Small High Schools and Student Achievement: Lottery-Based Evidence from New York City
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. Students are also less likely to require remediation in reading and writing when at college. 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. The results show that school size is an important factor in education production and highlight the potential for within-district reform strategies to substantially improve student achievement.
We thank Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, Neil Dorosin, Stacey Gillett, Saskia Levy-Thompson, Jesse Margolis, Michelle Paladino, and officials at the New York City Department of Education for providing access to the data used in this study. We are grateful to Elizabeth Kelly and school officials at The Urban Assembly and MAK Mitchell for helpful discussions. A special thanks to Dick Murnane for encouraging us to pursue this work. Josh Angrist, Annice Correira, Sameer H. Doshi, Esther Duflo, and Peter Hull provided helpful comments. Pathak is grateful for the hospitality of Graduate School of Business at Stanford University where parts of this work were completed and the National Science Foundation for research support. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Abdulkadiroglu is a Board member of the Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice, a non-profit 501(c) that provides assistance to school districts on the implementation of school choice systems.Parag A. Pathak
Pathak is a Board member of the Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice, a non-profit 501(c) that provides assistance to school districts on the implementation of school choice systems.