Yasmeen Khan is a reporter covering education. You can find her stories on the air and on SchoolBook.org, WNYC’s education website.
The four-year graduation rate for students entering high school in 2009 reached 66 percent, an all-time high, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Wednesday, up from a rate of 64.7 percent the previous school year.
While the mayor said the numbers are preliminary, pending the state's release of graduation results, he used them to tout progress over his 12-year tenure.
"For two decades before our administration came into office, if you remember, our public school graduation rates had been stuck at 50 percent," Bloomberg said at a press conference at City College Academy of the Arts in Upper Manhattan. "People thought nothing could be done to fix it. We came into office and refused to believe it."
It is unusual for the city to release graduation rates ahead of the state's annual release, which last year came in June. Usually, the city waits to release its own analysis in tandem with the state. But with Bloomberg leaving office at the end of this month, "we don't have that luxury this time," he said.
According to the city's numbers, students with disabilities showed tremendous gains over the past several years, with a graduation rate of 37.5 percent in 2013. That is an increase from 30.5 percent in 2012, and far above the 17 percent graduation rate in 2005.
Black and Latino young men also showed notable gains: 55.3 percent of black male students graduated in four years in August 2013, compared to 53.4 percent in 2012 and 31.5 percent in June 2005.
Similarly, 54.3 percent of Latino males graduated in four years in August 2013, compared to 53.2 percent in 2012 and 31 percent in 2005.
The mayor made sure to note the significant increase in four-year graduates since 2005, when just 46.5 percent of students graduated on time. (2005 numbers include June graduates only.)
Only English Language Learners showed a year-to-year dip. In 2013, 38.7 percent of ELL students graduated compared to 40.5 percent of students the year before. But last year's number was still significantly higher than the four-year rate in 2005, when 26.5 percent of ELL students graduated.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the progress among these subgroups "represents a system-wide change of choice," which has included closing low-performing schools and opening hundreds of new schools in their place.
Aaron Pallas, a professor of sociology and education at Columbia's Teachers College, acknowledged the substantial progress in graduation rates but cautioned against attributing the growth "to any particular policy or practice."
"The counter-argument is that the growth in that graduation rate -- even though it also reflects growth in graduation rates for black and Latino students -- still obscures the fact that a great many of the students who enter ninth-grade emerge not ready for college," said Pallas. "And that's especially true for black and Latino students."
On Wednesday, the city released only the four-year rate for the general population and subgroups. Raw data for each school and borough will come later, as will rates for students that graduate and five and six years.
The State Education Department confirmed the accuracy of the numbers, both city and state education officials said.