NYC High School Graduation Rates Decrease Significantly in Higher Poverty Neighborhoods

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A study announced yesterday by Measure of America found that high school students who live in New York City neighborhoods with higher rates of poverty do not graduate on time as frequently as those who live in wealthier neighborhoods, and the gap is significant: In the wealthiest neighborhoods (SoHo, Greenwich Village), on-time rates can sore into the 90s, while in poorer neighborhoods (in the Bronx and Central Brooklyn), percentages hover in the 60s.

The study emphasized where students live, as opposed to go to school, as Gothamist reports; and these numbers also undercut an announcement the City made recently, that on-time high school graduation rates had risen above 70 percent across the city. This study incorporated charter school and public schools but left out private and parochial schools.

Further upsetting statistics: graduation rates also vary by race, according to the data. 85 percent of Asian students graduate on time, as do 82 percent of white students; while black students graduate 65.4 percent on time, and Hispanic students, 64 percent.

“Far too many young people from low-income black and Latino neighborhoods in the Bronx and central Brooklyn are winding up in high schools with low graduation rates, going to school mostly with other teens who share their socioeconomic disadvantages,” the report says. “For them, the link between neighborhood conditions and school quality remains as strong as ever, even if the school they now attend is farther from home.”

These links are strong, but the report also says that, on a basic level, there simply are not enough top-quality high schools to equally and adequately serve the city’s high school students. And, while programs like the school choice program encourage students who attend lower-performing schools to identify, rank, and then apply to 12 schools located anywhere in the city—so that they can transfer to one of them—their efficacy is not clear: the process is time-consuming, and students who would most benefit from a program like this come from living situations where there are fewer available people to do the necessary research and work.

One of the report’s authors, Kristen Lewis, added: “The city’s school choice program does provide benefits to some children. But it rests on the assumption that all kids have adults in their lives with the time, language skills, social networks, and financial resources required to navigate this bewildering process.”

And so, in this reality, a more radical system reform is needed to make high schools work for the city’s entire population. “As a start, middle schools need more guidance counselors with smaller caseloads,” says Lewis, “and families need more good high school options across the city to choose from.”

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