Monday, August 11

Grad rates at last: Inching up, with caveats

The State and the City finally released the 2007 high school graduation rate today, and the news is both heartening and discouraging, on more than a few counts.

First, the good news: The overall graduation rate continues to nudge upward from the swamp where it had long languished. For the city as a whole, 52.2% of students who started high school in 2003 (the 2003 cohort) graduated in four years. Another 3.6% graduated in August, via credit recovery and other recuperative programs (mention of which flummoxed the Mayor briefly at a press conference today). If this seems lower than the 60% that was so widely celebrated last year, it is -- in years past, the city included GED-earners in the grad rate, unlike the State's more stringent criteria, which the city now shares.

More Asian and white students continue to earn diplomas than their African-American and Hispanic classmates (bad news) but the gap between the races is narrowing -- slightly (good news, but not that good): Nearly 71% and nearly 69% of Asian and white students graduate in four years; only 43% of Hispanic kids earn their diploma in the same time, as do just over 47% of African-American students. So while it's true that grad rates are rising for African-American and Hispanic kids, it will be a long, long time before the academic playing field is even approximately equal. And demographics notwithstanding, boys continue to lag behind girls in academic achievement. But back on the good-news side, New York leads the state's biggest cities in academic gains. On the bad-news side, the cities still lag well behind the state's overall grad rate of 79.2%.

Less enthusiastic results were posted for English Language Learners, who Chancellor Klein identifies as "our greatest challenge." ELL grad rates dropped in recent years and now have risen three points, to 23.5% for four-year grads and 32.4% for kids who stay in high school for five years (no typo on those stats). Students with disabilities showed slight change in their graduation rate (from 19.4% in 2006 to 19.1% in 2007. Good news, no drop; bad news, scant improvement.

The general tenor of the announcement this afternoon was celebratory but clear-eyed; the Mayor, sporting a spectacular tan, praised all involved, from Klein (also summer-bronzed) and Weingarten down into the academic trenches -- teachers, principals, APs, parents, and of course the students, especially the kids who stick with high school into a fifth or sixth year. "That they didn't do it in four years is immaterial," said the Mayor, who added that staying longer in high school is "demonstrative of someone who wants to take charge of their life," and graciously crediting Jennifer Medina's Times story today as proof.

Still, Bloomberg acknowledged, "despite this heartwarming progress," there's "enormous room for improvement." Notably, 38% of students don't graduate in four years, and nearly 14% drop out. "It's going to be very hard to get them back," he said. (About 10% stay enrolled in high school beyond four years.) The dropout rate contracted slightly since last year, from 15% to 14.7%; we're waiting for follow-up from the DOE on students who were discharged from school -- and don't show up in DOE records as students or dropouts.

Students now in high school can earn one of three diplomas -- local, Regents, or Advanced Regents. About two-thirds of NYC grads earn a Regents diploma, which is good news -- but not so good for the third who get less-rigorous Local credentials, and moot entirely for the kids starting high school next month, who are not eligible to earn the local diploma at all. We've asked the DOE for diploma and grad-rate details on the new small high schools and Career and Technical Education schools, and for more specific demographic and gender information -- and we'll report back whenever we hear more.

Let us know if you have questions; the State published a thick deck of data slides, and we'll post links to specifics if there's interest.

Update: A correction for clarity: The overall state graduation rate cited above, of 79.2%, reflects the grad rate for schools outside the state's five biggest cities, and not the state as a whole. Regrets for any confusion.


Anonymous said...

Remember that NCLB has limited higher education if ELLs graduate. More importantly, few schools support beginning ELLs from China or other countries who use different alphabet systems with bilingual or ESL content area classes. Imagine that you moved to China, Russia or India. How long would you or your children need to become academically able in the language? The "mini" schools in larger failing schools do not serve these students in general, so they are clustered in big, now failing schools.

helen said...

Agree with your comment about the shortcomings of small ("mini") schools for many ELLs, and of course with the enormous difficulty of mastering a new language, especially when it involves an entirely new alphabet/way of writing. But not sure of what you mean re: NCLB limiting higher ed for ELLs, which would seem totally counter to efforts to absorb new immigrants and bring them into the culture. Can you elaborate?