Cover: Transforming an Urban School System

Transforming an Urban School System

Progress of New Haven School Change and New Haven Promise Education Reforms (2010–2013)

Published Nov 20, 2014

by Gabriella C. Gonzalez, Robert Bozick, Lindsay Daugherty, Ethan Scherer, Reema Singh, Monica Suarez, Sarah Ryan


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Research Questions

  1. What changes have been occurring in school climate, learning environment, school safety, and engagement?
  2. How have educational outcomes changed?
  3. How has New Haven Promise influenced graduates' college goals and prospects?

In 2009, the City of New Haven and New Haven Public Schools (NHPS) announced a sweeping K–12 educational reform, New Haven School Change. The district had three primary goals for School Change: (1) close the gap between the performance of NHPS students' and Connecticut students' averages on state tests, (2) cut the high school dropout rate in half, and (3) ensure that every graduating student has the academic ability and the financial resources to attend and succeed in college. Concurrent with School Change, the City of New Haven partnered with the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, NHPS, and Yale University in 2010 to create New Haven Promise, a scholarship program that aims to improve the college-going culture in the city and postsecondary enrollment and graduation rates of NHPS graduates as a way to enhance the economic development of the city, attract more residents to New Haven, reduce crime and incarceration, and improve residents' quality of life. The 2010–2011 school year marked the first year of a staged implementation for both efforts. In June 2013, the New Haven Promise Board of Directors asked the RAND Corporation to conduct a study to document and describe baseline conditions and early progress of these programs. Researchers worked with state and district data and conducted interviews with Promise Scholars and parents to document early trends and possible areas for improvement. This report and its companion volume document the resulting study.

Key Findings

School Change and Promise Are Making Progress Toward Meeting Their Goals

  • Average scores on state tests improved in the first three years of the reform, which was comparable to districts across Connecticut with similar sociodemographic and achievement profiles.
  • Students in the lowest-performing schools yielded the largest gains in test scores, relative to forecasts RAND conducted based on prereform trends.
  • Dropout rates in the lowest-performing schools improved and were on par with dropout rates in districts across Connecticut with similar sociodemographic and achievement profiles.
  • The percentage of graduating high school students eligible for Promise scholarships increased through time, and college enrollment for all students slightly increased on average — regardless of whether students were eligible for Promise.

New Haven Public Schools Still Need Improvement in Some Areas

  • Students still lagged behind the rest of the state in state test scores.
  • Promise Scholars in our focus groups noted changes in school climate when they were in high school but did not perceive specific changes in teachers' instruction, learning environment, or school safety.
  • Only one-third of NHPS graduates obtained the minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 to be eligible for the Promise scholarship.
  • Promise Scholars in our focus groups did not feel fully prepared for college-level coursework, even after the School Change reform efforts had been put in place. Scholars specifically mentioned struggling with study skills, time management, and self-discipline. (However, we did not ask respondents for their GPAs or coursework in high school to determine differences across Promise Scholars in preparation.)


  • Continue to conduct evaluations to inform continuous improvements and to determine the reforms' effectiveness.
  • Use internal reporting mechanisms to improve decisionmaking.

The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education.

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