New York City Schools: Graduation Rates Up

New York City Schools: Graduation Rates Up
We explore some of the possible reasons behind the higher graduation rates in New York and across the country.

Students in New York public schools are enjoying an uptick in graduation rates in recent years. The largest school system in the country has hit an all-time high in graduation rates, with its 10th consecutive year of gains in high school completion. While graduation rates have improved nationwide, New York City is particularly proud of its improvements that indicate the massive school system might be on the right track in the area of public education.

More NYC Students Graduating, Fewer Dropping Out

ABC Local News reports that the four-year graduation rate for NYC students in 2011 was 65 percent, which is an increase of 19 percentage points since 2005. In 2005, the city began to use a new methodology for calculating graduation and dropout rates. Since that new methodology was implemented, graduation rates have risen from just over 40 percent to 65 percent. At the same time, dropout rates have decreased from 22 percent in 2005 to 12 percent in 2011.

“More students are succeeding in our schools than ever before,” NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg told ABC Local. “Our students, teachers and school administrators should be proud, and while we still have more work to do, we are certainly on the right track.”

New York Follows National Trend

The upswing in New York City follows a national trend, according to My Fox NY. The news station reports that national graduation rates in 2010 were at their highest level since 1976 and down around three points from the year prior. Around 3.1 million students earned their high school diplomas in the spring of 2010. Of that number, more than three-quarters graduated within four years.

Despite the positive numbers across the country, graduation rates varied considerably from state to state. The best completion rates were seen in Wisconsin and Vermont, where more than 90 percent of high school students graduated on time. On the reverse end, Nevada saw completion rates of just 58 percent, and only 60 percent of Washington, D.C. students graduated on time. The rest of the states fell somewhere in between these two spectrum ends.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan attributed at least a portion of the increase to the sluggish economy. Duncan explained that students that decide to drop out of high school today may not find the same job opportunities waiting as students who left school years ago.

“If you drop out of high school, how many good jobs are out there for you?” Duncan asked My Fox NY. “None. That wasn’t true 10 or 15 years ago.”

Duncan added that he had friends in Chicago during his youth that left school for jobs in the steel mills or stockyards. They could make decent wages at that time, which allowed them to purchase a home and support a family. Today, Duncan warned that those opportunities are no longer available. As high school students see few opportunities outside the safety zone of academia, they choose to finish their high school education before venturing into the workforce.

First Release of National Data

The Huffington Post reports that the U.S. Department of Education is just beginning to release state-by-state information on high school graduation rates to show how states stack up across the country. These numbers are the first to use more rigorous measuring standards, providing the most accurate information on completion rates. Previously, states had to discard flawed measurement formulas that made it virtually impossible to accurately compare completion and dropout rates between states.

As new methodology comes into play that improves the accuracy of completion statistics, the U.S. Department of Education wants these figures to weigh in on school assessment. The office believes that graduation and dropout rates may provide an accurate glimpse into the effectiveness of individual states and schools. In the future, these numbers may be used to hold schools accountable for their performance.

New York Numbers Broken Down

According to the New York State Education Department, the New York City school district enjoyed some of the highest graduation rates statewide. The only large city with better numbers than New York City was Yonkers, with a more than 66 percent graduation rate. New York City’s 65 percent graduation rate was calculated in August 2011, allowing for students that retook their Regents exams in August for the purpose of credit recovery. The June graduation rate for that same year was just over 60 percent for NYC.

The state’s Education Department also showed that graduation rates increased for various minority groups as well. African-American students improved their graduation rates to more than 58 percent, up from 57 percent the year prior. Hispanic students also increased graduation rates, from 57 percent in 2010 to 58 percent in 2011.

While the numbers for New York City and nationwide are encouraging for high school graduation overall, the numbers do not accurately reflect the career or college readiness of students accepting their diplomas. Many educators believe there is still much work to do in that area. Toward that end, New York schools are looking at revamping their diploma program in favor of more rigorous graduation requirements.

The state is also hopeful that the implementation of Common Core Standards in New York public schools will help improve college readiness and decrease the number of students that must take remedial courses in college. However, the results of those changes will take some time to evaluate. In the meantime, New York City students and educators can bask in the knowledge that high school graduation rates are continuing to improve throughout this extensive school district today.

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