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IES Grant

Title: Assessing the Effectiveness of the Small High School Initiative
Center: NCER Year: 2006
Principal Investigator: Schanzenbach, Diane Whitmore Awardee: University of Chicago
Program: Improving Education Systems      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years Award Amount: $336,664
Goal: Exploration Award Number: R305R060062
Description:

Purpose: There is a growing consensus among policy makers, educators, parents, and future employers that American high schools are in need of significant reform. One of the most popular recent reforms is the "small schools" movement. Small schools have been associated in some settings with improved student outcomes, especially among disadvantaged youth. Although prior research attempted to isolate the impact of smaller schools, it is difficult to completely disentangle the impact of small schools in the previous research from other confounding factors correlated with school size such as community factors, Catholic school effects, and smaller classes. If the relationship between school size and achievement documented in earlier studies is the result of other confounding factors, then efforts to reduce school size in urban settings may be a fruitless and costly endeavor.

Project Activities: The researchers will use a longitudinal data set from all public high schools in a large urban center in Illinois to assess the impact of student achievement on the recent introduction of 16 small schools since 2001. They will separately investigate impacts on disadvantaged groups, such as particular racial/ethnic groups, special education students, and students previously enrolled in failing schools.

Products: Products from this project include increased knowledge of the potential impact of school size on student achievement, and published papers.

Setting: The schools are located in Illinois.

Population: Participants will be all students attending 16 small public high schools opened since 2001, and all regular public schools in this large urban center. Almost half the students in this urban area are African American, with another 38 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian, and the remainder European American. Most students are disadvantaged, with 85 percent coming from low-income families, and dropout rates are high.

Intervention: The researchers will use a longitudinal data set to assess the impact of school size on student achievement, following the recent introduction of 16 small schools into this large urban area since 2001. They will separately investigate impacts on disadvantaged groups, such as particular racial/ethnic groups, special education students, and students previously enrolled in failing schools.

Research Design and Methods: The researchers will extensively document what types of students select into these small schools versus the regular schools. Then they will use two approaches that have been used to isolate causality in the absence of randomized trials: propensity score matching, and an instrumental variables approach, in order to document the impact on student achievement of small schools in this urban center.

Control Condition: Students in the control condition will attend regular public schools.

Key Measures: The researchers will investigate student outcomes, including performance on the ACT exam and other standardized tests, performance on district-wide tests in math and English, dropout status, course credits attained, and absences. They will also collect self-reported information on student disciplinary actions and attitudes toward school.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers will use propensity score matching and an instrumental variables approach to attempt to isolate which factors are related to achievement scores of students' attending smaller high schools.

Publications

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Barrow, L., Schanzenbach, D.W., and Claessens, A. (2015). The Impact of Chicago's Small High School Initiative. Journal of Urban Economics, 87 : 100–113.

Clark, D., and See, E. (2011). The Impact of Tougher Education Standards: Evidence From Florida. Economics of Education Review, 30 (6): 1123–1135.

** This project was submitted to and funded under Middle and High School Reform in FY 2006.


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