A Structural Solution to a Structural Problem
Consecutive years of record high graduation rates in New York City should be cause for celebration. According to the Four Year Graduation Rate Table provided by the New York City Department of Education, the city’s high school graduation rate has soared from 46.5% in 2005 to 77.3% in 2019.
However, according to the city’s own official statement, only 54.9% of all students in the Class of 2019 graduated from high school ready for college. Indeed, a high school diploma far too rarely correlates with college readiness — especially for low-income students.
Moreover, the 2016 Diploma Disparities report shows that the prolonged growth in overall citywide graduation rates is driven largely by gains at higher performing schools. Chart 2 displays the 334 schools that graduated students every year between 2011 and 2015.
The Diploma Disparities report states, “...while high schools in the highest performing quintile saw their graduation rates jump from 93 percent to 97 percent, those in the lowest quintile experienced an 11 [point] drop, from 61 percent to 50 percent. Over the last two decades, public charter schools have emerged as an alternative for parents seeking to escape the traditional public school system, especially in underserved communities. According to the NYC Charter Center, in the 2019-20 school year, there are now 260 charter schools educating more than 126,000 students, representing 11% of the 1.1 million student public school system.
While there are 186 Elementary Charter Schools, only 29 offer a guaranteed pathway all the way through 12th grade. Moreover, the vast majority of individual schools and networks (outside of large operators like Achievement First, Ascend, KIPP, Success Academy and Uncommon) do not have the cumulative enrollment, expertise or resources to launch their own individual high school. Thus, there is a structural problem that requires a structural solution that will allow more high-quality, high schools to open despite a cap on charters, and become guaranteed options for the more than 100,000 current and future students enrolled in NYC charter schools graduating middle school students.
Of the nearly 2,000 public school students beginning high school in the South Bronx (District 8 of NYC public schools) in 2015, only 2 percent graduated ready for college four years later. A shocking 98 percent of students either dropped out of high school before completing their senior year, or they did manage to graduate, but would still be required to take remedial classes in community college due to low math and reading scores on state exams. By contrast, charter public schools in the South Bronx continued to outperform their district peers in both math and reading for 3rd–8th graders by a substantial margin.
It comes as no surprise that parents in this predominantly black and Hispanic community, encompassing two of the poorest Congressional districts in the country, are desperate for higher quality education options. In the Bronx alone, more than 25,000 families applied for just over 9,000 available seats in Bronx charter schools