By the numbers

Four things to look for in Monday’s graduation rate announcement

The State Education Department will announce New York’s statewide graduation rates on Monday morning, though the numbers will be six months late for New York City.

In an unusually-timed press conference last December, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the city’s four-year graduation rates for 2013 had increased about 1 percent, to 61.3 percent (or 66 percent if students who needed an extra summer of classes are included). That also represented a nearly 15-point jump since 2005—an achievement too big for the outgoing mayor not to use to burnish his legacy before leaving office.

Still, the state’s announcement will include additional insights about the city’s ability to push its high school students past the finish line. Namely, it will include the all-important college and career readiness rate, an imperfect but helpful measurement for knowing what students are prepared to do when they leave high school.

It will also include school-by-school graduation rates, compare the city to other urban school districts, and provide a first look at how the de Blasio administration will spin the numbers to support his own policy agenda.

Here are four things to watch for:

How does New York City compare to the rest of the state and to its other urban districts?

When it suited him, Bloomberg played up the comparison between New York City’s graduation rates and those of other urban districts in the state. When the numbers didn’t add up, like in 2012, Bloomberg said the city’s flatter graduation rate change was impressive in the face of higher standards.

New York City’s graduation rates are far below the statewide average of 75 percent, but among the state’s “big five” urban districts, the city lags behind only Yonkers, which has a 66 percent graduation rate. The others are Buffalo, Syracuse, and Rochester, considerably poorer cities whose graduation rates have ranged between 48 percent and 43 percent.

How will the de Blasio administration react?

When he was running for mayor last year, Bill de Blasio castigated the city’s 60 percent graduation rates. During and after the campaign, de Blasio has said that expanding access to prekindergarten and after-school programs would “provide the foundation young people need to finish school and succeed.”

Now that he’s made it to City Hall, he is likely to face additional pressure to offer nearer-term solutions for improving a school system in which four in 10 students don’t graduate on time.

For now, de Blasio has ruled out school closures, which Bloomberg regularly cited as the single most important policy behind the city’s graduation improvement from 51 percent in 2001 to 61 percent in 2013. But the city has offered hints at what its immediate efforts to lift graduation rates will look like: providing some high schools with perennially low graduation rates with extra resources and attention, while converting other schools into “community schools” with access to health and other services.

How do college and career readiness rates compare to graduation rates?

The state delayed tying higher Common Core standards to graduation requirements until the class of 2022, giving officials a prolonged buffer from the kind of criticism that followed steep drops in reading and math proficiency rates when states tests became Common Core-aligned.

But no one disputes that graduation rates statewide say little about what students actually know when they finish high school. Education officials say the college and career readiness rate, which shows how many students earn at least a 75 on the English Regents exam and an 80 on a math Regents exam, has become an equally important metric because it is indicative of a student’s likelihood of persisting in college or succeeding in a skilled job.

Like graduation rates, college and career readiness rates have improved slightly over time. Still, just 22 percent of all students in the city graduated with qualifying scores in 2012, with only 11 percent of black students and 13 percent of Hispanic students hitting those targets.

De Blasio has often referred to the city’s low college and career readiness rate as an example of the city school system’s ongoing failures, and cites it as a reason to shake up the school system’s “status quo.” He’s mostly talked about those numbers in reference to his pre-K and after-school expansion plans, so it will be notable if he identifies any high school-oriented policies in his response to tomorrow’s release.

What do the graduation achievement gaps look like?

Though Bloomberg noted the disparities in the data in December, the continued gap between graduation rates of traditionally underserved students and their peers will be again a focus on Monday, especially for a Board of Regents that has crafted a policy agenda to narrow those gaps.

According to the figures the city released in December, black and Hispanic students’ graduation rates both climbed since 2012, but both rates are roughly 20 percentage points lower than the rates of white and Asian students. Students with disabilities saw their graduation rate rise 7 points over last 2012, while the rate for English language learners slipped by nearly 2 points.

But even those numbers mask a larger disparity within the city school system. In an analysis of the school-by-school graduation rates last year, the United Federation of Teachers found that just 10 percent of schools produced nearly half of the city’s college-ready graduates.

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call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”