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Graduation Rates in NYC: The Long View

Last Thursday the NY Sun gave the Times editorial board a well-deserved spanking for ignoring its own backyard. Buried in the piece is a description of Bloomberg's latest temper tantrum, this time over the gall of a reporter for - gasp! - asking questions about the graduation rate:
Perhaps in their coverage of the No Child Left Behind law the mandarins of Eighth Avenue have fallen victim to the law of Not In My Backyard. They'd certainly be in good company. Announcing the latest graduation rate results, Mayor Bloomberg could not for his life fathom why our reporter Elizabeth Green might inquire as to his opinion on the charge that graduation rates are inflated by schools trying to put on a good face.

"I'm sort of speechless," the mayor said. "Is there anything good enough to just write the story?"
Using enrollment data from the DOE Statistical Summaries, the graph below plots the proportion of 9th graders still enrolled in 12th grade 3 years later beginning with the cohort that entered 9th grade in 1995. Thus, we can follow the 4-year attrition patterns of every 9th grade cohort beginning high school between 1995 and 2004. Though looking at "promoting power" this way is not the best way to look at overall graduation rate levels (there are both upward and downward biases and it's difficult to figure out how they shake out), it does provide a better way to look at long-term trends than any other data available.

The graph below suggests that graduation rates in New York City did indeed increase for the cohort that entered school in 2000 and again for the cohort that entered in 2001, which four years later would have been in 12th grade in 2004 and 2005, respectively. The graduation rate has largely been flat for the last four years, which would represent the classes that entered high school from 2002 onwards.


In his weekly radio address yesterday, Bloomberg argued that mayoral control is the primary driver behind increasing graduation rates. Hmmm. The graduating class of 2004 had finished its first 2.5 years of high school before the Children First reforms were even announced in January 2003, and the graduating class of 2005 had already made it through the first 1.5 years of high school. Since the entering 9th grade class of 2002, these 4-year figures have largely been flat.

I'm happy to cheer for increasing graduation rates for New York City kids - though I wish the proportion of classes passed through credit recovery was also publicly reported - but the time ordering here makes it impossible to attribute them to mayoral control.

On calculating the graduation rate, suggest you use as the denominator the average 8th, 9th, and 10th grade enrollement as a proxy for the number of entering Freshman. This is especially important to get trend accurately, as in many places policies have caused an increasing "9th grade bulge", as more students are held back.That inflates using 9th grade enrollment as a proxy for entering Freshman. (Or did you have an actual measure of how many enrolled the first day of school in the 9th grade?)

And for the numerator, suggest you use the number of diplomas issued four years later. Both of these will be in keeping with how NCES has been reporting the last couple of years. 12th grade enrollment taken at some point in time will include those who dropped out later in the year, as well as those who completed 12 years but did not qualify for a diploma.

Paul Barton

The numbers you present are probably the best available. And by best, I mean most meaningful.

As long as graduation rates are used to bludgeon schools and districts and states, we can expect principals and superintendents and commissioners to play games with them.

It has become a high stakes number.

Great analysis! THANKS!!

I agree with Paul Barton's suggestions. Just make sure you don't include GEDs and special education certificates of completion in the "graduatioin rate" statistics.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • dorothy: Great analysis! THANKS!! I agree with Paul Barton's suggestions. Just read more
  • Jonathan: The numbers you present are probably the best available. And read more
  • paul barton: On calculating the graduation rate, suggest you use as the read more




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