Pomp and Circumstance

Breaking city record, more than half of Hispanic students graduate

More than half of the New York City’s Hispanic students graduated from high school last year, the first time the city has reached that bar since it began tracking graduation rates in the 1980s.

That statistic stood out among several gains reported in graduation rate data trumpeted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein today. The city has nearly halved its drop-out rate over the past five years, and the number of students earning Regents and Advanced Regents diplomas rose, according to data released today by the city and state education departments.

“The results for New York City are historic,” said Bloomberg, speaking to reporters at the city Department of Education’s Tweed Courthouse headquarters this afternoon.

The city’s four-year graduation rates for students who entered high school in 2005 was 59 percent, up three percentage points from students the year before.

New York City’s gains compare favorably to those in the state’s other major urban districts. In 2005, the city reported roughly the same graduation rates as Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Yonkers. But in the years since, New York City’s rates have risen more than 12 points, while the graduation rate for those four cities combined rose only 2.4 points.

Bloomberg used the data to promote the city’s conversion to mayoral control. He argued that even if state standards have become easier in recent years, as many critics have argued, the city’s growth compared to the rest of the state proves that the city’s gains are real.

Bloomberg and Klein also both argued the data released today demonstrated that the city was closing the achievement gap between white and Asian students and their black and Hispanic peers. But the head of the city’s principals union disputed that conclusion.

“We’re making some gains, but we’re not really closing the achievement gap,” said Ernie Logan, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.

The graduation rate for both black and Hispanic students rose by about 14 percentage points over the past four years, compared to approximately 10 point increases in the white and Asian graduation rates in the same period. Since last year, rates for all four demographic groups rose at about the same pace, with Hispanic students showing the highest jump of 3.1 points.

The number of students earning Regents or Advanced Regents diplomas also grew last year, while the number of students opting for the less-challenging local diploma shrunk. In 2009, 44 percent of students earned either a Regents or an Advanced Regents diploma, an increase of 3 points from the year before. By contrast, the number of students graduating with a local diploma ticked down a percentage point from last year.

Students earn a Regents diploma when they pass five Regents exams. The state is eliminating the local diploma option, which requires a student to pass only two exams or hit a lower bar on three exams, beginning with the graduating class of 2012.

Klein acknowledged that fewer students will likely graduate when all students are required to meet the more rigorous graduation requirements.

“But that’s exactly what we want to do,” Klein said. “We want to raise the standards and have our kids work up to those standards.”

Klein also admitted the city’s graduation rates for special education students and those learning English are lackluster, though the city did see gains for both of those demographics. The graduation rate for English learners increased nearly four points over the year before. That’s a much smaller gain than last year, when the city saw a 10-point boost in the graduation rates for English language learners.

Just under a quarter of special education students graduated last year, an upswing from 22.5 percent the year before.

Since 2005, the city has followed the state’s formula for graduation rates, which includes local and Regents diplomas and all disabled students, but does not count special education diplomas and GEDs.

One big question mark remaining in the city’s analysis is the degree to which schools’ credit recovery practices are driving increased graduation rates. At present, students recover credits from failed classes by completing extra schoolwork, but critics have charged that schools can easily abuse the practice to boost low-performing students toward their diplomas without mastering the material.

In January, city officials announced they would begin monitoring how schools grant credit recovery. But because new credit recovery standards and monitoring went into effect midway through this school year, data on the practice will not become available until the end of next school year, the city’s education data czar, Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, said today.

Skeptics of the city’s data reporting have also questioned whether discharge rates for students have risen, distorting the graduation rate gains. (The city tracks the numbers of students who transfer to another school system, are expelled, graduate early or leave school after their 21st birthday separately from drop-out rates.) But according to discharge data the city released to reporters today, the number of students in the class of 2009 who left high school was the lowest since the class of 2005. The number of students who left the city’s high schools grew between 2002 and 2007, but then began falling, according to the data.

Here is the city’s complete presentation on graduation rates given to reporters today:


To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Spokane, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.