“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:” Why Are Small High School Graduations Rates Rising in NYC and Falling Elsewhere?


At the recent Gates Foundation confab in Seattle Bill bemoaned the stagnant graduation rates in the small high schools, with the exception of New York City  that showed significant gains. The Gates Foundation is now moving in a different direction: standardizing high school graduation requirements.
One of the core issues is gaining agreement on the definition of a “cohort.” In New York State students that enter your school in the 9th grade “belong” to you unless they transfer to another school.  If 100 students enter in September, 2004: ten transfer to other schools, ten leave your school and enroll in a Young Adult Boro Center (YABC … formerly known as Night School), ten transfer into your school, twenty have failed courses and Regents exams and are sophomores and juniors by credit count, and twenty have stopped coming to school and have been discharged from your school. Your cohort is 100 students, and, if only fifty graduate in June 2008 your four year graduation rate is fifty percent.
The New York State system is the “gold standard” because of the way it defines cohort.
Back to the increase in small high school graduation rates in NYC:
Why are graduation rates in NYC small high schools higher than rates in large high schools and small high schools elsewhere?
Technology: The Easy Accessibility of Data
With a few mouse clicks a principal or counselor can access the school cohort on the Automate the School (ATS) database, and, soon, maybe, on ARIS.
The ATS Cohort Report will list all students, whether you have discharged the student, or the student is attending a GED program at another site, or is incarcerated, or discharged. If a student has “dropped out” of your school, but, is attending school in South Carolina, or, the Dominican Republic, and, the current school sends you appropriate documentation, you can remove the student from your cohort. The cohort is managed at the Integrated Service Center (ISC), not the school.
Guidance Counselors
Small high schools usually have a smaller counselor to student ratio. Typically a small high school will have at least two counselors for a student body of 400, a 200:1 ratio. In large schools counselors frequently have 400:1 or greater counselor/student ratios … the counselor monitors paper, rather than students. In small high schools counselors have close relationships with students, and their families. They actually function as counselors.
Credit Recovery
For decades prior to Children First (aka Klein Times) every high school was mandated to form a Course Accreditation Committee: the principal or designee, the UFT Chapter Leader and other relevant staff.
All “new” courses went before the committee for approval and on to the office of the superintendent. A number of schools developed independent study courses, the Dewey DISC (Dewey Independent Study Curriculum), the Morrow MILE, ways for students to earn credits without attending regular classes. Today some credit recovery programs are legitimate methods is earning credits, i.e., Hallway Project. Unfortunately in too many cases credit recovery is abused.

“If credit recovery is not conducted properly, just as with any other required course, we will take appropriate action,” Klein added. “We do students no favors by giving them credit they haven’t earned.”

But city officials acknowledged that credit recovery programs are neither centrally monitored nor tracked.

The State Education Department, after seeing a copy of “independent study” guidelines in use at Wadleigh and a number of other schools, said it was examining whether the practice met its standards. State law requires students to earn credits by completing set hours of “seat time” — essentially, showing up for class — and demonstrating subject mastery. To graduate, they must also pass Regents exams.

“We are looking into this situation very carefully,” said Johanna Duncan-Poitier, the senior deputy state education commissioner. “We want to make sure that the student is getting what they deserve.”

In spite of the Chancellor’s concern, and that of the State Education Department there are no guidelines at the City or State level … simply “business as usual.”

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

It may be hard to believe but no one supervises schools, not the Support Organizations, not the superintendents, not Tweed, no one. If you get an “A” or “B” on your School Report Card, stay off the Impact List, and avoid investigation by the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), everything is just fine … the “laissez-faire” school of school management. You may even be a failing school according to the NYS Accountability System, as long as you receive an “A or a “B” grade, according to the DOE, everything is just fine.

The bottom line: the higher graduation rates in small high schools are a trompe d’oeil, to use the phrase of the day, a credit default swap.

One response to ““Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:” Why Are Small High School Graduations Rates Rising in NYC and Falling Elsewhere?

  1. Pingback: Let The Games Begin: Is Transparencyand Unbiased Evaluation/Assessment Essential to an Amended Mayoral Control Statute? « Ed In The Apple

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