Friday, August 15, 2008

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Pomp and circumstance

How long does it take to get through high school in the United States? That’s grades 9 through 12, four academic years. How many calendar years does that take?

It took me four, with some Advanced Placement courses, a Science Talent Search project, and a bunch of computer stuff that was rare at the time. Nearly all of my classmates took four years also. A few took three, a few took five, and some dropped out and didn’t finish at all. But my guess would be four years for at least 90% of the students in my class.

Isn’t that how it is?

So imagine my surprise at reading that New York City is thrilled at the progress they’ve made: in 2007, 52.2% of the students finished high school in four years, the first time it’s been over 50% — and statewide, it’s 68.6%.

For the first time, more than half of New York City’s high school students are graduating on time, according to 2007 graduation figures released on Monday by the State Education Department.

The figures showed that the rate of students graduating in four years had risen slightly for the fifth year in a row, to 52.2 percent. But the city rate continued to lag behind the statewide rate, which increased to 68.6 percent in 2007 from 67.2 percent in the previous year.

And the city’s dropout rate also surprised me: around one student in six drops out before finishing high school.

A key point in the graduation story is that several more percent finish within six years, taking the extra year or two to make up for basic skills that were missing when they started high school. Often, these are students who started whose English wasn’t up to what it needed to be, and that took some time to fix.

But poverty and social status play a big part: the four-year graduation rate for African American students is 47.2%, and for Hispanic students it’s 43.0%. Language issues are a factor for the latter group, but not for the former.

Improvements are certainly things to be happy about. Yet I’m very much surprised at how low these numbers are — which says something about the environment I’ve always been in, and about how unaware I really am about the problems with education in the cities.

2 comments:

Dr. Momentum said...

High stakes testing is another factor.

Laurie said...

Because of this and the fact that he just couldn't grasp Spanish, my son would have had to at least go an extra semester to graduate if he hadn't been willing to take a night class at a junior college for his last two semesters. The high school he went to actually had seven classes a day. In his last year, he was also going in before school for Honors Choir, and taking the night class for a total of nine classes. College has been a lot easier for him...