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:

Weighing in

Parents rally to demand a voice in the search for New York City schools chief

PHOTO: Courtesy/Shino Tanikawa
Parents and ddvocates rallied on the steps of the New York City education department headquarters to call for a say in the search for a new schools chancellor.

The education department has made it a mission to boost parent involvement in schools. Now, parents are demanding a bigger role elsewhere: In the search for a new schools chancellor.

Parent leaders from across New York City took to the steps of the education department’s headquarters to demand that Mayor Bill de Blasio allow them to have a say in the process.

“For the mayor to deny parents the opportunity to represent the interests of our children in this critical decision is to ignore the voices of our most vulnerable, underrepresented New Yorkers,” Jessamyn Lee, co-chair of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council, said in a statement.

Organizers say about 30 members from a range of parent groups gathered in the rain to call on de Blasio to follow through on a campaign promise made during his first run for mayor.

Before he was was first elected, de Blasio said the city needed a school leader who would be “presented to the public, not just forced down our throat.” But he went on to conduct a hushed search, pulling department veteran Carmen Fariña from retirement to become chancellor.

De Blasio recently won reelection for a second term, and, in December, Fariña announced plans to head back to retirement. This time around, the mayor has committed to a quiet, internal deliberation.

Among the organizations represented at the rally were the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council, which is made of leaders from school parent organizations; the Education Council Consortium, which represents members of the local Community and Citywide Education Councils; and the NYCKids PAC, a parent-led political committee. Those are not the only groups seeking more access and transparency in the hiring process. Advocates for different causes, including school integration efforts, have all called for the opportunity to weigh in.

One of those calls came this weekend in an online petition asking de Blasio to consider a well regarded state education official for the job. And the Coalition for Educational Justice, which held its own rally on Tuesday outside City Hall, is calling on the city to appoint a chancellor who “has a strong vision for racial justice in schools.” The organization has called on the city to focus on making sure that teachers have anti-bias training and that classrooms reflect all students’ cultures.

pre-k for all

New York City will add dual language options in pre-K to attract parents and encourage diversity

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen FariƱa, back right, visits a Mandarin pre-K dual language program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver on the Lower East Side.

Education Department officials on Wednesday announced the addition of 33 dual language pre-K programs in the 2018-19 school year, more than doubling the bilingual opportunities available for New York City’s youngest learners.

The expansion continues an aggressive push under the current administration, which has added 150 new bilingual programs to date. Popular with parents — there were 2,900 applications for about 600 pre-K dual language seats last year — the programs can also be effective in boosting the performance of students who are learning English as a new language.

Another possible benefit: creating more diverse pre-K classrooms, which research has shown are starkly segregated in New York City.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the new programs reflect the city’s commitment to serving all students, even as a national debate rages over immigration reform.

“It’s important to understand that immigrants or people who speak a second language are an asset,” Fariña said. She called bilingual education “a gift that I think all schools should have.”

Included in the expansion are the city’s first dual language pre-K programs in Bengali and Russian, which will open in Jamaica, Queens, and the Upper West Side, Manhattan, respectively. The other additions will build on programs in Spanish, Mandarin and Italian. Every borough is represented in the expansion, with 11 new programs in Manhattan, nine in Brooklyn, six in Queens, five in the Bronx, and two on Staten Island.

In the dual-language model, students split their time between instruction in English and another language. At P.S. 20 Anna Silver, where the recent expansion was announced, pre-K students start the morning in English and transition to Mandarin after nap time. Experts say the model works best when the class includes an equal mix of students who are proficient in each language so they can learn from each other as well as the teacher, though it can often be difficult to strike that balance.

Officials and some advocates view dual-language programs as a tool for integration by drawing middle-class families eager to have their children speak two languages into neighborhood schools that they otherwise may not have considered. Research has shown that New York City’s pre-K classrooms tend to be more segregated than kindergarten. In one in six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of students are from a single racial or ethnic background. That’s compared with one in eight kindergarten classrooms, according to a 2016 report by The Century Foundation.

Sharon Stapel, a mother from Brooklyn, said she knew early on that she wanted her daughter to learn another language and strike relationships across cultures. So she travels to the Lower East Side with her four-year-old, Finch, to attend the Mandarin dual-language pre-K program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver. On Wednesday, the city announced it will add a Spanish dual language program at the school.

“We really see it as how you build community with your neighbors and your friends,” Stapel said. “It was also an opportunity for Finch to become involved and engage in the cultures and in the differences that she could see in the classrooms — and really celebrate that difference.”

Citywide, about 13 percent of students are learning English as a new language. That number does not include pre-K since the state does not have a way to identify students’ language status before kindergarten. However, based on census data, it is estimated that 30 percent of three- and four-year-olds in New York are English learners.

Dual-language programs can benefit students who are still learning English — more so than English-only instruction. Nationally and in New York City, students who are learning English are less likely to pass standardized tests and graduate from high school. In one study, students who enrolled in dual-language courses in kindergarten gained the equivalent of one year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared with their peers who received English-only instruction.

The city has been under pressure to improve outcomes for English learners. Under the previous administration, New York City was placed on a state “corrective action plan” that required the education department to open 125 new bilingual programs by 2013. Though the city fell short of that goal, the current administration has agreed to place every English learner in a bilingual program by the 2018-19 school year.

Among the greatest barriers to achieving that is finding qualified teachers, Fariña said. In some cases, it can be hard to find teachers who are fluent in the target language. In others, teachers who are native in a foreign language may only be certified in their home country, and it can be hard to transfer that certification to New York.

In order to open an Urdu program recently, Fariña said, the teacher, who holds a degree from another country, went through Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program that usually caters to career-changers or recent college grads.

“I think the biggest challenge we have right now is ensuring our teacher preparation courses are keeping up with our need and demand for teachers who can teach another language,” she said.