School Choice and School Performance in the New York City Public Schools – Will the Past be Prologue?

The New York City public schools are remarkably different today than they were when Michael Bloomberg was first sworn in as mayor in 2002.  One prominent dimension of change has been the expansion of school choice and school competition. This transformation has been associated with significant improvements in student outcomes, including increased  graduation rates and enhanced performance on state tests of academic achievement.

Both the types of schools available to students and the process by which students are assigned to schools have changed significantly over the past decade. With 159 charter schools admitting students in 2012-2013, the availability of alternatives to traditional public schools is markedly different than in 2003-2004, when only 22 charter schools existed in the city.  There has also been tremendous growth in the number of new regular public schools, including small non-selective high schools that are intended to serve students in the city’s poorest neighborhoods and to provide an alternative to the many large high schools that were closed by the Bloomberg administration because of persistent low performance.  The process by which students are assigned to NYC public high schools also changed fundamentally when in 2004, a universal high school choice process was implemented.

This paper provides evidence of a causal link between improved student outcomes and the growth in new smaller high schools and charter schools. The paper addresses the work that remains to be done to provide the students of New York City with a world class public education and an ideal system of school choice, and provides a series of policy recommendations for the city’s next mayor.