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New Report: The Historic Overhaul of NYC’s Public High Schools

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press release

New Report: The Historic Overhaul of NYC’s Public High Schools

January 11, 2022

New York City can become a leader in secondary education once again by fostering a dynamic public school system with an array of options

NEW YORK, NY — School enrollment in NYC is down and students that remain are struggling with learning losses of the last two years—but New York City has a history of reinventing schools to fit students’ needs. The Adams’ administration, with David Banks as the new school’s chancellor, can cast a new vision of secondary education for America: one that successfully prepares many students to enter college without the need for remediation, while also preparing a large number of students to enter the work force immediately in successful, entry-level jobs. 

In a new Manhattan Institute report, senior fellow Ray Domanico analyzes the period of 1994 to 2013, during which New York City undertook an historic overhaul of its publicly funded high schools. Previous to that time period, New York City’s high schools fell behind the rest of the country as American public secondary education transformed from a terminal system for the masses to one serving a growing percentage of college-bound students. Many large public schools in the city became known as “failure factories.” The failure of the traditional high school system in New York spurred a rethinking of high school organization and practices, writes Domanico. This included opening charter high schools and creating new, smaller district high schools which in time replaced many of the city’s large traditional comprehensive and vocational high schools.  

Today, 359 public high schools and 56 publicly funded but independently operated charter high schools are still in operation and their success has increased graduation rates from about 50 percent to 83 percent by 2020. To build on that success, Domanico recommends that the Adams’ administration should: 

  • Commit to a careful assessment of high school performance and consider the closure of the lowest-performing high schools along with the dynamic creation of new opportunities for students in either new district-run or charter high schools. 
  • Signal support for the recognition of workforce preparation as a valid alternative to college readiness for high school diplomas. 
  • Create new schools that reflect what is currently known about the needs of students and the experience of the previous round of school creation, like the appropriate size of a new high school. 
  • Signal support for the work of the Performance Standards Consortium and make efforts to expand this initiative in consultation with the organization's leaders.  
  • Ensure that schools award diplomas that meaningfully reflect the completion of necessary work. 

Click here to view the full report.

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