For the third time, an independent research group has found that the Bloomberg administration's small high schools gave students who attended them a better chance of graduating.
Being randomly selected to attend small high schools opened by Bloomberg made students significantly more likely to graduate, even for students who entered in the schools' third year, according to the report, conducted by researchers at the nonprofit firm MDRC. Students who entered in the schools' first three years graduated in four years 70.4 percent of the time, compared to 60.9 percent of the time for similar students in other schools, according to the report.
The research was paid for by the Gates Foundation, which originally funded the small schools. The foundation put $150 million into the city's small schools before ending its small-schools giving in 2008, citing lackluster college readiness rates.
The new report is the third installment in a series that examines "small schools of choice" that opened between 2002 and 2008 and did not select students based on their academic performance. Of the 123 schools that fit that bill, 105 had so many applicants that the schools selected among them randomly, through a lottery.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky announce the city's graduation rates.
For Mayor Bloomberg, putting a positive spin on the city's latest high school graduation numbers required him to get creative with his number-crunching.
The city's four-year graduation rate fell by half a point, to 60.4 percent, making Bloomberg's final press conference about the data the first to contend with a sharp decline.
During a press conference at City Hall this afternoon, Bloomberg said the fact that the city's graduation rate did not fall more because of the state's tougher graduation requirements was reason for celebration. Last year was the first time that students had to pass five Regents exams with a grade or 65 or higher, as opposed to 55.
"Everybody predicted that our graduation rates would fall precipitously and that did not happen," Bloomberg said. "This is showing improvement, not decline."
In a PowerPoint presentation, Bloomberg highlighted how far the city's graduation rate would have climbed had the standards in place last year also been in place earlier in his term. City officials pointed out that if the state had not raised its graduation standards, the city's rate would have climbed by 1.4 points instead of falling.
And Bloomberg said he could have raised graduation rates even more had his policy proposals never been stymied by the United Federation of Teachers, spurring a fresh round of mutual criticism.
New York City's four-year graduation rate fell slightly last year, from 60.9 percent to 60.4 percent, State Education Commissioner John King announced this morning in Albany.
King's announcement, to the Board of Regents during its monthly meeting, set the stage for a press conference that Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott have called for this afternoon. The annual graduation rate announcement is typically a festive occasion for the mayor, who has staked his education legacy in large part on increased numbers of students finishing high school each year.
But last year, when the city's graduation rate flattened (showing a 0.1 point decline) after several years of steady growth, Bloomberg acknowledged that tougher graduation requirements could put pressure on the city's graduation rate.
Students who entered high school in 2008 were the first required to earn a Regents diploma by passing five Regents exams with a 65 or higher. The less rigorous local diploma option, which for years helped prop up the city’s overall graduation numbers, disappeared, a change that critics said would leave thousands of students at risk of dropping out.
Bloomberg with Walcott and Nilda Gomez-Katz, one of four high school principals at the old Bushwick High School building.
Mayor Bloomberg did his best to put a rosy spin on the newly-released graduation rates that showed New York City's progress last year has flattened for the first time in seven years.
Stunted graduation numbers weren't a setback as much as they were an impressive achievement in the face of higher standards, he said at a press conference this afternoon. And better rates of improvement in other cities weren't an indication of New York City's failures, but a credit to what those school districts were doing right.
"They're doing a great job and they should be congratulated," Bloomberg said, even though in past years he's used such comparisons to tout his own city's growth. "That doesn't mean we aren't doing a great job."
But even Bloomberg grew sober when asked about future graduation rates. Beginning this year, all students who began high school in 2007 or after will not have the option to earn a less-demanding local diploma, which for years helped prop up the city's overall graduation numbers.
"That'll make it tougher," the mayor said. The man to his left, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, quickly agreed.
Tougher graduation requirements almost two decades in coming are putting thousands of city students at risk of not earning a diploma this year.
Advocates are asking the state to give more students more time before fully implementing more stringent graduation requirements, but city officials say educators and students have had plenty of time to prepare.
For the first time, students in New York State will only be able to graduate with a Regents diploma, requiring they receive a 65 or above on at least five Regents exams. In the past, students could graduate with a local diploma, allowing them to receive a 55 on at least five exams. In the 1990s, state officials initiated a change to make requirements for the local diploma increasingly stringent, until it could be phased out. Last year, students were able to receive a local diploma by passing four Regents exams with a 65, and one with a 55.
It's impossible to know how many students will be affected, but the Department of Education estimates that 10 percent of the city’s class of 2011— almost 8,000 students — received a local diploma.
The Department of Education is cracking down on graduation rate inflation, following an internal audit that uncovered errors and possible evidence of cheating at 60 high schools.
The audits, conducted by the department's internal auditor, scrutinized data at 60 high schools that had posted unusual or striking results. Of the 9,582 students who graduated from the schools in 2010, the audit found that 292 did not have the exam grades or course credits required under state regulations.
At one school, Landmark High School, 35 students had graduated without earning all of the academic credits required for graduation. At another, Pablo Neruda Academy for Architecture and World Studies, 19 students had gotten credits through "credit recovery" that the school could not prove complied with state requirements. At two schools, Fort Hamilton High School and Hillcrest High School, an examination of Regents exams uncovered problems in the scoring of multiple students' tests.
Department officials said they had asked Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon to launch inquiries at nine schools based on issues raised during the audits. (Schools where investigations were already underway were excluded from the audit.)
Students who graduated without sufficient credits won't have their diplomas revoked, officials said. And schools won't have their graduation rates revised to reflect the audited numbers, either, except potentially where the city found schools had purged students from their rolls without confirming that they had enrolled elsewhere.
Instead, department officials are cracking down on loopholes in city and state regulations about how to graduate students. Among the major policy changes are revisions to Regents exam scoring procedures, new limitations on "credit recovery" options for students who fail courses, and an alteration to the way schools determine whether a student has met graduation requirements.
The changes reflect a new understanding of the degree to which principals had become confused with — or, in some cases, ignorant of — graduation policies. They also reflect an unusual acknowledgment from the Department of Education that its strategies for delivering support to schools and holding them accountable are not always successful.
A slide from the IBO's report about schools up for closure.
For the third year in a row, the city's data watchdog has concluded that the schools the city is trying to close serve especially needy students.
In 2010 and 2011, the Independent Budget Office put together longer reports about the city's school closure proposals on the request of Robert Jackson, chair of the City Council's education committee. But this year, the office, which has a special mandate to scrutinize the Department of Education's facts and figures, compiled details about the demographics, performance, and funding of schools on the chopping block on its own. Then it released the statistics in an easy-to-read, stand-alone format.
Among the many people who are receiving the IBO's 13-slide presentation by email today are the members of the Panel for Educational Policy, who are set to vote on the closure proposals tonight, according to spokesman Doug Turetsky.
"It's an accessible format so people can see the stats and come to their own conclusions," he said.
UPDATE: Department of Education officials disputed some of the data in the slides and said the budget office had not given them as much time to review the report before publication as an agreement between the two offices requires.
They urged the IBO not to release the report and then to retract it once it was published because data on at least one slide did not match information the city had provided. The budget office retracted one slide that showed change over time in the number of students with special needs at the schools.
But other slides showed that the schools up for closure enroll more than the average proportion of students who have disabilities, are overage, or are considered English language learners, confirming analyses published elsewhere.
The Bloomberg administration has long touted the small high schools it created as outperforming large schools closed to make way for them. But a new report finds, for the second time, that the schools also post higher graduation rates than other city schools that stayed open.
Being randomly selected to attend small high schools opened under the Bloomberg administration made students significantly more likely to graduate, even as the schools got older, according to the report, conducted by researchers at the nonprofit firm MDRC.
The researchers updated a 2010 study that examined "small schools of choice" that opened between 2002 and 2008 and did not select students based on their academic performance. Of the 123 schools that fit that bill, 105 had so many applicants that the schools selected among them randomly, through a lottery.
The lottery process enabled the researchers to compare what happened to two groups of students that started out statistically identical: those who were admitted to the small schools and those who lost the lotteries and wound up in older, larger schools. That type of comparison is considered the "gold standard" in education research.
The original study found that the small high schools had positive effects on their students — but it looked only at the schools' very first enrollees. The new report looks at those students in the fifth year after they enrolled and also at the second set of students who enrolled at the schools.
It finds that the higher graduation rate — 67.9 percent, compared to 59.3 percent for students who were not admitted — continued for the second group of students who enrolled and cut across all groups of students, regardless of their race, gender, family income, or academic skills upon enrollment. Students at the small schools were also more likely to meet the state's college readiness standards in English, though not in math.
"Small schools for a variety of reasons, I always felt, were going to succeed in certain ways," said Richard Kahan, the head of Urban Assembly, a nonprofit that started a handful of schools included in the study. "But I would not have predicted the impact."
Geraldine Maione, principal of William E. Grady CTE High School, speaks to a teacher getting ready for summer school.
“Everything about this school has improved. Everything.”
Geraldine Maione, principal of William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School in Brighton Beach, does not hesitate when asked about the trajectory of her school.
Maione just finished her first year at Grady, where she was greeted with a staff weary of leadership changes, a curriculum that has see-sawed between emphasizing traditional academics and the school’s signature “shops,” and a D grade on its 2009-10 progress report.
She was also given $1.4 million of additional “transformation” money through the federal government's program to improve low-achieving schools.
At the end of her first year, staff members say they've felt the impact of Maione's leadership and the additional funds—though it is unclear if the school is yet making the academic gains it needs to avoid facing closure in the future.
The transformation money helped pay for an array of cosmetic changes to the building and school trips to colleges throughout New York state, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC.
The entrance area was repainted from black and white to maroon and yellow, the school colors. The front doors are now framed by planters, filled with flowers, that double as benches. Murals featuring civil rights leaders and faces of current students fill once-blank hallway walls.
The 14 high schools the city is trying to close this year posted lower-than-average graduation rates — but they are not all the city's worst.
Now, teachers union officials are drawing attention to three other high schools approved for closure that posted graduation rate increases two times or more than the city's overall 2 percent gain. In the Bronx, Christopher Columbus High School's 4-year graduation rate rose by 5.7 percentage points, to 41.6 percent. Norman Thomas High School, in Manhattan, saw its 4-year rate go from 37 percent to 47.8 percent. Brooklyn's Paul Robeson High School saw a similar leap, to 50 percent from 40.4 percent last year.
"We knew that we had increased our graduation rate last year by 10 percent and have been saying that since November but no one pays any attention," said Stefanie Siegel, a Robeson teacher who has been active in protests against the school's planned closure.
"When our spirits were high after we won the court case last year, we made great gains in a short period of time," she said.
That court case was the lawsuit the teachers union won to stop the city from closing 19 low-performing schools. Performance boosts at three of the high schools kept them off the chopping block this year. Two of the schools got higher progress report grades, 85 percent of which depend on graduation rates and students' progress toward graduation. The city said it was confident in a leadership change at the third school.
The schools with oversized gains this year still lag well behind the citywide average 4-year graduation rate of 61 percent. And many of the other schools slated for closure continued to post dismal graduation figures.
An audit by the state comptroller found that the city might have underreported its dropout rate by reclassifying dropouts as "discharges," or students who have moved out of the district. But new procedures actually make it extremely burdensome for schools to classify students as discharged, school officials say.
Until this year, high schools could classify a student as discharged to another state or city as long as the student provided proof of address that was confirmed by two people. That meant the student was removed from his original school's roster without hurting its graduation rate.
But now the city requires city schools to prove that a school elsewhere requested transcripts of students they say are discharges, not dropouts. School administrators say this requirement presents a mountain of new paperwork for overworked personnel and, sometimes, real difficulty, as transfer students often encounter complications enrolling in new schools.
Students might take a long time to find a school in their new home. They might have a hard time navigating an interstate paperwork shuffle. Their new school might not require a transcript. Or they might be kept out of out-of-state schools altogether because of their disciplinary records or language needs, according to Rhonda Hugel, assistant principal at Lower East Side Preparatory High School, which serves a large Chinese immigrant population. “Who knows if these states have the resources for the kids,” she said.
The stakes are high. If schools don't get sufficient documentation from a student's new school within 20 days, he could be counted as a dropout, and the school's graduation rate could fall.
The accelerating 2009 mayoral campaign is distracting from real information inside an audit of city graduation rates released by the city comptroller's office today. In fact, the audit is neither as damning as Bill Thompson Jr., the comptroller and mayoral hopeful, is claiming — nor as unequivocally rosy as the Bloomberg administration says.
Thompson said the audit suggests that principals and teachers responded to pressure to raise graduation rates by falsifying student records. "The New York City Department of Education has become the Enron of American education, showing the gains and hiding the losses," he said at a press conference today.
But the audit found no evidence of tampering. Thompson's declaration about fudging numbers came in remarks to reporters, not the official audit. "Is it just about sloppy bookkeeping or sloppy record-keeping? I don't think so," he said. He added, "This is a case where you can read between the lines."
The audit also concludes that only 2 out of 206 randomly selected graduates, or 1%, did not deserve their diplomas. That's quite different than the 10% figure being widely reported. Auditors initially challenged 19 graduates, or 10%, but threw out the concerns about 17 of them after school officials provided documents showing they earned their diplomas. And 11 of the 19 had overall grade averages of 80% or better, according to the audit.
Dolores Fernandez, the Bronx's appointee to the re-formed Board of Education, appearing on BronxTalk.
Graduates of the city's public high schools are falling so behind in reading and math that a community college remediation program doubled in size between 1998 and 2008, the college's former president said this week.
Dolores Fernandez, who resigned from Hostos Community College last year is now serving as the Bronx borough president's appointee to the re-formed Board of Education, made the remarks in an interview on a Bronx television news program, BronxTalk.
"I would have loved for the New York City public schools to put my remediation programs out of business, because that would mean that every kid graduating out of the schools could read, write, and do math," Fernandez said.
Fernandez said that a hiking up of standards at CUNY's four-year colleges played some part in the growth of Hostos's remediation program. "But then you still have the regular group of kids who just are coming to us in need of a GED diploma, because they haven't graduated from the public schools, and when we get them, we're basically teaching them reading, writing, and math — I mean, basic levels," she said.
The gloomy picture challenges Bloomberg's own claims about the public schools, which state figures show now graduate far more students since 2002. But Fernandez said she does not trust these figures as a fair picture of what is really happening, especially for the poor Latino community she served at Hostos Community College.
You can watch the interview in the full two parts below.
UPDATE: Department of Education spokesman Andrew Jacob points out in the comments section that a growing remediation program does not mean that more city students are struggling. His argument:
the size of the program doesn’t tell you anything about the percentage of graduates who required remediation, because the number of public school graduates enrolling at CUNY community colleges has risen dramatically in recent years–70% between 2002 and 2008. Among Hispanic public school graduates, enrollment doubled over that same time period.
With this many more students enrolling, of course the remediation program would expand, even if the percentage of graduates needing remediation fell. And, in fact, that percentage has fallen across all CUNY community colleges, from 82 percent in 2002 to 74 percent in 2008. Among all CUNY colleges, the remediation rate for public school graduates has fallen from 58% to 51%.
The state's top education policymakers are considering scrapping a plan to raise high school graduation standards, a Board of Regents member told me today. The rethinking comes in response to data showing that one-third of black and Hispanic students who graduate from high school today would not graduate if the state raised its standards.
It also comes as the new Regents chancellor, Merryl Tisch, has been vowing to raise standards. Tisch recently traveled to a Chicago conference where 46 states vowed their support for common standards across the country. She did not return a request for comment this afternoon.
State school officials had said they would get rid of what are known as "local" diplomas, less rigorous versions of the more prestigious Regents diplomas, beginning with students who entered ninth-grade this year. While students must score 65 out of 100 on state subject exams to earn a Regents diploma, they can now score 55 and graduate with a local diploma.
But Regent Betty Rosa, of the Bronx, told me that the board is considering scrapping that plan, which she said was never a foregone conclusion. "I think some people thought it was, but there’s been some concern on both sides of the equations," Rosa said.
Mayor Bloomberg said he favors getting rid of the local diploma at a press conference today where he announced the latest graduation rate:
The high school report released today shows that the Gates Foundation's support for small schools was worthwhile, according to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.
His statement contrasts with the foundation's own evaluation of its small schools spending, which it said last year had not produced the academic gains it had hoped. Bill Gates himself said in November that while New York City's small schools have done better than others his foundation started, the schools still do not adequately prepare students for college.
Delivering introductory remarks before a panel discussion about small schools this morning, Klein said the Center for New York City Affairs report "confirms the work of the Gates Foundation," which provided much of the funding that allowed the city to open small schools.
Today's report "carefully documents" that the schools have gotten better results than the large schools they replaced, Klein said — and with the same type of students, contrary to the charges by critics who say the small schools' students start off better prepared. (In the schools' early years, they enrolled students who were slightly less at-risk, but they now admit their fair share of overage students, students with disabilities, and students who are learning English, the report concludes.)
Despite his generally favorable review, Klein disputed some of the report's findings, especially around graduation rates.
Six years after Schools Chancellor Joel Klein vowed to crack down on a bureaucratic loophole that allowed principals to hide students' failure to graduate high school, a new report (PDF) suggests that the loophole remains open and may be growing wider. The report calls for closer study of the students classified as "discharges" — departures from the system, but not dropouts — through steps including a state audit.
The report says that 21 percent of students who entered high school in 2003 both never graduated and were never counted as dropouts, instead falling into a category known as "discharges." The percentage was up from 17.5 percent among the Class of 2000. The rate is especially high among special education students, and includes a remarkable jump in 2005, when the special education discharge rate shot up to 36 percent from 23 percent in a single year.
Students classified as discharges can include those who left the school system for legitimate reasons, such as moving to another state, deciding to enroll in an outside G.E.D. program, or death. But some advocates have argued that principals can also misuse the discharge code, entering students who simply dropped out in order to inflate their graduation rate artificially.
A recent audit of 12 high schools in New York State by the state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, found that high schools classified students as G.E.D. discharges who did not actually enroll in a G.E.D. program. "As a result," DiNapoli's audit concluded, "the report cards understated the number and percentage of dropouts and overstated the percentage of graduates for some of the schools we reviewed." The audit did not probe any New York City high schools.
Two persistent critics of the Bloomberg administration compiled the report: the executive director of Class Size Matters, Leonie Haimson, and a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University, Jennifer Jennings. Jennings was the author of the now-defunct Eduwonkette blog, whose analysis of New York City education data became (as I reported) a thorn in the Bloomberg administration's side. The report is being released at a press conference this morning held by a third critic, the city's public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum.
City school officials were already disputing the report's claims yesterday, before it had been released.