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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

Study of city charter schools attempts to isolate what works

What happens inside New York City charter schools is more important than their ideological affiliations in determining academic success, according to a new paper. The paper, which did not undergo peer review, is based on a detailed analysis of 35 city charter schools by two Harvard University researchers, Roland Fryer and Will Dobbie. Fryer is a MacArthur "genius" award winner who has conducted experiments and studies in New York City in the past, often in order to test his theories about the impact of incentives. For the newest paper, "Getting Beneath the Veil of Effective Schools: Evidence from New York City," the researchers conducted in-depth case studies at self-selecting charter schools that received $5,000 for supplying required information. By interviewing principals, teachers, and students; analyzing test scores and lesson plans; and videotaping classroom activity, Fryer and Dobbie built a database of "the inner workings of schools" and compared them. They wanted to find which traits of city charter schools appeared most closely linked with academic success. They also asked whether schools with a particular philosophy, such as the "whole child" approach of providing wraparound services or the "no excuses" approach typified by KIPP charter schools, did better than others. The researchers conclude that teacher credentials, class size, and per-pupil spending did not account for test score differences across the schools, but that five other features did. Those traits — frequent teacher feedback, high rates of data usage, "high-dose" tutoring, more class time, and a culture of high expectations — are features of many charter schools. Without them, schools that adhere to particular philosophies don't outperform other charter schools, according to the analysis.
New York

Study: In NYC, traditional K-5, 6-8 grade arrangements do worst

Graduating from one school to another for sixth grade is typical, but the arrangement is not ideal for student achievement. That's according to a new study the compared the varied pathways that city students took to eighth grade from 1995 to 2002. The report, "The Path Not Taken: How Does School Organization Affect Eighth-Grade Achievement?", was just released in the Summer 2011 issue of the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. Led by Amy Ellen Schwartz and Leanna Stiefel at New York University, the researchers looked at "grade span paths," or the grade configurations of the schools that students attended on their way to eighth grade. With more than 900 elementary and middle schools, New York City boasted 28 different grade span paths during the period studied, the report notes, making it an ideal laboratory to study effects of school organization on student achievement. Looking at eighth-grade state and city test scores and controlling for a host of other factors, the researchers found that students who moved from K-4 schools to 5-8 schools and students who remained enrolled in a single K-8 school outperformed students who moved to middle school in sixth grade. But they couldn't conclude why those arrangements were more successful. "Our results suggest that changing school less frequently, changing schools at an earlier grade, a smaller size of the within-school cohort, and the stability of students’ peer cohorts are the most likely explanations for these positive performance differences," the researchers write.
New York

NYU is building an accountability system to measure its teachers

Robert Tobias The former testing czar at the old Board of Education, Robert Tobias, sometimes offers criticism of the accountability programs being produced these days at Tweed Courthouse. He's also been hatching an accountability system of his own — this one to study the effectiveness of teachers produced by New York University's school of education, where he now works. Preliminary results suggest that teachers trained at NYU are getting above-average results in English, but they give students no extra boost on math tests, Tobias said last week at the educational research conference Philissa and I attended in San Diego. He also found that NYU-trained elementary-school teachers produced significantly greater results for students than middle-school teachers, and that the teachers get better as they become more experienced. The effect tapers off at between five and nine years into the job, he said. Tobias's results could provide one clue about what's being found in an ongoing research project about teacher training programs in New York City. So far, that project has found that different programs produced different student results but has not named the programs that had the largest effects. The results could also be important as alternative teacher training programs like Teach For America increasingly bring into question the need for traditional programs based entirely at universities. "As a dean I want to say I want to steal these three and have them do it at my school," said Rick Ginsberg, who runs the education school at the University of Kansas, referring to the professors working with Tobias. “We’re fighting this battle all the time.”