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