AISR Speaks Out: Commentary on Urban Education
Looming Crisis or Historic Opportunity? Meeting the Challenge of the Regents Graduation Standards
This year, a critical education policy decision will profoundly affect the future of New York City students – the end of the local diploma. Starting with this year’s ninth-graders, all general education students in New York State will be required to earn a Regents diploma to graduate high school.
This policy change, promulgated by the New York State Board of Regents more than ten years ago, is part of efforts across the country to raise expectations and standards and to prepare all students for success in college and a range of fulfilling options in the labor market. The NYC Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ) believes that high standards are essential, but schools must provide robust and equitable supports to enable students to meet those standards. The higher NYS graduation standards pose an enormous challenge, as well as an opportunity, to the NYC school system. While 52 percent of New York City students graduate from high school in four years, only 37 percent of students achieve a Regents diploma, and outcomes are sharply differentiated by race and class:
- Only 28 percent of African American and 26 percent of Latino students achieve a Regents diploma in four years, compared with more than twice that percentage – 57 percent – of White students.
- Only 32 percent of students in high-poverty schools achieve a Regents diploma in four years, compared with 58 percent of students in low-poverty schools.
- Almost 90 percent of English Language Learners (ELLs) do not achieve a Regents diploma in four years.
These new requirements will have a broad impact across the school system:
- Approximately 22,000 New York City high school students attend a high school where more than three-quarters of the students do not achieve a Regents diploma in four years.
- If the new requirements had been in place in 2007, more than 10,000 additional students would have failed to graduate.
On a positive note, graduation rates have been rising over the past decade. And during Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein’s tenure, more of those graduates are achieving Regents diplomas. Between 2005 and 2007, over 5,500 additional students achieved Regents diplomas. However, the Regents graduation rate is still far too low, and the present rates of increase are too small to meet the challenge of the new graduation requirements.
Neither the city school system’s past policies and practices, nor the reforms introduced during the seven years of mayoral control of public education, are sufficient to meet the challenge of the new Regents graduation requirements. While the new small high schools – the New York City Department of Education’s signature high school reform – have a total graduation rate significantly above the citywide average, they have only managed a Regents graduation rate equivalent to the citywide rate. Only a pathbreaking effort to transform teaching and learning at low-performing schools will generate the dramatic increase in achievement necessary to turn this looming crisis into an historic success.
To meet the higher Regents standards, our city system will have to provide increased curriculum rigor, expert teaching, and robust social and emotional supports and intensify the focus on improving schools serving low-income African American and Latino students. Without greater supports to match higher standards, and without a concentrated effort to eliminate inequities, the new Regents graduation standards threaten to set off a worsening graduation crisis.
To meet that challenge, CEJ calls on the New York City Department of Education and New York State Education Department to immediately form an Emergency Working Group on School and College Success. This Working Group should create a comprehensive plan to tackle the inequities afflicting the system’s neediest schools and raise student performance over the next three years so that this year’s ninth-graders and future students are prepared to graduate with a Regents diploma. These key stakeholders, along with external partners, should seize the opportunity to re-imagine and reshape teaching and learning, so that this potential threat becomes an opportunity to close the achievement gap and prepare all students to succeed in college and the world of work.
Chancellor Klein has repeatedly said that closing the achievement gap is the “civil rights issue of our time.” As a critical step in this effort, CEJ proposes several bold interventions, targeted at schools where few students are graduating with a Regents diploma.
Redesign and Expand Time for Learning
CEJ believes that to definitively close the achievement gap, all low-performing schools need to initiate an ambitious effort to significantly redesign and expand time for learning. Principals, teachers, parents, and students should work together to redesign the structure of the school day, add 25 percent more time, and use this time to provide more diverse types of instruction, more effectively. The additional time should include rigorous academic and enrichment courses to engage and challenge students and summer academies before sixth and ninth grade, to ease difficult transitions. The redesigned school day should also organize school faculties into teacher teams with daily time dedicated to collectively analyze student data and plan for improved student performance.
CEJ believes that all low-performing schools should be transformed into community schools where comprehensive medical, social, and emotional support services are provided to students and their families inside the school, through health clinics, adult education classes, legal services, and more. Community-based and city agencies should be thoroughly integrated into school operations, early warning systems should be established to identify and address student difficulties immediately as they arise, and a strong safety net should be developed to meet student and family needs that inhibit or interfere with learning.
Aggressive, comprehensive strategies such as these are critical to tackle the persistent inequities in the New York City school system that threaten to turn the higher graduation standards into a dropout epidemic.
> Regents degree requirements could negatively impact poor, minority graduation rates
Daily News [February 5, 2009]
> Report Foresees Drop in Graduation Rates
New York Times City Room Blog [February 4, 2009]
> Predicting grad rate crisis, report calls for focus on high schools
Gotham Schools [February 4, 2009]
Caitlin Ervin, Annenberg Institute for School Reform
NOTE: The Annenberg Institute promotes community involvement in education reform through policy research and data analysis, coordination and training, and facilitation for strategy development to local parent- and community-led groups, including the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice. Institute staff provided background research and production assistance for this report; the recommendations were developed and are promoted by the members of CEJ.