The Impact of Chicago’s Small High School Initiative (WP-13-20)
Lisa Barrow, Amy Claessens, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach
This project examines the effects of the introduction of new small high schools on student performance in the Chicago Public School (CPS) district. Specifically, the researchers investigate whether students attending small high schools have better graduation/enrollment rates and achievement than similar students who attend regular CPS high schools. They show that students who choose to attend a small school are more disadvantaged on average. To address the selection problem, they use an instrumental variables strategy and compare students who live in the same neighborhoods but differ in their residential proximity to a small school. In this approach, one student is more likely to sign up for a small school than another statistically identical student because the small school is located closer to the student’s house and therefore the “cost” of attending the school is lower. They find that small schools students are substantially more likely to persist in school and eventually graduate. Nonetheless, there is no positive impact on student achievement as measured by test scores. The finding of no test score improvement but a strong improvement in school attainment is consistent with a growing literature suggesting that interventions aimed at older children are more effective at improving their non-cognitive skills than their cognitive skills.