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NY Makes Gains in Graduating High School Students

NY Makes Gains in Graduating High School Students

NY Makes Gains in Graduating High School Students Travis S., flickr

State is one of only two to post double-digit increases.

New York has made among the nation's biggest gains in graduating high school students, according to a study released Sunday by an education advocacy coalition.

The state is one of only two that have posted double-digit increases in graduation rates in recent years, going from 60.5 percent in 2002, about 12 percent below the national average at the time, to a 73.5 percent graduation rate in 2009, according to the report by Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, America's Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education.

The annual analysis found the nation as a whole is making progress in curtailing dropouts, with New York No. 2 behind Tennessee among 24 states recording gains. But the pace of gains needs to improve if the country is to meet the coalition's goal of a 90 percent on-time graduation rate by 2020. The national graduation rate now stands at 75.5 percent, according to the report.

New York's improved rate translated to about 32,000 more graduates in the class of 2009 than the class of 2002, the report said. About 130 schools in New York had a graduation rate of 60 percent or less in 2010, down from 145 schools in 2002, referred to in the study as "dropout factories."

New York educators attribute overall improvements to a sharper focus on high-needs districts and a stronger commitment to getting diplomas into the hands of all students. But they cautioned against relying too much on numbers to measure success.

A high school diploma doesn't necessarily lead to achievement beyond graduation, said Ken Slentz, deputy commissioner in the Office of P-12 Education. The past couple of years have seen a philosophical shift in New York from degree completion alone toward readiness for what lies beyond high school, whether it be college, technical instruction or the military.

"Eighty percent (for a graduation rate) would be terrific, as long as that number means something for these kids," Slentz said.

Teachers, meanwhile, worry that hard-won gains in graduation rates amid some of the nation's toughest graduation requirements are at risk of being undone by budget challenges that have led to layoffs and bigger class sizes.

"New York needs to see education as an investment in its economic future and not as an expense to be slashed when times are tough," said New York State United Teachers spokesman Carl Korn.

New York's lowest-performing schools continue to be in large urban districts, state statistics indicate. Of the so-called Big Five districts, all but Buffalo had better graduation rates in 2010 than in 2009, the last year examined in the coalition's study.

New York City's four-year graduation rate was 61 percent in 2010, up from 59 percent in 2009. Yonkers posted a 63.2 percent 2010 rate, up from 58.1 percent a year earlier.

Upstate, Syracuse showed slight improvement, graduating 45.9 percent of students who'd entered as freshman four years earlier, compared with 45.2 percent of the previous class. Rochester posted a 46.1 percent rate, up from 42.1 percent in 2009. Buffalo's 2010 graduation rate was 47.4 percent, down from 53.1 percent a year earlier.

The national report will be presented Monday in Washington at the Building a Grad Nation summit primarily sponsored by America's Promise Alliance, a children's advocacy organization founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. It was authored by John Bridgeland and Mary Bruce of Civic Enterprises, a public policy firm focused on social change, and Robert Balfanz and Joanna Fox of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University.