Who Fails to Graduate High School? And, Why? Thinking Outside the Box (Part 1 ELLs)

Whether we like it or not the NYS education system is judged by high school graduation rates and scores on grade 3-8 standardized tests.  The latest release of high school graduation rates was touted by Albany,

The New York State Education Department today released high school graduation rates for the 2011 cohort (students who entered 9th grade in 2011). The overall graduation rate for the 2011 cohort increased to 78.1 percent, up 1.7 percentage points from 76.4 percent for the 2010 cohort.

The release does point to the downside, kids who have dropped out of school,

… nearly seven percent of students in the 2011 cohort—about 14,590 students—dropped out of high school. Of those who dropped out, 62 percent were Black or Hispanic; 64 percent came from economically disadvantaged homes; and 58 percent were male.

Sadly, the release does not take a deep dive into the numbers – who are the 21.9% who failed to graduate? We know that seven percent dropped out – how about the remaining 15%?  In the past an additional three or four percent graduated in five or six year. Who are the others?

If the Regents and the commissioner are going to craft programs to increase graduation rates we have to know who is not graduating, and, more importantly, why did they fail to graduate?

While students in the “Big Five” school districts are doing better,

Graduation rates for the Big 5, high need urban-suburban and rural districts have risen over the past three years.

the gap between high wealth and low wealth districts is substantial,

… only 68.4 percent of students from high need urban-suburban districts graduated on time in 2015, compared to more than 94 percent of students from low need districts.

The Department has added a few additional pathways, unfortunately the new pathways are narrow, very narrow, and I think few students are aided by the new pathways.

Let’s take a deeper dive and look at English language learners (ELLs),

For ELLS, the five and six year graduation rates are significantly higher than the four year rate of 34 percent (cohort 2011). The five year graduation rate for ELLs is 44 percent (2010 cohort) and 50 percent (2009 cohort) respectively.

Half of ELLs fail to graduate in six years. Who are they? And, why are they failing to graduate?

The state fails to disaggregate the data in a useful manner.

Let’s divide ELLs into different categories:

* “Ever” Ls: Students who have been in schools for many years without scoring out of formal ELL programs

* SIFE: Students With Interrupted Formal Education – students enter schools by chronological age although they have been out of school in their native countries.

* Students who have entered the country within the last four years

If students who have been in English language learner classes for many years why aren’t they graduating?  Is there a difference between student in ESL and Bilingual classes?  Are particular schools or school districts more successful, and, if so, why?

SIFE and recent arrivals probably represent the largest group of non-graduates and I suspect there is a cohort of ELLs who leave school to go to work, to support themselves or to support their families. Schools, traditionally, have a 9 to 3 school day.

Are some ELL instructional configurations more successful than others? and, if so, why?

In New York City,  twenty-five years ago,  a school was designed to meet the needs of students with non-traditional school/work schedules.

Currently we force students to accommodate to the traditional school day, Manhattan Day + Night High School: Serving Students Around the Clock  serve 700 students, half are ELLs

From the school’s webpage:

(What do we do?) We are a school community that is dedicated to engaging students in realizing their full potential and preparing them to succeed at college and employment by providing them the opportunity to earn a high school Regents diploma.  (Who do we do it for?) As a transfer high school, we work with older, under-credited students whether they are long-time residents of NYC returning to high school or recent immigrants.  (How do we do it?) With classes offered around the clock from 8:00 a.m. – 9:31 p.m. Monday – Friday, we provide students who have adult responsibilities a schedule that meets their needs. We offer a challenging program with Advanced Placement and College Now classes and an extensive English language immersion program for foreign-born students. We are fortunate to have Comprehensive Development, Inc. (CDI)  as our non-profit partner which provides free, on-site student support including tutoring, college advisement and placement, scholarships, career exploration and internships, legal assistance, referrals for housing and medical issues, and post-graduation services.

The partner organization, Comprehensive Development, Inc. provides a wide range of services that extend beyond graduation.

Our programs provide high school students and recent graduates with college and career advising, legal, medical and housing assistance, case management, and intensive tutoring. We also continue to support our graduates during the first two critical years after high school. According to CUNY’s most recent Where Are They Now? report, students who receive CDI services average 26% higher in GPA, 15% higher in course pass rate, and 14% higher in first year college retention compared to similar students who didn’t receive services.

Is the commissioner simply unaware of the school?  Why doesn’t the state explore similar models in Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester? And, other sites within New York City?

The 9 – 3 school day no longer fits the needs of all students, a simple, more flexible model is increasing the hours of school to accomondate students who work as well as offering claases at the workplace and associate the school with a support organization as referenced above.

While Manhattan Comprehensive is a model for students who are struggling in their current school the fifteen schools in the Internationals Network admit students in the ninth grade. The student results are stunning when compared to students in the citywide  pool of ELLs

Recent immigrant students at the secondary level have only four years in which to acquire the academic content and deeper learning skills necessary to succeed in the classroom and graduate high school on time. As a result, immigrant English language learners make up a significant share of those who fail to graduate with their peers. However, students in [Fifteen New York City] International High Schools routinely outperform their counterparts in other schools and often are the first generation in their families to graduate high school and attend college.

NYC ELL High School  4-Year Graduation Rate (2014) –       37%

Internationals High School  4-Year Graduation Rate (2014) –  64%

NYC ELL High School 6-Year Graduation Rate –      50%

Internationals ELL High School Graduation Rate –    74%

A study of the International Network conducted by Michelle Fine and others,  The Internationals Network for Public Schools: a Quantitative and Qualitative Cohort Analysis of Graduation and Dropout Rates: Teaching and Learning in a Transcultural Environment (CUNY, 2005) validates both the instructional modalities as well as the philosophical underpinnings of the network.

The International schools cannot simply be cloned, if you visit one of the schools you are immediately impressed by the staffs and the school leaders. The fifteen schools (as well as the other Internationals across the country) are public schools operating within union contracts, the schools have strong school district and community support and the schools share a common commitment to the students they serve.

The approach of both the governor (maybe he is learning) and State Ed has been woefully inadequate. State Ed constructed a “diagnostic tool,” and they have worked with a number of districts, a self-study; however, parachuting educational “solutions” has never been successful.  The presenter at a Regents panel told how much the district appreciated all their help – I would have asked: did anything change? And, did they invite you to the party after you left?  I’m not being snide (well, maybe a little), we’ve been telling schools what to do for decades with very little success. We rarely ask them: how can we help you?

Both Manhattan Comprehensive and the International Network grew in fertile soil. Teachers and school leaders built a culture from the bottom up, a culture that is to a large extent antithetical to the surrounding larger school system culture.

In New York City, and, I suspect other school districts around the state superintendents and chancellors buy a program with which they are comfortable – in New York City, the Lucy West Math Program  and the Lucy Calkins  Reading and Writing Project, are favorites of the chancellor.  Do these “parachute programs” change the culture of the school?

You cannot pick up Manhattan Comprehensive or an International School and drop it in Buffalo … you can plant seeds and nurture the seeds.

For too long we have simply plugged students into archaic structures that no longer serve the complex needs of students. (De)Formers have thrown out idea after idea, none of which grew at the local level.

The State spent years fiddling with Part 154, the regs for English language learners. The regs are a compliance document – what classes you must create in schools, minutes of instruction and teacher licensure. Principals scramble to make sure they are not “out of compliance,” whether or not the configuration is serving the needs of a particular cohort of kids is not part of the discussion.

Manhattan Comprehensive and the International Network were not created by the bureaucracy, in fact, they were created in spite of the bureaucracy; the first International school sued the commissioner to retain part of their instructional model.

Let’s track down some of the 14.000 kids who dropped out of the 2011 cohort and ask them a simple question: why did they stop going to school?  And build from that point.

If kids in a particular district are dropping out of school to work maybe we can offer classes at a local church, in a housing project, at the worksite, bring the teachers to the kids.

Before the commissioner and the Regents begin to change graduation requirements perhaps they can investigate.  The irony is that we live in a data-driven world, superintendents and chancellors love to run huge number sets, yet, they fail to spend the time investigating in the fields, in communities and they fail to connect with the “product” – the kids.

Flash: there are very smart people in schools, and, many of them are brimming with ideas – force-feeding geese may make foie gras, force-feeding teachers does not improve the lives of the kids they teach.

All ideas are not great, the role of leaders is to sift the ideas, to facilitate the discussion, to pamper and nurture and question   …  do commissioners and school district leaders have the confidence to trust school communities?


2 responses to “Who Fails to Graduate High School? And, Why? Thinking Outside the Box (Part 1 ELLs)

  1. Eric Nadelstern

    Freire said that “Experiments cannot be transplanted; they must be reinvented.


  2. I am a strong supporter of the International schools. However, the graduation rate is highly suspect since few of these schools requires Regents as part of the graduation requirements. Moreover, their teachers grade their portfolios and that influences the final grade. Finally, many of the class sizes are in the 20s and even teens, making it a more conductive learning environment.

    While I support the International schools its like comparing apples and oranges when it comes to graduation rates.of those schools with the other public sc hools.

    As for Eric Nadelstern’s comment. Many of his experiments have been a total failure like his ill-fated Children First Networks, Principal quality, and his small school initiative..


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