Demographics Persist as Best Predictor of Academic Success


PROVIDENCE – Research released today by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform (AISR) indicates that while some principals and educators felt that the current network structure of New York City’s public schools successfully supported their professional growth and development, it did not improve students’ academic performance across all schools and networks. 

1054 These findings, contained in a 55-page report titled “Demographics and Performance in New York City's School Networks: An Initial Inquiry,” informed New York City School Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s recent decision to dismantle the city’s 55 Children First Networks (CFN) instituted in 2003 by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Chancellor Joel Klein.

The CFN organized schools into associational rather than geographic groupings in an attempt to preserve school autonomy by providing instructional support that was separate from supervision. Supporters of this system also anticipated that spreading out the networks geographically would break the relationship between demographics – ethnicity, employment status, location, language knowledge, mobility, etc. – and student achievement, based on the perspective that students and schools should have broad access to high-quality educational options outside of their neighborhoods, as well as the autonomy to determine what works best for them, versus centralized accountability and support systems. 

The tension between neighborhood schools and non-geographically based learning options isn’t new; busing and magnet schools are well known examples of the effort to offer more high-quality educational choices for students and families outside of their immediate community. This study found, however, that demographic factors – the persistent and inequitable gateway to life opportunities – are still the most accurate predictor of student and school outcomes. 

“How to structure the New York City school system so that it most effectively administers and supports its schools and students has been the subject of debate for decades,” said Warren Simmons, AISR executive director and author of the report’s introduction. “To truly address the persistent achievement and opportunity gaps that plague our educational systems, future investments must focus on supports that will create thriving schools with a firm anchor in thriving communities. These lessons from New York City’s network experiment are not only relevant to the city’s new administration, but it will help inform similar discussions on school structure in other cities.”

The report’s authors include AISR Principal Associate Norm Fruchter; Christina Mokhtar, AISR principal research associate; Toi Sin Arvidsson, a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University; and the late John Beam, formerly a principal analyst at Pumphouse Projects.  

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