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.