Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Do Small Schools Work for Latinos?

Former New York CIty Mayor Michael Bloomberg viewed breaking up large failing high schools and creating smaller ones as one potential remedy to closing the achievement gap.

Now his successor, newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio will have the opportunity to reverse the program.

In a commentary piece for Education Week, University of California, Berkeley education professor Bruce Fuller writes that many of the smaller campuses just furthered segregation by race and class. Small schools sometimes have just 200 students.

He writes this, while acknowledging their successes. Graduation rates are higher at the smaller schools. At the same time, achievement gaps persist.

“Small high schools enjoy surging demand, rising from the remnants of once huge and often dreary campuses,” Fuller writes. He continues, “These warm and personalized spaces have spurred modest gains in graduation rates and rekindled faith in public education.”

A study that is part of a multiyear evaluation of New York’s small schools released last August by the nonprofit group MDRC found that the small schools are raising graduation rates in the city.

Similarly, last October researchers from MIT and Duke University released a study of 150 small high schools and found that students attending them were 9 percent more likely to graduate and 7 percent more likely to go on to college than students at traditional schools. Many of the schools are located alongside each other on campuses.

But Fuller raises genuine concerns about segregation.

He writes that while three-fifths of Latino and black students enter the small schools in predominantly poor neighborhoods, less than one-fourth of white and Asian freshmen do.

Meanwhile, the white and Asian students clamor for acceptance to the city’s elite magnet schools such as Stuyvesant – schools with very few Latino and black students.

“It’s not dastardly discrimination, but stratified routes of market demand, that act to reinforce segregation,” Fuller writes. “Black and Latino parents rationally bid for schools displaying stronger results than the campuses closest to home. Yet their first-choice schools still perform far below the top picks of their white and Asian-American counterparts.”

Related Links:
 “Do Small Schools Undermine Diversity?”  Education Week
New York City Small Schools of Choice Evaluation, MDRC 
“Should Mayor de Blasio Unravel Bloomberg’s Reforms?” The New York Times. 
“Bloomberg’s Small Schools Show Higher Graduation Rates, Researchers Say,” The Huffington Post.