On Wednesday, June 15, 2009 over 600 New Rochelle High School students will march in a graduation ceremony and receive — an empty folder. One of the school district’s “dirty little secrets” is that none of the students marching tomorrow will actually receive a diploma because many of the students marching will not have earned a diploma but are being allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony anyway. Rather than damage their self-esteem or cause them to feel less important than those who actually earned a diploma, they are being allowed to participate based on a “promise” that at some point after June they will complete missing courses and pass required state exams. Based on the New York State Report Cards, no one is keeping track of how many students march in the graduation and then failed to make good this “promise”.
Although the final figures will not be available until September or October, from recent past experience, we know that of the approximately three fourths of New Rochelle High School’s senior class who have actually earned a diploma only about 80% of the graduating seniors will receive Regents diplomas. In other words just 60% of the senior class of NRHS will “graduate” with Regents diplomas tomorrow.
If this is what the New Rochelle Board of Education calls an excellent school I shudder to think what a failing school looks like.
Even then, it is not as if earning a Regents diploma is some significant academic achievement. Consider that academically prestigious private schools do not follow either the Regents Exam system or some form of alternative assessment because, they argue, their own diploma requirements exceed Regents standards. For example, “high schools run by the Society of Jesus; Fordham Preparatory School, Regis High School, Xavier High School, Canisius High School, McQuaid Jesuit High School, and Loyola School have not used Regents exams for decades. Additionally, schools like The Masters School, The Hackley School, and The Harvey School do not use the Regents system, but set their own (often rigorous) graduation requirements that must be fulfilled.” Both New York State and New Rochelle High School recognize that Regents standards are not especially high and so offer an Advanced Regents Diploma.
But let’s not compare New Rochelle to Regis High School or The Hackley School. A more fair comparison would be a high school of similar size, of similar demographics, and in the area. According to the New York State Education Department the nearest school system that is demographically similar to New Rochelle is White Plains. That is, the racial, ethnic and economic distribution in New Rochelle High School and in White Plains High School are very similar.
The most recent year for which we have data is 2008 since the 2009 data will not be compiled until after the Regents exams in August. In almost every category of academic performance measured White Plains High School exceeded NRHS.
To give just a few examples*:
1) Graduation rates
a) Black students (NRHS -10)
i) NRHS 71%
ii) WPHS 81%
b) Hispanic students (NRHS -5%)
i) NRHS 65%
ii) WPHS 70 %
c) White students (NRHS -9%)
i) NRHS 88%
ii) WPHS 97%
2) Percent of students scoring above 65% on Regents Exams (General Education Students)
a) Comprehensive English (-3%)
i) NRHS 86%
ii) WPHS 89%
b) Global History and Geography (-14%)
i) NRHS 68%
ii) WPHS 82%
c) Mathematics A (-16%)
i) NRHS 74%
ii) WPHS 90%
3) Percent of graduates receiving a Regents diploma (-9%)
a) NRHS 80%
b) WPHS 89%
It would be tedious and pointless to continue to multiply examples.
As noted above, not a single student tomorrow will actually receive a diploma because the graduation is not a “certified graduation” — many students have not completed the necessary work or passed enough tests to have earned any sort of diploma, many more will get a near-worthless “local diploma” and not present at all will be close to 100 students who entered New Rochelle High School as part of the Class of 2009 and dropped out sometime after turning 16 years old.
The school budget passed by voters on May 19th indicates we spend roughly $20,000 per child to educate children in New Rochelle. For a student who completes K-12 in the New Rochelle Public School system that comes out to $360,000 per student. As students march down the aisle tomorrow it would be good to recall School Board member Deidre Polow’s campaign claims that New Rochelle was providing “more bang for the buck” than other districts. If 40% of the roughly 600 students graduating are only able to complete a “local” diploma the bucks she is talking about are more than $85 million spent on diplomas that are a step above “certificates of attendance”. If another 100 students drop out by in 10th, 11th or 12 grade, you can bump up that figure by another $24 million. The District may wish to quibble on some of the exact number of students getting the local diploma or dropping out but however you run the numbers if it clear that the graduation ceremony tomorrow represents a more than $100 million “investment” in failure.
So, what are we getting for our money? What exactly are we celebrating?
You do the math. You are going to have to since obviously many of our newly-minted “graduates” cannot.
*New York State Education Department figures.