City grad rates stall, revealing weaknesses in Bloomberg reforms

Announcing the latest high school graduation rates on June 11, Mayor Bloomberg said the Class of 2011 “can smile again today,” while the chancellor congratulated a mayor who “changed lives.”

No one else was that upbeat. The 60.9 percent rate for the Class of 2011 was actually a small dip from 61 percent for the Class of 2010, as the state reported it, though the city got an uptick in the year-to-year comparison when it added in August graduates.

But more important, a closer look at the graduation rates reveals a mixed picture. The mayor has made the grad rate Exhibit A in his claims for a successful 10-year reign. The reality on the ground, as teachers know, is that the drive to get the overall rate up has left many students and schools behind.

We need to ask some questions. Yes, the graduation rate was rising until 2011, but how well prepared are the graduates? Are the mayor’s small schools really better? What’s happening to students in the schools that the city is closing? How about our disadvantaged students?

The graphs on this page break out graduation rates by different types of schools and students, and suggest that all is not roses in the city’s high schools.

NYC high school graduation rates

Graduation rates in various schools

College-ready, or not. First, the “college-ready” graduation rate — a new state indicator that shows the percentage of the class that is prepared to pass their freshman courses — is very low. Just 21 percent of the Class of 2011 is deemed college-ready, actually down from the year before. While kids are getting diplomas, many will be assigned to uncredited remediation classes at CUNY.

Small schools. The graduation rate for Bloomberg’s new small schools is declining as the schools age. And college readiness was exceptionally low at small schools. While their graduation rate was high, just 11 percent of their students were college-ready last year, leading to concerns that Bloomberg’s signature high school reform is putting pressure for “results” at the expense of quality.

Closing schools. Closing schools, meanwhile, were holding quite steady even as critical resources were pulled out from under them. Career and Technical Education and transfer schools, which are over-represented in the closing schools list, show signs of solid accomplishment, with the graduation rate at CTE schools higher than the city average and climbing. In the 17 high schools that the mayor dismissed as hopeless and assigned to the “turnaround” model, four-year graduation rates also rose in 2011.

Student subgroups. Special education and English language learner graduation rates both declined last year, reversing some hopeful gains in the past.

The graduation rate of African-Americans was 20 points lower than that of whites, a stubborn achievement gap that has been unchanged for four years. The Hispanic-white graduation gap is even wider, at 22 points.

Going forward, we could see a big decline in the grad rate when results for the Class of 2012 come out a year from now, because they are the first who have to pass all five Regents exams at 65 or better. Fully 10 percent of the Class of 2011 could not manage this and got local diplomas. Those are not permitted for current seniors.

Graduation rates for special education students and ELLs

‘College-ready’ graduation rates by class

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