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New Research on New York City: School Choice, Student Experience

As New York City prepares for a mayoral election that could have big ramifications for its school system, two new research papers released yesterday examine what's happened in the 1.1 million-student school system since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took control of it in 2002. 

The first paper, from a new philanthropy-headed education research initiative called EdFunders, examines students' experience in the system, while the second, from the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, focuses on the growth of school choice in New York. Both papers point to improved student test scores and graduation rates since 2002.

EdFunders: Student Experience

The EdFunders paper, New York City Schools: Following the Learning Trajectories of a Cohort, follows 77,501 New York City public school students who entered high school in 2005. 

The research says that while high school graduation rates in the nation's largest school district have grown steadily, from 50 percent to 65 percent, there are still barriers to success for many students. It highlights findings about literacy, discipline, high school graduation, and neighborhood segregation and racial/ethnic disparities in schools.

Some of the findings:

  • Among those students who exceeded standards in literacy in 3rd grade, 90 percent graduated in four years, compared to one in three students who failed to meet the 3rd grade literacy standard.
  • Racial and ethnic disparities in test scores show up by 3rd grade and persist. 
  • Black students in New York are significantly more likely to be suspended in middle school.
  • Being behind in credits in 9th grade, changing high schools, having been suspended, or being absent more than 15 days in 9th grade were all connected to being less likely to graduate high school on time.
  • Those who had completed Algebra 2 in high school and those who had passed at least one AP course were more likely to remain in college. 

This piece was part of a new collaboration from several prominent New York philanthropies, including the Ford Foundation, the Brooklyn Community Foundation, the Altman Foundation, and others. The new group is calling itself the Education Funders Research Initiative, or EdFunders, and says that it is driven not by ideology but by discovering what works.

The group announced yesterday that it has commissioned several papers analyzing the education policies put into place by outgoing Mayor Bloomberg, and suggesting priorities for funders and schools.

Brookings: School Choice

A separate paper from the Brookings Institution highlights the rapid changes in the composition of the district's public schools since Bloomberg took office. The charter sector has grown from 22 to 159 schools, and approximately 60 new regular public schools have opened each year, the report finds. 

The paper explores how those changes came about and gives some interesting detail about the 'characteristics' of the district, including its changed admissions system. It connects students' improved test scores to the growth of school choice in the district and to consistent leadership.

The paper's authors point to some room for the district to improve its policies regarding choice, however, including closing unpopular schools.

The election to find Bloomberg's successor is slated for early next month, but some advocates of Bloomberg's policies are already rallying to ward off some proposed changes.

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