From anomie to family: Introducing house plans in New York City high schools

Joseph Kandle Fisler, Fordham University


This study examines efforts begun in 1986-87 to change the culture of New York City high schools through the introduction of house plans. The research analyzes the assumption that large school structures foster feelings of alienation and anomie, impeding efforts to improve school and student performance. Smaller schools and sub-schools, some argue, reduce such feelings and therefore contribute to greater institutional effectiveness. Qualitative case study methodology was chosen to compare the process of implementation of house plans in three New York City high schools, as one of many simultaneous initiatives for change. The study examined the house plan process in place, focusing on elements of leadership, structural change, impact on staff, and impact on students, in each of the three sites. Findings have been reported in terms of these four research elements. Despite highly transitory leadership at the central level, the house plan initiative has remained an important aspect of high school policy for four years. Leadership at the principal's level was the most significant factor in the degree of change attempted at the three sites. Each school developed a unique house design, in keeping with school-based management philosophies. One school restructured its guidance program and added an orientation class for freshmen. The second integrated guidance and classroom services, and broadened the roles of the assistant principals to encourage interdisciplinary approaches to curriculum. The third completely reorganized the ninth grade, and assigned small groups of teachers, students, and support staff to separate physical locations to work together full-time. Important changes took place at all three schools as a result of the house plan initiative. Adults and students credited the houses with personalizing the school environments, promoting closer collaboration between faculty members and students, and easing student transition difficulties. Student responses indicate a greater degree of success at overcoming isolation and alienation at the school which attempted the most significant degree of change. The research suggests that combining academic and guidance components into houses staffed by full-time personnel offers strong possibilities for achieving long-term results.

Subject Area

School administration

Recommended Citation

Fisler, Joseph Kandle, "From anomie to family: Introducing house plans in New York City high schools" (1990). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9109255.