Ready – or not?

Ready – or not?

Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer

“We have shown something that works,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg on new high school graduation rates.
“We have shown something that works,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg on new high school graduation rates.

While Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has yet to name his Schools Chancellor, Mayor Bloomberg wasted no time in revealing improved high school graduation rates.

Just weeks before he will end his 12-year tenure as the City’s chief executive, Mayor Bloomberg visited Washington Heights’ City College Academy of the Arts to tout the city’s highest graduation rates to date.

Though the New York State Department of Education won’t unveil 2013 graduation rates until June, and the Department of Education (DOE) typically also waits to release until then, the graduation rates for this year’s seniors were unveiled a little earlier this time.

Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott traveled on Wed., Dec. 3rd at City College Academy of the Arts at 4600 Broadway to make their announcements.

According to preliminary figures, 66 percent of students graduated in 2013, an increase of 42 percent since the State began releasing New York City graduation rates in 2005 – and an all-time high.

“It really is quite amazing,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “We have shown something that works.”

High school drop-out numbers have also been halved.

Moreover, graduation rates among African-American and Latino students are also at record-breaking time highs, up by 53 percent and 58 percent, respectively.

In a statement, the Mayor’s office noted, “The City was able to confirm the data with the State earlier than normal and wanted to make the data publicly available. Based on past results, any change in the numbers from these preliminary rates to the final scores released by the State next year will be negligible (expected to be less than one-tenth of one percent).”

But despite its verification from the State, the timing of the data seemed questionable to some.

“The only reason I can think to do this is [is that] when real numbers come out in June and show less-than-positive results, it will be Bill de Blasio’s administration’s fault and not on Bloomberg’s twelve-year legacy running the schools,” charged Miriam Aristy-Farer, President of District 6’s Community Education Council (CEC). “Can they show a benefit to a student by releasing this info? It’s pointless and does nothing to benefit students to release this now.”

But the only comment on Wednesday that Mayor Bloomberg would make about de Blasio and the new administration was to urge similar improvements.

“They have the stick-to-it-ness to graduate,” said Chancellor Dennis Walcott.
“They have the stick-to-it-ness to graduate,” said Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

“I hope he’ll take these [numbers] and do a lot better,” he said. “The results – by any national standards – are outstanding.”

He added that the changes in education made during his administration, coupled with the increased lifespan of New Yorkers, are some of his proudest achievements as mayor.

“I think the thing that gives me most pride is the narrowing of the gap between minority students and whites and Asians. I think a lot of it was expanding the expectations and then it almost happened by itself—well, not just by itself,” said the Mayor, who did cede that there was still much to be done to close the achievement gap.

“There is now the expectation that you can have good schools, and you can educate all kids.”

As the first mayor to have mayoral control of the public school system, the largest in the country, Mayor Bloomberg has boasted often of his record on education.

Yet, there are detractors.

Testing has played a central role during the Bloomberg administration in promoting students and assessing schools, prompting criticism that test preparation has supplanted actual instruction in the classroom. Some communities have banded together for an “opt-out movement” with parents refusing to have their children take the tests and preferring that their progress be assessed by class projects and other work. In October, for example, after more than 80% of the parents voted to have their kids not take the exams, Castle Bridge Elementary School canceled the new standardized multiple-choice tests.

And while the DOE touts that college readiness has nearly doubled since 2005, others are more doubtful that all is as rosy.

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) has argued that nearly half of the city’s college-ready students come from only ten percent of the city’s public high schools, including Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant High School, Brooklyn Tech High School, and Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art.

Also, while graduation rates have increased among certain groups, others are lagging behind such as English Language Learners (ELL’s), whose rates dropped by 5 percent this year.

The Mayor has attributed this to higher testing standards. He and Chancellor Walcott pointed out that there are now more students taking five or six years to graduate.

“They have the stick-to-it-ness to graduate,” said Chancellor Walcott.

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