sizing up school reform

Success story

study says...

New York

Study: Promise of cash got on-track teens to do more homework

A study found that teens allocated their time differently when their families earned cash payments for improved academics. City teenagers who knew they would get cash bonuses if they did better in school spent less time socializing and more time studying, according to a new study. But the pattern held true only for teens who were already "academically inclined," according to the researchers who conducted the analysis, the latest in a series of studies about a city incentives experiment that was conducted from 2007 to 2010. The program, called Opportunity NYC, offered families payments for different behaviors related to education, health care, and work. For example, families got $200 for each member who had annual physical exam, and adults received $150 a month for maintaining a full-time job. The program ended in 2010 after generating a rich set of data that researchers are continuing to mine. A first look at the program's results last year found little to no impact of cash incentives on children's education. But the latest analysis, completed by the research firm MDRC, looked only at families with teenagers and focused on behaviors that the incentives weren't actually designed to influence. It finds that teens who were generally on track in school who had been promised cash for improved academic performance spent more time on homework and other academically oriented activities, forgoing social time in the process. Teens who had already fallen behind in school did not change their behavior because of the incentives, the researchers found. Those teens continued dividing their time in the same way among school activities, work, and watching TV, and socializing.
New York

Report finds lasting graduation rate gains at city's small schools

The Bloomberg administration has long touted the small high schools it created as outperforming large schools closed to make way for them. But a new report finds, for the second time, that the schools also post higher graduation rates than other city schools that stayed open. Being randomly selected to attend small high schools opened under the Bloomberg administration made students significantly more likely to graduate, even as the schools got older, according to the report, conducted by researchers at the nonprofit firm MDRC. The researchers updated a 2010 study that examined "small schools of choice" that opened between 2002 and 2008 and did not select students based on their academic performance. Of the 123 schools that fit that bill, 105 had so many applicants that the schools selected among them randomly, through a lottery. The lottery process enabled the researchers to compare what happened to two groups of students that started out statistically identical: those who were admitted to the small schools and those who lost the lotteries and wound up in older, larger schools. That type of comparison is considered the "gold standard" in education research. The original study found that the small high schools had positive effects on their students — but it looked only at the schools' very first enrollees. The new report looks at those students in the fifth year after they enrolled and also at the second set of students who enrolled at the schools. It finds that the higher graduation rate — 67.9 percent, compared to 59.3 percent for students who were not admitted — continued for the second group of students who enrolled and cut across all groups of students, regardless of their race, gender, family income, or academic skills upon enrollment. Students at the small schools were also more likely to meet the state's college readiness standards in English, though not in math. "Small schools for a variety of reasons, I always felt, were going to succeed in certain ways," said Richard Kahan, the head of Urban Assembly, a nonprofit that started a handful of schools included in the study. "But I would not have predicted the impact."
New York

Long-awaited center to study city schools arrives tomorrow

The research center that will aim to conduct apolitical research on the city's public schools is launching tomorrow, at long last. James Kemple, a former director of education policy at MDRC, a New York think tank, will be the executive director of the group, which will be called (after several other tentative names were scrapped) the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, according to a press release just sent out. New York University is housing the center. One thing to pay close attention to is the data-sharing agreement that will determine which researchers get what data and what kind of access to schools. Increasing access was one purpose of the alliance, and to that end, the people who set up the alliance — from luminaries like the former president of Princeton, William Bowen, to the layman executive director, Richard Arum — hammered out a formal agreement with the Department of Education dictating who can see what figures and under what circumstances. I reported on the terms of a tentative agreement over the summer, for the Sun: Under the tentative deal, the group would have a fixed set of data that would be kept constantly up-to-date. Some of that data, including figures such as schools' state test scores, SAT results, and attendance data, would be widely available to the press and public. A larger set, including student-level information would be instantly available to a "Research Corps" selected by the executive director. To ensure speedy responses to inquiries by the alliance, the Department of Education would also agree to appoint a person in charge of coordination, called a "senior data liaison." The liaison would be paid for by the alliance but work under the supervision of the department, Mr. Arum said. Another fun fact: On the name front, one long-time contender was the Research Partnership. Maybe not everyone at the center is ready to give up that name; it's still the URL address of the center's Web site and mentioned prominently on the site's home page, as you can see in a screen shot below the jump.