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Small Schools Study

Small Schools Approach

Our efforts leading the small schools movement have produced historic results for some of New York City's highest-need students. An ongoing evaluation commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and conducted by MDRC, an independent research firm, has validated these efforts in a rigorous, randomized study.

New Visions' work over the past decade creating small schools of choice throughout New York City has raised graduation rates and helped narrow the achievement gap, demonstrating one of the most successful reform efforts taken to scale in urban education today.

Under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Chancellor Joel Klein, New York City's Department of Education moved to replace large high schools with troublingly low graduation rates with small, themed high schools. New Visions was the lead partner in designing and incubating the majority of small schools that the city phased in beginning in the early 2000s.

Small high schools -- which typically enroll fewer than 600 students -- promote academic rigor and personal relationships between students and faculty. These close-knit relationships help enrich student-teacher interaction and assist teachers in assessing student need.

Validated Results

In 2010, MDRC released its first report, which indicated that New York City's first 105 small high schools -- two-thirds created by New Visions -- increased students' likelihood of earning credits, progressing through high school and graduating in four years with a Regents diploma. Among the findings:

  • Graduation rates increased by 8.6 percentage points;
  • Graduation rates for black males increased by nearly 10 percentage points and for low-income students by 11.2 percentage points; and
  • Graduation rates for students earning a Regents diploma increased by nearly 7 percentage points

According to the study's authors, this effect is equivalent in magnitude to cutting about 43 percent of the gap in graduation rates between white students and students of color in New York City.

A recent follow-up study tracking the continued success of the 2010 and 2011 graduates of small high schools indicates the positive average effects of small schools on four-year graduation rates have been sustained. As a result of these efforts, thousands more students than otherwise would have are graduating with a Regents diploma.

A policy brief released in 2014 updated MDRC's previous research on small schools, updating high school graduation effects with an additional fourth cohort of students. Studies confirmed that the average on-time high school graduation rates of the students attending small schools increased by 9.4 percentage points.