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:

survey says

More bullying reported at New York City schools, study shows

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

More New York City students say there is bullying in their schools, a report released Monday showed. The findings also revealed that many schools reporting the greatest number of violent incidents on campus have no social workers on staff.

The report was commissioned by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer also released an audit of how school safety matters are recorded, and concluded that the education department should provide more oversight and streamline incident reporting rules.

“The audit found clear breakdowns in communication in the reporting and tracking of incidents and actions taken,” according to a press release from Stringer’s office.

The education department disputed some of the comptroller’s findings, and in a written statement, spokeswoman Miranda Barbot wrote: “We have detailed protocols in place to ensure allegations of bullying are immediately reported, investigated and addressed, and are investing in both anti-bullying initiatives and mental health supports.”

But the pair of reports raises scrutiny of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school discipline reforms, which favor  “restorative” practices that emphasize mediation over punishment, and make it harder to suspend students.

Advocates of the de Blasio reforms say the shift is necessary because black and Hispanic students are more likely to be arrested or disciplined at school. Research has shown such disciplinary action can lead to higher dropout rates. Critics of the reforms, meanwhile, say the changes have created more chaotic schools.

The findings are also likely to add to a chorus of parents and elected officials who say more emotional supports are needed for the city’s most vulnerable students. Students who experience a mental health crisis during the school day may be handcuffed and shuttled to hospitals. The city’s latest budget, which was approved last week, includes an additional $2 million to hire social workers and guidance counselors in schools that currently don’t have any.

Here are some highlights from the reports.

More students report there is bullying in their schools — but the data comes with a catch.

Last year, the education department’s annual survey showed that 82 percent of students said their peers “harass, bully, or intimidate others in school.” That’s up year over year, and up significantly from 65 percent of students in 2012, which was the lowest rate recorded since at least 2010. (De Blasio’s discipline reforms started to take effect around 2015.)

A note about these numbers: Prior to 2017, the survey asked whether students harass, bully or intimidate other students none, some, most, or all of the time. The most recent survey responses were slightly different: none of the time, rarely, some of the time, or most of the time — a change that may have artificially inflated the bullying numbers.

That’s enough to render the survey data unreliable said Max Eden, a researcher who has studied school climate for the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute — a critic of the mayor’s discipline reforms. Still, taken with other findings, it’s reasonable to think that bullying is on the rise at city schools, he said.

Among the other evidence: A first-of-its-kind report, released this month under a new city law, that showed substantiated bullying incidents are on track to increase this year.

Schools that log the most violent incidents often lack mental health supports.

Guidance counselors and social workers are key when it comes to creating safe schools because they can help address the root cause of violent or troublesome behavior, advocates who want more mental health supports say.

But many of the city’s neediest schools go without that help.

Of the schools reporting the most violent incidents on campus, 36 percent lack a full-time social worker, the comptroller found. On campuses where there are social workers, caseloads are a staggering 700 to one. That far exceeds the recommended ratio from the National Association of Social Workers of 250 general education students per social worker — and it’s higher than the citywide average of 612 students per social worker, according to the comptroller.

The comptroller’ compares that to the ratio of New York Police Department school safety agents who are placed in schools: There is one safety agent per 228 students, according to the report.

“Our city is failing to meet the social and emotional needs of our students,” Councilman Mark Treyger, of Brooklyn, who has pushed the city to report more up-to-date bullying data and to hire more school counselors, said in an emailed statement.

Schools may be underreporting violent incidents, something the education department disputes.

In a separate audit, the comptroller compared logs kept by school safety agents to incident reports filed by school leaders. In 21 percent of cases, incidents that were noted by safety agents were not reflected in the school reports.

The school data, in turn, are used to report incidents to the state for its Violent and Disruptive Incident Report, or VADIR. The discrepancy could raise questions about the already-controversial reporting system. (VADIR has been criticized for classifying schoolyard incidents as serious offenses, and the state has tweaked its definitions in response to those kinds of concerns.)

This finding also comes with some caveats. The comptroller looked at only 10 schools — a tiny sample of the city’s portfolio of about 1,800. And the education department took issue with the methodology.

In its response to the audit, education department officials said that the police data doesn’t align with the state’s reporting categories, and that the information may not be comparable because of student privacy concerns and recordkeeping issues on campuses where multiple schools share a building.  

Student Voice

Boasting impressive resumes, five Newark students compete for a school board seat

PHOTO: Newark Public Schools
Top row: Amanda Amponsah, Nailah Cornish, Andre Ferreira. Bottom row: Shalom Jimoh, Emmanuel Ogbonnaya.

Earlier this year, Newark residents elected three new members to the city’s re-empowered school board. Now, public school students can choose one of their own to join the board, which in February became the district’s governing body for the first time in more than two decades.

Students have until midnight on Tuesday, June 5, to vote online for a rising 12th-grader to represent their interests on the school board. The winning student representative will provide the board with student perspectives on district policy, but will not be permitted to vote.

Eligible candidates are required to have a minimum 3.0 grade-point average, a satisfactory disciplinary record, and to submit peer and faculty recommendations. Last week, the five candidates participated in a debate, which can be heard here.

The candidates are:

  • Amanda Amponsah, of University High School, who is class president, captain of the softball team, a member of the marching band, and an aspiring pediatric oncologist.
  • Nailah Cornish, of Barringer Academy of Arts and Humanities, who plays basketball and volleyball, runs her own modeling program, and plans to study law and business in college.
  • Andre Ferreira, of Science Park High School, who is a soccer player, debater, and vice president of the student leadership organization. He plans to major in political science and aspires to work for the United Nations.
  • Shalom Jimoh, of Weequahic High School, who immigrated from Nigeria, and is now a member of the student government council, the National Honor Society, and the track and volleyball teams. She plans to study medicine and theater arts in college.
  • Emmanuel Ogbonnaya, of Weequahic High School, who serves as school photographer, soccer team captain, and is a member of the National Honor Society. Emmanuel wants to study engineering, and then start a company that combines photography, architecture, and engineering.

The winner will join the board at an historic moment. Control of the district reverted to the city in February, when state officials determined the district had met its requirements for home rule. The district had been run by the state for 22 years prior.

Last year, more than 1,200 students  — or about 13 percent of Newark public high school students — voted for a student representative to the school board, which then functioned in an advisory capacity only. This year, a Newark student group tried to ramp up turnout with text messages and a video posted on Facebook encouraging voting.

“The student representative will work closely with administrators and board members to make sure that all student voices are heard,” according to a video produced in advance of the vote by the Youth Media Symposium at the Abbott Leadership Institute, a Newark civic-engagement group. “Now that we have local control, this is more crucial than ever.”

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, 1,381 votes had been cast. District officials said the winner will be announced Friday, and will be introduced publicly at the board’s June 12 meeting. The representative will then be required to attend at least four board meetings and various district events during the 2018–2019 academic year.