Why is the man with the goatee smiling?

It might have something to do with this new report from MDRC showing a 9.4% increase in graduation rates in NYC in the “small high-schools” initiative. Students attending small high schools attended college at an 8.4% higher rate as well.

So just to review, Gates FF had a winning strategy on their hands- it had a plausible theory but not much empirical support. Sadly they dropped this strategy before waiting for empirical evaluations, which continue to pile up and have strongly positive results. The siren call of central planning lured them into an endless quagmire that also lacks empirical support (see Hanushek and Loveless) and also lacks a plausible theory of change. Small schools now lacks neither of these things.

There’s one obvious solution to all of this- he’s tan, rested and ready and he’s bringing back socks and sandals! Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he is bringing in socks and sandals for the first time. Regardless- bring back Tom Vander Ark!



10 Responses to Why is the man with the goatee smiling?

  1. pbmeyer2014 says:

    May I assume that this entry was written by Matt Ladner? Thanks.

  2. matthewladner says:


    Jay is travelling today and asked me to post this for him.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    Over at AEI, McShane points out that the positive results may also be attributable in whole or in part to the fact that the small schools were newly created (“build new don’t reform old,” someone said) and given considerable autonomy.

  4. Greg Forster says:

    Also relevant: are these gains worth the enormous cost? Can they be replicated at scale?

    None of this detracts from the case for bringing back Tom Vander Ark, of course.

    • They calculated cost per graduate and the small schools are actually cheaper on that basis

      • Greg Forster says:

        But the startup costs are high. The scaling question is the bigger one – how many schools could Gates engineer the breakup of?

        Let’s set all that aside, though. The possibility of a “new school” and/or “autonomous school” effect is what interests me most. What if the real benefit is not smaller schools but new and more autonomous schools?

      • pbmeyer2014 says:

        Though there are startup grants associated with the small schools, these folks operate with regular per-capita allowances, proving again that it’s not the money, it’s how you use it.

  5. matthewladner says:

    I’d bet that some small school strategies are easier and cheaper than others.

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