Graduation Rates and College Completion: Do Astronomical College Dropout Rates Diminish Claims of Increasing High School Graduation Rates?

The Oceanhill-Brownsville teacher strike of 1968 taught mayors a lesson – education was to be kept at arms length.

Mayors Koch and Giuliani allowed a highly politicized seven-person Board of Education and their appointed Chancellor run the school system. The mayors could always cobble together votes for crucial decisions; they could claim credit for successes and ignore failures.

The Borough President appointees on the Board attended to political “contracts;” elected local school boards ranged from highly competent
to deeply corrupt. Unfortunately the most corrupt school boards were located in
the poorest communities.

Mayor Bloomberg decided to take on the challenge of managing the school system and convinced the school community that the reputation of the mayor should depend on the success of a mayoral controlled school system.

The sweeping changes: from elected school boards to ten K-12 Regions, to Learning Support Organizations to Empowerment to the current sixty Networks, the dizzying changes are difficult to gauge.

How do we measure success?

The Mayor and his Department have chosen high school graduation rates as the metric to measure success.

While high school graduation rates have risen sharply the validity of the increases is seriously questioned. Have the structural changes, the focus on data,
personnel policies (Open Market and ATRs) resulted in more effective
instruction, or, are credit recovery schemes and looser Regents grading the
reason for high graduation rates?

Are the “scandals” at Lehman and Washington Irving High Schools outliers?
Or, are the claims of high graduation rates increases fraudulent? (See
Washington Irving story here).

The Education Department (SED) has questioned the frequency of the grade of
“65,” and has changed regulations to prevent re-scoring (‘scrubbing”) as well as teachers grading papers of their own students.

While the Chancellor and the Chief Academic Officer continue to laud graduation rates the State Education Department reports that only 23% of June, 2009 high school graduates were “college and career” based on ELA and mathematics Regents scores.

The New York Times reports,

About three-quarters of the 17,500 freshmen at the community
colleges this year have needed remedial instruction in reading, writing or
math, and nearly a quarter of the freshmen have required such instruction in
all three subjects … statistics from state education officials: fewer than
half of all New York State students who graduated from high school in 2009 were prepared for college or careers, as measured by state Regents tests in English and math.
In New  York City, the proportion was 23 percent. (see individual CUNY college rates)

Are we graduating or pushing out students? To “graduate” students who are
ill-prepared for college makes increasing graduation rates a charade,

Community colleges are overwhelmed with the numbers of students who require remediation and are struggling to create a new approach.

John Garvey, a retired administrator at CUNY analyzes the problems at the community colleges and suggests a numbers of areas to explore. (Read the article, “Remediation Needs Remediation“)

While a handful of schools are “early college” (9-14) schools the K-12 school
system has little to do with the 13-16 CUNY system.

The Chancellors, the Department and the CUNY leaders seem to operate in their own spheres. Would the millions spent on remediation at the college level be better spent in high schools?

The American Educator, the periodical of the American Federation of Teachers
sketches a path to college success in an article, Navigating Disadvantaged Students’ Transition to College,

What if instead of hoping poorly prepared students will catch up
in college, we supported them in taking rigorous courses – even college level
courses – before they graduate from high school? What if, instead of lamenting
the fact that many students struggle in transitioning from high school to
college, our high school and college educators worked together to create a
clear path from high school graduation to college graduation?

Progress Reports and Quality Reviews and lists of Persistently Low Achieving (PLA) schools do not an effective school system make. The “proof” is in how
many students graduate with diplomas with advanced designation? How many students complete community college in three years without the need for remediation?

The Mayor ignored the lessons of the past, he should have listened to the
philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are
condemned to repeat it.

Ignoring the lessons of Lindsay and Koch and Giuliani has tarnished the reputation of yet another mayor.


One response to “Graduation Rates and College Completion: Do Astronomical College Dropout Rates Diminish Claims of Increasing High School Graduation Rates?

  1. People! We know what works. The leadership is so self involved in trying to institute the reform that “works” that they not only ignore the lessons of the past, they ignore the past altogether. See what made up the curriculum in the 40’s, 50’s and how the subjects were taught – adapt to today’s world of technology – and you have a school system that educates. Put the arts, gym, home ec and shop, back into the daily life of our kids in school and you will have kids that are engaged, inspired and eager to learn; as well as healthier kids who know about food and exercise and how to use their hands to make things. So far, technology hasn’t changed human nature or the developmental stages necessary for learning, growing and maturing. People in the past knew a thing or two. The Mayor needs to get that he is in fact not the messiah of education. A little humility would go a long way.


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