City Graduation Rate Barely Budges From Last Year

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The percentage of New York City students graduating from public high schools within four years stayed about the same as the year before, but Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg tried to find the silver lining in the numbers released on Monday.

According to the State Education Department, 60.9 percent of New York City students who entered high school in 2007 graduated in June 2011, compared with a rate of 61 percent the year before. It was the first time in six years that the rate had not significantly increased. (See chart below).

Still, the mayor pointed to the number of students earning Regents diplomas, compared with local diplomas. That number went up for the fourth year in a row. In 2011, 55.7 percent of graduates earned either a Regents or Advanced Regents diploma in four years, up from 51.3 percent of graduates the year before.

“More students are succeeding than ever before,” Mr. Bloomberg said at a news conference.

He also pointed out that according to the city's measure, 65.5 percent of students graduated in four years when counting students who received diplomas last August after fulfilling necessary credits (the state's figures count only June graduates).

City officials have frequently showcased the rising graduation rates, citing them as evidence of the success of the mayor's education policies. And again, as Gotham Schools pointed out, the mayor put a rosy spin on the new numbers.

Stunted graduation numbers weren’t a setback as much as they were an impressive achievement in the face of higher standards, he said at a press conference this afternoon. And better rates of improvement in other cities weren’t an indication of New York City’s failures, but a credit to what those school districts were doing right.

“They’re doing a great job and they should be congratulated,” Bloomberg said, even though in past years he’s used such comparisons to tout his own city’s growth. “That doesn’t mean we aren’t doing a great job.”

While the graduation rate has held steady for a few years, there are ominous signs ahead. Beginning this school year, students will no longer have the option to earn a less-demanding local diploma, only the Regents diploma. Last year, about 10 percent of graduates earned the local diploma. The mayor admitted "that'll make it tougher" to sustain the levels the city has achieved.

On the national level, Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential contender, never utters the word vouchers. But in his plan to overhaul the nation's public school system from pre-K to 12th grade, he has presented a "voucherlike plan,'' Trip Gabriel wrote in The New York Times on Tuesday.

Students would be free to use $25 billion in federal money to attend any school they choose — public, charter, online or private — a system, he said, that would introduce marketplace dynamics into education to drive academic gains.

His plans, presented in a recent speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, represent a broad overhaul of current policy, one that reverses a quarter-century trend, under Republican and Democratic presidents, of concentrating responsibility for school quality at the federal level.

“I will expand parental choice in an unprecedented way,” Mr. Romney said, adding that families’ freedom to vote with their feet “will hold schools responsible for results.”

His proposals are the clearest sign yet that Republicans have executed an about-face from the education policies of President George W. Bush, whose signature domestic initiative, the No Child Left Behind law of 2002, required uniform state testing and imposed penalties on schools that failed to progress.

The article points out that Mr. Romney seems politically constrained by the fact that President Obama promotes many solutions that were once Republican talking points, including charter schools and teacher evaluations tied to test scores.

And lastly, the Bronx district attorney said on Monday that he was seeking reports of sexual abuse of students at the Horace Mann School, after an article in The New York Times Magazine chronicled accounts of abuse at the private school 30 years ago.

Robert T. Johnson, the prosecutor, said he wanted to hear from anyone with information of abuse at the Bronx school, regardless of when the incidents occurred, according to Jenny Anderson of The Times. She said that alumni had turned to social media in droves, with more than 2,000 joining a Facebook page called “Processing Horace Mann.”

In a statement issued last week, the school said that students’ safety and security “are at the core of everything we do,” and said that none of the individuals mentioned in the article are now employed by the school.

Gotham Schools's Rise & Shine post has a fuller roundup of the day's news.

The City Council's Education Committee will hold an oversight hearing on special education reform at 1 p.m. on Tuesday at 250 Broadway.

And at 5 p.m. Tuesday, a coalition of chapter leaders and other members of the United Federation of Teachers have scheduled a rally against school closings in front of the Education Department headquarters on Chambers Street. The group also wants the department to hire back all teachers in turnaround schools.

Yasmeen Kahn of WNYC contributed reporting.