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Chicago Study: A Slightly Different Take on Small Schools

On the heels of my story yesterday on findings from New York City's efforts to replace big impersonal high schools with smaller, more intimate ones comes word of this report on a similar initiative in Chicago.

Researchers from the Consortium on Chicago School Research compared educational outcomes for students in 17 nonselective small high schools that the district created between 2002 and 2004 with outcomes for similar students enrolled in the system's comprehensive high schools. (No, this was not a randomized study.)

As in New York, they found that the students attending Chicago's small schools were more likely to be on track to graduate by the end of 9th grade and to persist in school than a demographically and academically similar group of students attending the city's comprehensive high schools. Among the students who entered high school in 2004-05, for example, 57.2 of those attending the small schools graduated on time, compared to 49 percent of their counterparts in regular high schools. That margin is similar to the 6.8 percentage point edge that MDRC found for New York City's small schools.

The small-schools students in Chicago also had slightly better grades and attendance rates. That said, however, these indicators were nothing to brag about: Students still missed an average of a month of school each year and their grade average in core academic subjects was slightly below a C.

As for test scores, the small-schools students scored about the same as the comparison-group students on both state assessments and the ACT college-entrance exams.

In summing up the results, the Chicago researchers were not quite as enthusiastic as the MDRC study team.

"Our findings show that this initiative did accomplish much, but not all, of what it was intended to do," they write. "However, being 'slightly better' than similar students does not mean that these students are college ready."

This study was completed last month but the consortium didn't trumpet the findings at the time, as they were no different from its interim studies on this initiative. You can find the report on the consortium's website.

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