Tag Archives: small high schools

Why Have New York City Homicides (1990: 2262) Declined So Precipitously (2016: 335)? Can Small Schools Connecting with Students Be at the Core?

At the height of the crack epidemic (1990) there were 2262 homicides in New York City; in 2016 there were 335 homicides – incredible. (Check out NYC crime data here).

While homicide rates continue at high level in city after city the rates in New York City continue to decline, probably below 300 for 2017.

What are we doing right?

See top 30 city homicide rates here.

Not only are homicide rates high the rates are breaking records in a number of cities.

In spite of the spotlight homicide rates in Chicago continue to spike: The Atlantic takes a deep dive into the persistently high homicide rates.

Criminologists, sociologists, psychologists, electeds have all parsed the reams of data to attempt to provide an answer: why has the homicide rate in New York City continued to decline, to decline precipitously while in other cities the rates have been persistently high or increasing?

Broken Windows” Policing and “Stop and “Frisk”

The eight years of Giuliani and the twelve years of Bloomberg were years of what critics called “harsh” policing. Arresting turnstile jumpers and public intoxicators, “stop and frisk” widely used in communities of color targeting young men of color, policies that both administrations claim reduced homicide rates.

A 2000 National Bureau of Economic Research study reports,

Many attribute New York’s crime reduction to specific “get-tough” policies carried out by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s administration. The most prominent of his policy changes was the aggressive policing of lower-level crimes, a policy which has been dubbed the “broken windows” approach to law enforcement. In this view, small disorders lead to larger ones and perhaps even to crime.

 In Carrots, Sticks and Broken Windows (NBER Working Paper No. 9061), co-authors Hope Corman and Naci Mocan find that the “broken windows” approach does not deter as much crime as some advocates argue, but it does have an effect

 Skeptics believe that it was the economic boom of the 1990s – a “carrot” that encourages people to remain on the straight-and-narrow – that brought about the drop in crime rates in New York City and the nation.

 The contribution of such deterrence measures (the “stick”) offers more explanation for the decline in New York City crime than the improvement in the economy, the authors conclude.

 So, “broken windows” had an impact; although not as much as claimed by the proponents.

However, Mayor de Blasio ended “stop and frisk” and arrests for low level misdemeanors have ended, homicides continue to spiral downward, and, at a faster rate.

 The Impact of Legalized Abortion

 A far more controversial theory comes from the “freakonomics” guys called the Donohue-Leavitt Hypothesis  that proffers that the Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision, the legal accessibility of abortions, resulted in sharp decreases in a generation of potential victims and perpetrators.  Males from poor dysfunctional households who were not born could not be victims or perps therefore resulting in sharp decreases in serious crime rates. The hypothesis has been vigorously debated.

Gentrification

 Gentrification is defined as “… the renovation of a deteriorating urban neighborhood by means of the influx of more affluent residents.” The process in New York City has been accelerating; Bedford-Stuyvesant, Harlem, Williamsburg, Washington Heights and other neighborhoods have seen the steady flow of middle class families into the neighborhoods pushing the poorer residents into existing “ghetto” neighborhoods.  New York State Juvenile Justice Task Force data shows that juvenile perpetrators are increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer neighborhoods. The concentration of potential victims and perpetrators into smaller geographic areas make it easier to police neighborhoods.

Some would argue that while gentrification pushes the poor out of neighborhoods and increases racial and economic segregation; a positive byproduct could be the reduction of crime.

Small High Schools

 Disconnected youth is defined as youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not working and not in school. Higher crime/arrest rates, higher controlled substance involvement, high pregnancy rates, a long list of negative metrics, and, cities and states around the nation are struggling to create programs to engage youth.

A detailed report, “One in Seven: Disconnected  Youth in the 25 Largest Metropolitan Areas” parses the data, Boston and Minneapolis have the lowest percentages, Phoenix the highest; however, there is no correlation that I could discern between serious crime and disconnected youth by city. New York City is 17th out of the 25 Metro areas; however, much lower homicide rates.

I could not find crime rates among disconnected youth by city. We do know that victims and perpetrators are more likely not to be in school and not working.

New York City has done a commendable job of keeping school-age kids engaged in the school system.

I proffer that keeping 16 to 21 year olds engaged in school plays a role in reducing homicide rates

Beginning in the late eighties, increasing in the nineties and sharply accelerating under Bloomberg the Board and successor Department of Education closed large high schools and replaced them with small high schools. There are currently about 400 small high schools and programs by and large located in the former large high school buildings. The school registers are about 400 students. An MDRP study finds,

… small schools tended to have common traits, including a rigorous curriculum, often built around themes like conservation and law, and highly personalized relationships between students and teachers.

The schools have also formed partnerships with community groups and businesses to offer hands-on learning experiences.

The predecessor large high schools commonly had registers of over 2000 kids, and, sadly, many had high absentee rates, large class sizes and the absence of services.

I served as the teacher union representative on numerous Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams; too many schools has passed the tipping point; they had become dropout mills with large percentages of disengaged students characterized by long term absentees, cutting classes, high failure rates in classes and on Regents exams

After the 1975 fiscal crisis the school system was an afterthought, the Koch administration had little interest in schools, the decentralized school system, with exceptions, was dominated by venal politicians and patronage. Schools were starved for resources and the most disadvantaged schools suffered.

The Bloomberg administration, for his first two terms, plowed dollars into schools, (2003-2011) sharp increases in teacher salaries and a concentration on creating small schools.

While you can argue that increasing graduations rates were due to credit recovery and other management tools, the more “personalized relationships between students and teachers” cannot be disputed.  The small high schools “connected” with students.

When school leaders and teachers know the name of every kid, engage with the kids on a daily basis, kids feel part of a community.

Kids who were not surviving in small high schools, students who were “overage age and under-credited” have another chance – transfer high schools. There are fifty transfer high schools scattered around the city. A hearing in Brooklyn held by the New York State Department of Education asking for public comment around the ESSA plan and the mandated 67% graduation rate, endangering transfer high schools,  student after student, parent after parent testified how the transfer high school had saved their lives.

Only about half of the students in transfer high school graduate, a cohort, who did not succeed in small high schools, who do not succeed in a transfer school have another chance, the Pathways to Graduation program, targeting students from 17 – 21 years of age, Pathways prepares students for the high school equivalency examination, formerly the GED, now the TASC exam – once again, a program built on personalized relationships between students and teachers.

I proffer that students in the New York City school system are less likely to be disconnected. Students who struggle with academics, students from single parent or dysfunctional households, students living in gang-infested neighborhoods are “connected” with their school staffs.

The culture of these programs connects students to staffs, builds communities, acts as an alternative to the streets, and, in my opinion, plays a role in reducing homicide rates.

Smaller schools, smaller class size, schools with flexible programming, student advisory classes addressing social and emotional needs, students not left to be won over by the streets, meaning fewer disconnected youth, means fewer kids likely to be victims or perpetrators.

Smarter policing not harsher policing, more job opportunities, higher wages, all play roles;  the impact of schools have been ignored in parsing the reasons for declining homicide rates.

I allowed kids to pick their own seats in my high school classroom. On day one a student picked the seat right in front of my desk. He was small for his age, too much acne, and the other kids used unkind language, today we’d call bullying.

One day he apologized before the class began.

“I’m sorry – I didn’t do my homework, I was practicing with my band.”

Offhandedly, I replied, “Is the band any good?”

The student, hesitantly, replied, “Yes.”

Me: “Do you have a cassette?”

The kid beamed, “Sure”

I gave the cassette to my son who has a friend who books acts, he said they weren’t bad, they should book performances at open mike venues and try and build up a following. I passed the info along to the kid.

Years later I was walking down a street and someone shouted, “Mr. G”

It was the same student.

Me: “Did you’re band make it …?”

Kid: Smiling, “We weren’t good enough, I was the sound guy, and I became a sound technician, make good money, thanks for the advice.”

We do our job and impact lives; usually we never know the impact we have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small High Schools versus Large High Schools: Burnishing and Tarnishing Reputations or Creating/Supporting School Structures That Work for Kids, Families and Teachers

“In the three decades since the release of the Nation at Risk report, the U.S. education reform effort has failed to achieve lift-off. Why is that so? Regardless of the reform strategy—whether new standards, or accountability, or small schools, or parental choice, or teacher effectiveness—there is an underlying weakness in the U.S. education system which has hampered every effort up to now: most consequential decisions are made by district and state leaders, yet these leaders lack the infrastructure to learn quickly what’s working and what’s not. They launch new initiatives with no detailed analysis of their effects. At best, they track aggregate measures such as overall proficiency and graduation rates, which can hide the consequences for the specific schools, or grades or subjects actually affected by their initiatives … For their part, philanthropists fund new initiatives in their local schools, and never know whether their funds have made a difference for children.

We are not lacking innovation in U.S. education. We lack the ability to learn from our innovations.” (Thomas J. Kane, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University)

A prime example of the paucity of meaningful analysis is the “small high schools of choice” (SSA). Small high schools, primarily created through the closing of large high school were not “invented” by the Bloomberg administration; in fact, small high schools have their roots in the 60’s. City as School, a collaboration between the Board of Education and the teachesr union was called an alternative high school and, it has flourished for half a century. Over the ensuing decades other small high schools opened and the Department created an alternative high school superintendent to service the atypical needs of these new models of schools. The Performance-Based Assessment Consortium was formed and the State granted a waiver from state exams for many of the alternative schools – in lieu of state exams (Regents and RCT) students were assessed by a portfolio of student work and a demonstration of proficiency at a roundtable – a group of teachers, critical friends and outsiders.

In the late eighties the Department began to close large high schools, Andrew Jackson High School became Campus Magnet and in the nineties the Department created the Chancellor’s High School District, a process to close dysfunctional large high schools and replace with small schools tied to community organizations. The seventeen small schools replaced four large high schools (Eastern District, George Washington, Taft and Theodore Roosevelt). A superintendent oversaw the schools and with a common school design. Each campus had a teacher center with an intensive emphasis on staff development. The Bloomberg administration ended the Chancellor’s District.

The Gates-funded New Century initiative invested $50 million into a large school closing/small school creation model. The grant was managed by New Visions for Public Schools and concentrated in the Bronx superintendency.

The Bloomberg team accelerated large high school closing under the portfolio model and there are now hundreds of small schools and education option programs in large schools around the city.

MDRC, a national organization, has released a succession of reports praising the so-called Small High Schools of Choice (SSC) initiative, their latest reports are equally praiseworthy,

… small schools of choicer have markedly increased graduation rates for disadvantaged students of color, many of whom start high school below grade level … it is widely accepted that enrollment and success in postsecondary education is necessary for young people to be prepared for the world of work.

New York City’s SSC’s are well positioned to meet this challenge because of their focus on providing academically rigorous curricula and personalized learning environments for their students. As noted above, this approach has led to success: SSC enrollees have experienced large, positive effects on high school graduation rates compared with their control group counterparts, regardless of students’ family income, race/ethnicity, or prior academic achievement. … students who enrolled in SSC’s consistently outperformed their control group counterparts in each of the years studied. Furthermore, SSC’s achieve these gains at a lower cost per graduate than that of the high schools attended by their control group counterparts, in large part because more SSC enrollees successfully graduate from high school and fewer SSC enrollees need to attend a fifth year of high school.

The MDRC reports suffers from the fatal flaw referenced by Thomas J. Kane in the intro quote, the lack of a detailed analysis: why are the small high school graduation rates higher than the control group? More personalized instruction, widespread use of faulty credit recovery, sympathetic state exam grading, etc. Are the SSC graduates more “college ready,” as measured by the State college and career readiness metric? Are graduates of small high schools more likely to succeed in college than the control group? Were the student bodies of the small high schools comparable to large high schools as far as English language learners and student with disabilities? All unanswered by the MDRC report.

The MDRC has published a number of research reports supporting SSC, are the MDRC Reports examples of “advocacy research,” research with the predetermined goal of supporting a specific program or initiative?

Diane Ravitch, in a blog post entitled, “Are Small Schools the Magic Bullet?” begins the post explaining that she is neither for nor against small high schools. An anonymous Department of Education employee (Think “Deep Throat”) from time to time sends Diane detailed accounts of Department programs, he/she is sharply critical of MDRC reports,

Is there any truth to these claims? Does the data support any of this? The answer is “no.” The papers self-published by the MDRC are shoddily researched with clear biases and poor grounding in reality. It order to keep the size of this essay to a manageable length let’s limit ourselves to a Top 10 list of the paper’s flaws. (Read all 10 flaws here)

The two flaws listed below are serious enough to question the entire report,

1. The Gates Foundation provides the funding for these papers. The Gates Foundation also funded many of the new small high schools in New York City. What we have here is a circular process of self-congratulation. The peer-review process might be expected to uncover the biases produced by this unholy alliance. But these papers have, of course, never been peer reviewed. They are self-published by MDRC on their website and then touted in press releases and newspaper editorials.
2. It is becoming standard practice for researchers to publicly post data-sets used in such studies. MDRC has refused to release the data-set. This makes it impossible for their results to be independently verified or questioned.

The most interesting report assessing the small high schools was published five years ago by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School, “The New Marketplace:
How Small-School Reforms and School Choice Have Reshaped New York City’s High Schools
” (Read report here)

The authors visited numerous small schools and interviewed scores of students, parents, teachers and school leaders, the findings,

* Attendance and graduation rates are higher at new small schools than at the large schools they replaced. Principals and students report the new schools are safer. Yet many small schools remain fragile, with attendance and graduation rates declining

* As the city closed the lowest-performing large schools to make way for small schools, thousands of students, including many new immigrants and children with special education needs, were diverted to the remaining large schools. Many of those schools suffered overcrowding and declining attendance and graduation rates. Some were subsequently closed

* Twenty-six of 34 large high schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx saw their enrollments jump significantly as other high schools were closed. Of these, 19 saw their attendance decline and 15 saw their graduation rates decline between the fall of 2002 and the spring of 2007. Fourteen saw both attendance and graduation rates decline.

* However, the school-choice system depends on well-informed adult guidance. Many students lack adequate support in choosing and ranking their schools, and guidance counselors are under-equipped to support them. Special needs students and children of immigrants have a particularly difficult time getting the information they need to make an informed choice.

* Thousands of students have been assigned to schools they did not choose or that are not appropriate for their educational needs. Students are assigned to schools up to 90 minutes from home, each way, by bus or subway. The more extensive the system of school choice, the more it sorts children into those who can navigate the admissions process and those who cannot.

The Report concludes with three reasonable recommendations,

* The city should not limit its high school reform efforts to the creation of small schools. Midsize and large schools can be effective and should be supported.

* The DOE should recognize that large high schools still serve the majority of students in New York City, and support them accordingly.

* The city must ensure that the “default schools”—schools where kids who are not picked by the school choice process wind up—get the support they need to be successful.

In an interview in 2013 Bill Gates was asked whether the education reform movement was changing American schools for the better, he answered,

“If you said to me, are we making progress on [U.S. education reform] or not, I could talk for a long time, but I wouldn’t be able to give you a number.” –Bill Gates

Are small high schools better? Better than what? Some are better than low functioning large high schools while high functioning large high schools are better than many small high schools? Personalization versus extended course offering and after school activities, neighborhood schools versus extended travel across the city, experienced counseling staffs versus newer untried staffs; the models offer a wide range of pros and cons.

The Department should be supporting small, medium size and large high schools, and, primarily offering all schools the supports that they need to be effective. Too many small schools have had inexperienced school leaders and distant school support, too many large schools were reservoirs for English language learners and students with disabilities: credit accumulation and scores on state exams rule, dooming large high schools.

For too long we have had an unrecognized triage system, allowing schools with “difficult” populations to fail so that we can replace them with small high schools. Basically the prior administration accepted that cohorts of kids would not be supported and accepted the dropping out, or, the pushing out of kids with academic challenges. A former superintendent in a comment on a prior blog got it right,

“Past administrations have failed to provide schools with the most essentials: credible curricula, instructional guidance, meaningful professional development, and encouragement … If you want an organization structure that makes sense, first define explicitly what great instruction looks like, be willing to design curriculum and long term training to support the vision by competent personnel who have some successful experience under their belts and who can actually do the work, and then figure out the most efficient and effective system to support schools in improving their craft.”