Small public high schools in New York City, created citywide in mostly high-poverty communities to replace large, low-performing high schools. The small schools compete for students through the city’s system of school choice.
Between 2002-2008, New York City created Small Schools of Choice (SSCs) to replace large public high schools with graduation rates below 45 percent located in disadvantaged communities. SSCs are small (roughly 100-120 students per grade, as compared to the usual 350 or more in traditional city high schools), academically nonselective, and designed to ensure students receive individualized attention from teachers. The schools were newly created through a competitive process, in which the city invited applications from prospective school leadership teams.
Additional SSC features include: (i) new principals and teachers (as opposed to transfers from a large high school that the SSC replaced); (ii) start-up funding from the city’s Department of Education and philanthropic organizations (such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation); (iii) assistance with leadership development, staff hiring, and program start-up from intermediary organizations (such as New Visions for Public Schools); and (iv) partnerships with local businesses or nonprofit organizations that offer students learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom.
SSCs operate in the context of the city’s high school choice system, under which all rising 9th graders rank order their preferences for high schools to attend, and then are placed in their most preferred school with an available spot. Researchers call these high schools “small schools of choice” because they are small and they are open to all students who choose them regardless of the students’ past academic performance. SSCs’ operating cost is about $61,200 per student over five years (in 2017 dollars), which the study described below found to be approximately the same as that of the larger, more traditional high schools attended by students in the control group.1