The NYC HIgh School Improvement Experience

Whenever Eduflack writes about the “successes” of New York City’s school improvement efforts under Chancellor Joel Klein, I get publicly flogged by some audience or another.  Most take significant issue with my conclusions that NYC Department of Education has improved the quality of the public schools.  Others take issue with giving Klein (and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg) credit for such school improvement.  And even if I can get the opposition to acknowledge an uptick in student achievement in NYC, they will immediately retort that the gains are minimal, and not nearly enough to declare turnaround efforts in New York a success.

My responses to such criticism have been relatively simple.  The test scores, at least on New York’s state exams, do show gains in both reading and math in NYC.  If you don’t believe the final tallies coming from Albany, you should at least acknowledge that NYC has won the Broad Prize, and that Broad similarly crunched the numbers and found academic gains across the city.  And if the gains aren’t big enough for you yet, first, give it time.  Then remember how large the NYCDOE truly is.  Upticks in a system that size are worthy of praise.
 
Always a glutton for punishment, Eduflack is going to raise the NYC achievement flag again.  Today, we’re going to reflect on a forum hosted yesterday by the Alliance for Excellent Education.  Offering a multi-hour symposium yesterday under the banner of “Informing Federal Education Policy Through Lessons from New York City,” the Alliance also put a spotlight on a new report it has released, “New York City’s Strategy for Improving High Schools.”

So let’s take a look at the most recent set of numbers, namely four-year high school graduation rates.  The Alliance took a look at four different calculations of NYC graduation data from 2002 to the present.  By NYC’s own calculations, grad rates rose more than 29 percent from 2002 to 2008, from 51 percent to 66 percent.  According to the state calculation, rates increased nearly 52 percent, from 40 percent to 61 percent.  EdWeek has the number increasing 35 percent from 2002 to 2006 (37 percent to 50 percent).  And Jennifer Jennings and Leonie Haimson have the grad rates lifted nearly 18 percent from 2002 to 2007 (40 percent to 47 percent).

Let’s set aside, for a second, the fact that no one started with the same 2002 baseline.  (yes, we still have problems with data collection and such)  Even if we throw out the top score and the bottom score (in the Olympic tradition), we are still looking at a gain in NYC’s high school graduation rates of nearly 33 percent from where we started in 2002.  In an era of drop-out factories and rising dropout rates, such numbers in NYC are worth paying attention to.

Whether you like the rhetoric coming out of NYCDOE or not, you can’t deny that the Klein plan has had a real impact, and an impact for the good.  As other urban centers struggle to deal with graduation rate challenges, NYC has found real solutions.  And it has done so applying a four-year graduation rate formula (a calculation many fear because it offers a lower grad rate than many want to admit.) 

Moreover, NYC has been able to apply its high school reforms to help close the achievement gap.  According the Alliance, “since 2005, the black-white and Hispanic-white [graduation rate] gaps have narrowed by 16 percent and 14 percent respectively.”

New York City may still be a work in progress, but aren’t these the sorts of numbers we are working toward?  Klein and company offer a clear plan for how they are going to fix the problems (a plan so clear that it draws a with us/against us line).  They take the necessary steps to implement that plan, regardless of the “friends” it may create.  And then they have the data to demonstrate effectiveness, with both test scores and graduation rates rising.  Isn’t that our ultimate end game?  And if it isn’t shouldn’t it be?
  

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