMMIGRANTS

6.0%

15.8%

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION SUPPORT

DIRECT SERVICES SPENDING PER STUDENT

$14680

$9464

RATIO OF STUDENTS TO TEACHERS

11 TO 1

19 TO 1

OVERCROWDING [UTILIZATION OF SCHOOL CAPACITY]

84.4

123.9

GRADUATION RATES

FOUR YEAR REPORT CARD [JUNE 2005]

N.A.

41.7%

FOUR YEAR UNAUDITED DOE REPORT FOR JUNE 2006

93%

31%

SEVEN YEAR [FROM CLASS OF 2002]

N.A.

47%

BRONX GUILD [SMALL SCHOOL] AND ADLAI STEVENSON [LARGE SCHOOL]

CATEGORY

BRONX GUILD

ADLAI STEVENSON

INCOMING NINTH AND TENTH GRADES

MEETING STANDARDS ON 8TH GRADE ELA EXAM

20.8%

11.4%

MEETING STANDARDS ON 8TH GRADE MATH EXAM

25.5%

15.8%

PART-TIME SPECIAL EDUCATION

3.9%

6.1%

FULL-TIME SPECIAL EDUCATION [MOST SEVERE DISABILITIES]

8.7%

11.8%

TOTAL SPECIAL EDUCATION

12.6%

17.9%

ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS

7.8%

14.5%

AVERAGE DAILY ATTENDANCE IN 8TH GRADE

89.2%

79.9%

FREE LUNCH

70.9%

44.4%*

OVERAGE FOR GRADE

40.8%

53.5%

RECENT IMMIGRANTS

1.2%

7.1%

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION SUPPORT

DIRECT SERVICES SPENDING PER STUDENT

$11220

$10711

RATIO OF STUDENTS TO TEACHERS

13 to 1

17 to 1

OVERCROWDING [UTILIZATION OF SCHOOL CAPACITY]

94.9%

117.5%

GRADUATION RATES

FOUR YEAR REPORT CARD [JUNE 2005]

N.A.

38.6%

FOUR YEAR UNAUDITED DOE REPORT FOR JUNE 2006

55%

37%

SEVEN YEAR [FROM CLASS OF 2002]

N.A.

56%

* This is a highly questionable figure, and almost certainly unreflective of the school population. In the previous year’s report card, the school reported a free lunch rate of 84.1%. It is statistically impossible for a school to drop 40% from the turnover of only one year – approximately 25% of its student body.

HS FOR TEACHING AND THE PROFESSIONS [SMALL SCHOOL] AND WALTON [LARGE SCHOOL]

CATEGORY

HS FOR TEACHING

WALTON

INCOMING NINTH AND TENTH GRADES

MEETING STANDARDS ON 8TH GRADE ELA EXAM

14.8%

4.7%

MEETING STANDARDS ON 8TH GRADE MATH EXAM

25.6%

8%

PART-TIME SPECIAL EDUCATION

2.9%

6.1%

FULL-TIME SPECIAL EDUCATION [MOST SEVERE DISABILITIES]

10.8%

11.8%

TOTAL SPECIAL EDUCATION

13.7%

17.9%

ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS

8.8%

50.5%

AVERAGE DAILY ATTENDANCE IN 8TH GRADE

86.2%

85.8%

FREE LUNCH

81.4%

76.6%

OVERAGE FOR GRADE

36.3%

53.8%

RECENT IMMIGRANTS

4%

18.6%

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION SUPPORT

DIRECT SERVICES SPENDING PER STUDENT

$8845

$8881

RATIO OF STUDENTS TO TEACHERS

15 to 1

15 to 1

OVERCROWDING [UTILIZATION OF SCHOOL CAPACITY]

121.2%

190.4%

GRADUATION RATES

FOUR YEAR REPORT CARD [JUNE 2005]

N.A.

37.9%

FOUR YEAR UNAUDITED DOE REPORT FOR JUNE 2006

57%

38%

SEVEN YEAR [FROM CLASS OF 2002]

N.A.

41%

MARBLE HILL [SMALL SCHOOL] AND JOHN F. KENNEDY [LARGE SCHOOL]

CATEGORY

MARBLE HILL

JFK

INCOMING NINTH AND TENTH GRADES

MEETING STANDARDS ON 8TH GRADE ELA EXAM

36.4%

12.6%

MEETING STANDARDS ON 8TH GRADE MATH EXAM

36.7%

19%

PART-TIME SPECIAL EDUCATION

0.9%

3.1%

FULL-TIME SPECIAL EDUCATION [MOST SEVERE DISABILITIES]

0%

10.6%

TOTAL SPECIAL EDUCATION

0.9%

13.7%

ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS

41.7%

21.5%

AVERAGE DAILY ATTENDANCE IN 8TH GRADE

92.6%

85.3%

FREE LUNCH

96.3%

81.9%

OVERAGE FOR GRADE

25.9%

44.4%

RECENT IMMIGRANTS

25.1%

12%

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION SUPPORT

DIRECT SERVICES SPENDING PER STUDENT

$9900

$8971

RATIO OF STUDENTS TO TEACHERS

14 to 1

16 to 1

OVERCROWDING [UTILIZATION OF SCHOOL CAPACITY]

84.9%

136.7%

GRADUATION RATES

FOUR YEAR REPORT CARD [JUNE 2005]

N.A.

44.5%

FOUR YEAR UNAUDITED DOE REPORT FOR JUNE 2006

89%

39%

SEVEN YEAR [FROM CLASS OF 2002]

N.A.

63%

PELHAM PREP [SMALL SCHOOL] AND COLUMBUS [LARGE SCHOOL]

CATEGORY

PELHAM PREP

COLUMBUS

INCOMING NINTH AND TENTH GRADES

MEETING STANDARDS ON 8TH GRADE ELA EXAM

57.1%

11.3%

MEETING STANDARDS ON 8TH GRADE MATH EXAM

61.4%

18.4%

PART-TIME SPECIAL EDUCATION

0%

6.2%

FULL-TIME SPECIAL EDUCATION [MOST SEVERE DISABILITIES]

0%

13.2%

TOTAL SPECIAL EDUCATION

0%

19.4%

ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS

1%

24.1%

AVERAGE DAILY ATTENDANCE IN 8TH GRADE

89.3%

83.6%

FREE LUNCH

44.6%

43.2%*

OVERAGE FOR GRADE

8.9%

51.8%

RECENT IMMIGRANTS

1%

15.9%

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION SUPPORT

DIRECT SERVICES SPENDING PER STUDENT

$10122

$9308

RATIO OF STUDENTS TO TEACHERS

19 to 1

30 to 1

OVERCROWDING [UTILIZATION OF SCHOOL CAPACITY]

91.3%

163.5%

GRADUATION RATES

FOUR YEAR REPORT CARD [JUNE 2005]

N.A.

53.7%

FOUR YEAR UNAUDITED DOE REPORT FOR JUNE 2006

92%

51%

SEVEN YEAR [FROM CLASS OF 2002]

N.A.

70%

* This is a highly questionable figure, and most likely unreflective of the school population. In the previous year’s report card, the school reported a free lunch rate of 63.8%. It seems unlikely that the figure would drop so dramatically in one year, especially given the general profile of the student body.

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7 Comments:

  • 1 MsB
    · Mar 19, 2007 at 7:20 pm

    Great post as always but what does this mean for high school students in our city, which essentially, are the future of our city? Does the city just expect us to keep on pushing them through so that they can grow up to be medicore adults at best? The best solution to over crowding is to build more schools, which never seems to be an option. No matter how much funding you get, students will still not get what they need in a class of 37. I only hope that giving schools a report card will reveal the obvious: larger schools tend to fail.

  • 2 jd2718
    · Mar 19, 2007 at 10:19 pm

    Nicely compiled data.

    But so what?

    A union, our union, needs more of a response than “little schools are good, big schools are good, Bloomberg’s Chancellor is bad”

    Jonathan

  • 3 jd2718
    · Mar 29, 2007 at 6:05 am

    Hmm. That “so what” was not about the data. The data are accurate and well-compiled.

    The question is, so we know this, what will we do about it?

  • 4 ciscodee
    · Apr 3, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    Out of curiosity, how do students get selected for these small schools? Are they “randomly assigned” from the surrounding community, or do they follow the high school application process protocol? Why is there such a disparate profile for the student populations in comparison? Is it an intentional attempt to skew the achievement data towards small schools? I’m an elementary school teacher not schooled in the ways of high school applications and acceptance processes.

  • 5 Leo Casey
    · Apr 4, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    There is no “random assignment.”

    This is a system of public school choice.

    A combination of the DOE policy which allows new small schools to exclude ELLs and Special Education students and discriminatory recruitment has produced these results.

  • 6 jd2718
    · Apr 4, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    As an aside, the old “neighborhood” high school is entirely a thing of the past in most of New York City. I can’t help but think that this is a tremendous loss.

  • 7 Inside Tweed’s Black Box Of School Progress Reports | Edwize
    · Jan 16, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    […] is also worth pointing out, as we have done here in the past, that the DoE has given its new small high schools waivers from accepting special education […]