This article examines a recent reform effort that has opened hundreds of small high schools in poor urban communities in New York City, The New Century Schools Initiative (NCSI). Outcome data have shown that NCSI has dramatically increased graduation rates among poor students and students of color. However, an ethnographic study of the instructional practices at 3 NCSI high schools revealed that these schools are struggling to maintain high expectations and to prepare their students for higher education. In a climate that prioritizes outcome data, these challenges are obscured. Consequently, this article argues that urban school reform focus its efforts on improving instructional practice so to truly make sustainable improvements in the education of poor students.

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