Written by Patricia Hawke for

In the 5 years since New York City Schools received funding from philanthropic giants like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and the Open Society Institute New Yorkers have watched closely the development of New Century High Schools (NCHS). The $70 million investment funded an initiative to create smaller high school communities in this vast metropolis. The goal is to provide children in New York City Schools with more choices to drive them toward their goals of college, or practical employment.
Currently, 83 New Century High Schools are educating over 13,000 high school students. These schools are markedly different than traditional New York City Schools.  The first difference is in size. A NCHS is housed in a larger high school, but only educates about 400 students.
Pedagogy between traditional New York City Schools and the NCHS also differs. A curriculum based on teen development principles, and that adheres to strict standards, is used in all of the New Century High Schools. The standards address issues that have always plagued the New York City Schools: attendance and graduation rates. A NCHS requires a 92% attendance rate. But its most dramatic demand is that 80% of NCHS students must pass the rigorous NYS Regents exam, which is required for graduation.
The fact that NCHS are meeting these demands, and that parent and students are demanding more of them, is a dramatic marker of success for New York City Schools. Part of the success may lie in the partnerships required. New York City Schools are partnered with a social or business partner to provide its strength, expertise and community involvement to the theme based NCHS. Annual reports funded by the Carnegie Corporation and other sponsors closely track this initiative’s progress.
The reports show encouraging results for New York City Schools. On average a NCHS out paces other New York City Schools by 23% in terms of 11th graders on schedule for graduation. The New Century High Schools also surpass traditional models in terms of credit accumulation, promotion rates, attendance and academic outcomes. Many educators are optimistic that replacing the large school dinosaur with these more intimate and focused options might be the solutions for New York City Schools.
In 2006 the Annenberg Foundation donated another $20 million to New Vision for Public Schools, which oversees the project, to sustain and create more small high schools. Overall, response to the initiative from parents, educators, students and the community are positive. New York City Schools now house NCHS buildings in 4 boroughs and plan to institute many more. Their success is likely to drive the future of public schools driven by private funding.