Small High Schools and Student Achievement: Lottery-Based Evidence from New York City

New Findings, School Reform, October 2013

A study con­ducted by researchers Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Weiwei Hu, and Parag Pathak reveals that atten­dance at one of New York’s over­sub­scribed new small high schools boosts stu­dent achieve­ment on a vari­ety of mea­sures, includ­ing high school grad­u­a­tion and col­lege enrollment.

One of the most wide-ranging reforms in pub­lic edu­ca­tion in the last decade has been the reor­ga­ni­za­tion of large com­pre­hen­sive high schools into small schools with roughly 100 stu­dents per grade. We use assign­ment lot­ter­ies embed­ded in New York City’s high school match to esti­mate the effects of atten­dance at a new small high school on stu­dent achievement. More than 150 uns­e­lec­tive small high schools cre­ated between 2002 and 2008 have enhanced auton­omy, but oper­ate within-district with tra­di­tional pub­lic school teach­ers, prin­ci­pals, and collectively-bargained work rules. Lottery esti­mates show pos­i­tive score gains in Mathematics, English, Science, and History, more credit accu­mu­la­tion, and higher grad­u­a­tion rates. Small school atten­dance causes a sub­stan­tial increase in col­lege enroll­ment, with a marked shift to CUNY insti­tu­tions.  Detailed school sur­veys indi­cate that stu­dents at small schools are more engaged and closely mon­i­tored, despite fewer course offer­ings and activ­i­ties. Teachers report greater feed­back, increased safety, and improved collaboration.