NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

N.Y.C.'s Small Experimental Schools Threatened

October 13, 1997

In 1992, New York City launched an experiment in education by permitting small, innovative public academies to be formed by community groups and borough-level school districts seeking freedom from central regulation and control. The schools have been largely free to pick teachers, set their curricula and in some cases select their students.

But New York City Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew has moved to limit the independence of these model schools -- which have been copied by school reformers around the nation.

  • The New York Networks for School Renewal -- a coalition of four nonprofit groups supported by a $25 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation -- started 125 schools serving 50,000 students over the last five years, the biggest expansion of public schools in decades.
  • These elementary, middle and high schools accommodate 1 in 20 of the city's 1.1 million school children.
  • Some small schools are at the top of city achievement lists, like the Lab School in downtown Manhattan, where 82.7 percent of students read at or above their grade level last year compared with a citywide average of 43.3 percent.
  • A few of the schools have not done well, however -- usually those set up to serve children who have failed in traditional settings.

Crew has recently been distancing himself from the school reform movement and has removed the most active reformers from the Board of Education. He also set up a committee to propose rules that would give him more control over the schools.

The committee has recommended barring schools from forming without approval from the chancellor or central school board, insists that each school be headed by a licensed principal and has drafted guidelines to set minimum enrollments -- ranging from 400 students at elementary schools to 800 at high schools.

Advocates of the independent schools say mandating greater size is a way to wrest control over significant areas like budgets, hiring, admissions or parent associations.

Crew's critics say he was unnerved when he discovered that an all-girl middle school had been organized by a local board without his permission or knowledge, and without approval by the central school board.

Source: Anemona Hartocollis, "Small, Experimental Schools Could Lose Some Independence," New York Times, October 13, 1997.


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