The group claims the following on their website:
(New York, August 26, 2013) — MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research firm, released new findings today from its multiyear study of small high schools in New York City. Those findings show that the schools, which serve mostly disadvantaged students of color, continue to produce sustained positive effects, raising graduation rates by 9.5 percentage points. This increase translates to nearly 10 more graduates for every 100 entering ninth-grade students.
These graduation gains can be attributed almost entirely to Regents diplomas attained, and the effects are seen in virtually every subgroup in these schools, including male and female students of color, students with below grade level eighth-grade proficiency in math and reading, and low-income students. In addition, the best evidence that currently exists suggests that these small high schools may increase graduation rates for two new subgroups for which findings were not previously available: special education students and English language learners. Finally, more students are graduating ready for college: the schools raise by 6.8 percentage points the proportion of students scoring 75 or more on the English Regents exam, a critical measure of college readiness used by the City University of New York.
“With the nation’s attention focused on turning around failing urban high schools, this study provides convincing evidence that large-scale transformation is possible in an urban public school system,” said Gordon Berlin, President of MDRC. “While more certainly needs to be done if all students are to be prepared for college and careers, the small school strategy as implemented in New York provides a blueprint for future reforms across the nation.”
MDRC doesn't seem to have tracked the students who used to be at the large "failing" schools to see what happened to them (indeed, they say that (" The study does not compare the SSCs to the large, failing high schools they replaced but, rather, to the other public high schools operating in the reform-rich atmosphere in New York City"), but you can be sure the overwhelming majority didn't end up in Bloomberg's small schools.
You can also be sure that the large "failing" schools served high populations of ELL's and support service students. MDRC notes the following about their study (emphasis added):
The best evidence that exists indicates that SSCs may increase graduation rates for two new subgroups for which findings were not previously available: special education students and English language learners. However, given the still-limited sample sizes for these subgroups, the evidence will not be definitive until more student cohorts can be added to the analysis.
Gee, how does MDRC claim that this study proves the small schools initiative "as implemented in New York provides a blueprint for future reforms across the nation" when the schools they studied had limited sample sizes of ELL's and support service students, unlike, say, the larger schools they replaced?
Given the political atmosphere these days, with the Common Core test score rates plummeting in Bloomberg's last year in office and much of his reform measures under attack, this study has the feel of Bloomberg propaganda.
MDRC is claiming this study proves Bloomberg's reforms work, but even they admit that the students in these schools are different from the students in the larger "failing" schools they replaced and these school populations have fewer ELL's and support service students in the student cohorts than in the system at large.
Both of these caveats call into question the entire value of the study, but of course MDRC isn't going to note that in their p.r. paper.
Also, notice how MDRC opens up their p.r. statement:
MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research firm...
Right from the get-go, they want to make sure that everybody knows they've got no straw in this drink, they're just here to do the independent research and publish the findings, regardless of what those findings are.
But is it true that they're an independent research group?
Well, that depends on what you mean by independent.
You see, they partnered with the Bloomberg administration and the City of New York back in 2007 on another schools initiative called Opportunity NYC:
In March 2007, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced his intention to test a set of antipoverty initiatives, called Opportunity NYC, which would use temporary cash payments to poor families to boost their income in the short term, while building their capacity to avoid longer-term and second-generation poverty. Such payments are known internationally as “conditional cash transfers” because the payments are contingent upon family members making certain efforts to build their human capital.
Opportunity NYC includes three separate demonstration projects, each of which took a somewhat different approach. Family Rewards was a comprehensive, two-generation strategy that focused on children’s education, family preventative health care, and parents’ workforce efforts. Work Rewards targeted the workforce efforts of low-income adults living in subsidized housing. A third project called the Spark program focused solely on children and their school performance. All three projects have been supported by a consortium of private funders.
In collaboration with the Mayor’s Office, a host of City agencies, and Seedco (a private, not-for-profit workforce and economic development organization), MDRC helped design Family Rewards and Work Rewards and is leading random assignment evaluations of the effectiveness of these programs. The operational phase of Family Rewards and the incentives component of Work Rewards have concluded as planned, and the long-term evaluations are still underway.
Oh, so this independent, non-partisan, non-profit MDRC partnered with the Bloomberg administration to try and prove that merit payments (i.e., "conditional cash transfers") to poor people improve social outcomes.
Gee, that doesn't sound so non-partisan or independent to me.
In fact, that sounds like MDRC very much had a stake in the outcome of just how the city tried to improve social outcomes (i.e., with market-based initiatives) and it sounds like MDRC finds itself very close to the Bloomberg administration indeed.
MDRC has also partnered with Bloomberg and NYC before on other initiatives as well, like the Social Impact Bond Project at Riker's Island.
MDRC loses its claims to "non-partisanship" when it partners with the Bloomberg administration on two major initiatives the Bloomberg administration promoted, both of which are "market-based initiatives" out to prove that free market ideas will solve social issues like poverty and prison recidivism.
Lastly, guess which billionaire philanthropist's philanthropy group is a major funder of MDRC?
You guessed it - Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Gee, I can't imagine Bloomberg's writing some of the checks to keep the lights on in the MDRC offices would sway any of the research they do over at MDRC, can you?
This study will be hailed by the usual corporate media cheerleaders like the Daily News (Gotham Schools is shilling the DN story in their morning post as well), but the truth is, the study is compromised by MDRC taking money from Bloomberg and by MDRC having partnered with Bloomberg on other initiatives.
In addition, the study is misleading at best, because while it claims Bloomberg's small schools program is "a blueprint for future reforms across the nation," it fails to note how that blueprint has "still-limited sample sizes" of ELL's and support services students. Given how the system at large, and the large "failing" schools these small schools replaced have larger "sample sizes" of these populations of students, it stands to reason that if you add a larger subset of ELL's and support service students to the mix, you are going to get different outcomes.
It would be nice if the Daily News would have mentioned the Bloomberg financial connection in their story.
You can bet if the UFT or the AFT were a major funder of a research group releasing an education study, the Daily News would have mentioned that.
Somehow the Bloomberg Philanthropies connection isn't mentioned in the DN story, however.
It also would have been nice if the Daily News would have mentioned the caveat to the study over ELL's and support service students.
Both of those call into question what MDRC is claiming this study proves - that Bloomberg's small schools reforms is "a blueprint for future reforms across the nation."