In the past decade, graduation rates in New York rose 10 percent. School reform in New York City, led by schools chancellor Joel Klein, is seen as a model for other urban areas facing high dropout rates and dangerous schools.
One of Klein's strategies is to replace large, over-crowded schools with small specialized schools where principals and teachers can better look after each student. He has closed 26 "dropout factory" schools where less than half the students graduated.
Justin Martinez is a good example of how the reforms work. Two years ago, Martinez started ninth grade in a crowded school where students had to stand or sit on the teacher desk because there were not enough chairs. The final straw was when he was threatened with a gun by gang members in the hallway. He ran from the school and never returned.
Instead, he enrolled in Williamsburg Prep, which has 500 students, compared to 2,000 in his old school. Martinez says that everyone knows each other in his new school, he feels safe and supported.
But not everyone is happy with the small school reform strategy. When the city closed a large high school with 2,000 students, it was replaced by small schools serving, in most cases, hundreds of students less. And each time that happened, all those leftover teenagers had to find somewhere else to go to school.
In addition, the new small schools didn't accept kids who were new to the country or kids with special education needs in the first couple of years. So, disproportionate numbers of needy kids were diverted and sent to the remaining large high schools. Those schools are now faced with similar problems that the "dropout factory" schools had.
"There are communities that are quite angry because they said, you know, we had a great school eight years ago, and now we have a school that has all sorts of problems, but we don't feel it was of our doing," says Michael Mulgrew, president of the teacher's union, United Federation of Teachers.
Chancellor Klein, who retires in January, says that change is controversial, and that there is still much tough work ahead to make the system work for the 300,000 students still attending large high schools.
"There are so many kids in the room that the teacher thinks you're doing good, and you may not even understand what's going on. That's how bad it was." – Justin Martinez, student
"If I think a school has got the kind of failure culture, low expectations, nonperformance, my job is to create a different option for those kids." – Joel Klein, former New York City Schools Chancellor
"Disproportionate numbers of very needy kids were diverted and sent to the remaining large high schools. They had lots more needy kids, and they didn't get any more resources to help them." - Clara Hemphill, Center for New York City Affairs
"If people want the same results, they can do the same old, same old. If people want different results -- and we have gotten much different results in New York -- they're going to have to do the tough work." – Joel Klein, former New York City Schools Chancellor
1. How big is your school? Do you feel like it is big or small?
2. What would be some differences between a high school with 400 students compared to a high school with 2,000 students?
3. What makes a school successful? How do you measure success?
1. What do you think about the strategy of closing big schools and making lots of small schools?
2. How do you think "over the counter" students feel about the changes?
3. If you were placed in a large school, would you support the reforms in hopes of someday getting into a small school?
4. What is the dropout rate in your school? Why do students drop out? What is your school doing to keep students engaged in school? Tell the NewsHour your story!