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Capital Region high school graduation rates 2011

chalk on chalk board ledgeThe state Department of Education released data Monday about high school graduation rates. The statewide graduation rate for the 2007 cohort of students was 74 percent (that counts kids who finished up by June 2011).

We pulled out the stats from Capital Region school districts. As in years past, some of the results are sobering and frustrating.

Sorted stats (including notes and qualifications) after the jump.

A note about the data

"Graduation rate" in the tables below counts students from the 2007 cohort who graduated with a Regents or local degree as of August 2011 (four school years plus one summer). "Dropped out" is students who did not get a degree, did not transfer to a GED program, did not get an IEP diploma, or are not still enrolled.

Breakdowns by Capital Region school district and county -- with the last three years' rates -- are in wide format above (scroll all the way up). Comparing just a few years isn't necessarily going to give you much sense of any significant trend, but it's there for casual comparison.

Below is the whole list for the Capital Region, sorted highest to lowest by graduation rate. In years past when we've posted these rates, people have (rightly) brought up the issue of household income and the percent of students with disabilities. So we've included the percentage of students who were tagged as being economically disadvantaged or having a disability in each district's cohort. (More on that below.)

All data is from NYSED (pdf). Percentages have been rounded.

NYSED defines (doc) "economically disadvantaged" as any student whose family is enrolled in at least one of a group of public assistance programs -- among them: free or reduced price lunch, food stamps, the earned income tax credit, the Home Energy Assistance Program.

A few notes

+ Vorheesville takes the top spot for the second year in a row.

+ Albany takes the bottom spot for the third year in a row. But its graduation rate was up five percentage points from the cohort graduating in 2010.

+ As mentioned, in the past people have pointed at the importance of economic status when considering these rates. Curious about about what sort of relationship there might be between graduation rate and economic status, we graphed the percentage of each district's cohort tagged as economically disadvantaged against the district's overall graduation rate. Here's the graph:

hs graduation rates economic disadvantage graph 2011
click for a larger view

This is a casual analysis. It's just one cohort of students, and the report doesn't indicate the degree of a student's economic disadvantage (or advantage). But with that in mind, it's probably fair to say that if a school district has a high percentage of students who are not economically disadvantaged there's a good chance the cohort graduates at a high rate. But as the number of economically disadvantaged students increases -- well, then it's hard to say what's likely.

Just to highlight why it's worth being careful about making generalizations: economically disadvantaged students in this cohort graduated at a higher rate in Albany (by a little) and Schenectady (by a lot - 67/48) than their peers not tagged as economically disadvantaged.

NYSED's full breakdown of graduation rates is embedded below.

photo: Flickr user Kyle McCluer

NYSED High School Graduation Rates 2011


Now include spending per pupil in that chart, and try to justify what some of these horrid districts are spending.

25% of the kids in Berne Knox have disabilities? 24% in Albany?

@ike: Here is the projected per pupil spending for the 2010-2011 school year.

And here are projections for 2012-2013, from the Empire Center.

@Code Monkey: I was surprised by that, too. It looks like the state definition (doc) of disability includes everything from physical disabilities to learning disabilities.

Schenectady's new superintendent told the TU one of his goals to is reduce the number of students classified as special education at a young age. So when it comes to something like a learning disability, there's probably some gray area.

ADHD is probably the largest contributor to the "disability" stats. While serious cases of it do sometimes exist, it's usually a label given to kids strictly because this schooling model doesn't work for them.

I was diagnosed as a kid simply because I didn't like to do my homework. I did fine in school otherwise, did fine on tests and participated in class, but because I didn't always do my homework, they thought it appropriate to drug me.

Many kids who are labeled ADHD do fine in programs where they're not forced to sit in chairs and be silent for entire class periods, and where they can get more physical activity, freedom to learn about topics they're interested in, smaller classes with some one-on-one attention, and a healthy diet. With more options like these, we'd have a lot more kids making it to graduation and spare kids the idea that something's wrong with them, all while leaving their brain chemistry unaltered.

What is happening to these kids who drop out? This is tragic for Albany.

kids who drop out -> crime rate, shootings, robberies in the Albany/Schenectady area.

What is also striking about these numbers is that it isn't just our urban centers, but our rural areas, that have high drop out rates and low graduation figures. Granted, they are a bit better than our urban school districts, but only marginally.

I think this gets back to a more significant social issue that students in economically disadvantage parts of the state, who see parents who can't get a job/quality job, will simply not try hard in school, no matter how much money is thrown at the issue. Until these districts (urban or rural) can tie educational achievement with job attainment, such as through partnerships with local businesses that allow students to work/shadow staff at these companies (which the Albany School District is starting to implement with the Nano-Tech consortium), I think you will find communities continue to face challenges in making their kids care about getting an education, when they know that their future will only bring burger flipping or working the front counter at the rural general store.

Do those Albany stats include kids attending charter schools? If so, is there a breakout? If not, where are the charter school stats for comparison?

I think this begs the question: what is Hoosic Valley SD doing to achieve such a high graduation rate? Their percentages of economically disadvantaged/students with disabilities is high, relative to the suburban schools, but they still came in second place? hmm...

@rana--so true.

@ike- those "horrid districts" often have higher costs because they have lower-income populations and a higher incidence of students with disabilities, both of which lead to higher costs.

Also, lower-income folks tend to move around more--less likely to own, more likely to have to move for work or cheaper rents. When you look at schools like AHS, yes they have a high dropout rate-23% is way too many. But 25% of the kids didn't graduate or drop out, they moved. If they stayed around and graduated the rate would be more like 75%.

What's interesting to me is the Hoosic Valley SD---high percentages of kids with disabilities and poverty but still will a 96% graduation rate and only 3% dropout rate. Wonder what they're doing right there?

@Rich Are there any studies that show the trend towards kids that drop out of school and their parents employment status? I can see the correlation but I am just very curious to know. In my experience, the kids that dropped out of high school, and I was almost one of them, had parents that had jobs.

I'd be interested in knowing how the graduation rates here compare to the rest of the US. I know we are #1 in spending ($/student) but I've heard we are low in graduation rates. I think it would prove that throwing money at the issue isn't going to help.

Again, I wish NYS would track these kids statewide. These stats are following a cohort that started in 2007. It's not that only 52% of ALB's senior class graduated; it's that 52% who started in 2007 and stayed enrolled at that institution graduated in 4 years. It speaks to a much larger problem of serving a transient population.

Schenectady has incredible diversity - at least 25 different languages are being spoken as the primary language at home. These kids are much more likely to be routed to special ed programs.

Notice that every school district with less than 13% economically disadvantaged students have over 90% graduation rates.

This tells me that its not the teachers that are the problem. When presented with children from prosperous homes, every district succeeds.

Our system, educational and otherwise, is set up to meet the needs of children from prosperous homes.


Unfortunately, I do not have any studies to back my argument, only anecdotal evidence as a tutor of students in grades 7-12, specifically in the City of Albany, with many who have considered dropping out or who do not see the value in trying to do well in class or graduate on time. My family also has friends in rural Vermont, where job opportunities have vanished or do not pay well, prompting these friends’ teenage aged children to ponder why even bother with school if the job prospects are so bleak. You are also correct that many potential drop-outs do have a parent (or parents) who work, however, as I originally asserted, they often don’t have quality jobs that typically pay minimum wage. Many even have two or three jobs just to ensure their kids are taken care of.

However, to these young adults, they see poor opportunities for their future (aka janitor or food service worker), making it tough to swallow even trying to learn the advance science or math concepts beyond that of K-6, because it simply doesn’t fit with their perceptions that they a destined for the same inferior jobs their parents work. This is why I believe it is essential for school districts, especially in our urban core, to partner with those companies that can offer quality jobs, giving these students the opportunity to network with professionals who can help propel them into a good job and allow students a chance to see how the advance concepts they will learn in high school can be applicable to their future professional career. Furthermore, I do feel that not every student is destined for college or a job that requires a significant investment math or science, and that more vocational opportunities (whether this is directly through the high school or in partnership with a local community college) she be fostered that would allow them to enter trade careers after high school that pay well and would be a step above the minimum wage jobs they see many of their peers in. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, there are many factors that may push or pull a young adult to feel like dropping-out is preferable than moving on, however, I think a good deal of the time, based on my discussions with those I’ve tutored, it typically comes down to why try when all their peers end up at the bottom of the job ladder.

These numbers bring up such conflicting feelings for me as a mom of a young child in Albany. Do we do what so many young families in Albany do when our kids are school age: move to a better school district? What if we all stayed - all of us middle-income, young Albany families? Would it change things? Can we take a risk like that with our kids' educations? I know plenty of people who went through Albany schools and received a great education, went on to advanced degrees, are currently very successful. But those numbers are hard to look at. I can hear the voice of my college sociology professor in my ear....

I'd love to hear what parents of kids in Albany schools (and teachers) have to say about their experiences.
"The schools" are really a huge thing for Albany residents, something that I do believe is being addressed and really does need a positive boost.

@nicole, The first thing we have to acknowledge is that the Albany School District is that better school district, and it has afforded my two kids (one in college, one in 11th grade) with opportunities that the suburban schools don't offer (International Baccalaureate, more AP classes available than the suburban counterparts, and many extracurricular opportunities that can’t be found anywhere else, ranging from foreign language to science) and a diverse set of magnet schools that allow for specialized schooling (like for the arts or for math and science). While my kids won’t be able to take advantage of it, the district is vastly improving its relationship with the growing nano, bio-tech, green-tech and chip-fab companies in the region, plugging high school students into internship and mentoring programs so they can get a feel for these industries and pursue classes at SUNY Albany, RPI, Union, etc in order to get hired by the companies in these sectors. Being in Albany, I’m also blessed with a rich array of cultural and educational opportunities to enrich what my students learn in school, constantly keeping them engaged.

Unfortunately, the school district gets misaligned by the poor numbers that come out about graduation rates and test results. This, in my opinion is due to the fact that close to 60% of the student population comes from families facing challenging socio-economic factors. The good news for middle class families is that the district works well for them and provides opportunities you can’t find elsewhere in the region; the bad news for the city is that it has a tough time plugging those students from challenging backgrounds into these opportunities. Despite the opportunities and rewards for keeping my kids in the Albany School District, I was hoping to also preach the notion that a “rising tide lifts all boats” by keeping my kids in the system, which could rub off on their peers who face more difficult challenges in life. Some families don’t want to take this risk with their children’s future, but the good news for them is, you needn’t worry, because the current system is really that “two schools in one” model you hear about, making it difficult for those who do well and/or excel to lift the tide for those who don’t, unless they go incredibly out of their way to do so.

I hope we can count your kids in the ranks and continue to support our fair City.

Chezcake, no, charter schools are not included in these numbers for Albany. I don't know about the other cities. I can tell you that the 11 charters in Albany have dropout rates in the 50-88% range; it varies year-to-year and school-to-school of course. The pattern, though, is very clear: charters turn away most of their students, keeping only those who will do well on state tests. Then they brag about their high tests scores, as if there was anything other than an game being played here.

Nicole: yes, of course schools in Albany would be a lot better if more middle-class families stuck around. The research shows that poorer students do better if they are surrounded by higher-achieving students. As Dick posted and as I can also attest, there are incredible opportunities for a great education right here in Albany. And our schools continue to get better.

Its pretty obvious from national and international data that school ratings follow poverty pretty closely. Poverty is the main problem, not teachers, not the students, etc. So, with our poverty in Albany, we have some huge challenges. All the more reason we need good people to stay here and help us make this community better.

I hope more folks will support Albany. It's a great place to live.

@Sarah - I appreciate you wanting to encourage people to rethink Albany schools and raising a family in the city. But, please, don't resort to spreading outright mistruths about the city's charter schools.

Much like you'd wish people wouldn't write off Albany city schools as "dangerous" or "doomed to fail", please don't spread completely inaccurate accusations about charters.

What you claim they are doing is illegal. Period. If you know of a charter doing what you imply, please PLEASE report them. If not, then stop spreading misinformation. It's a disservice to those who put in tremendous effort and countless hours to help make a difference for students in Albany.

Thank you Dick for sharing your experience with Albany schools, and Nicole for sharing your story. I am already hearing at toddler playdates other parents wondering if they will move when its time for school. We chose to live near a great community elementary school, but are so excited by new options that we may even try something else. Our neighborhood kids have gotten the International Baccalaureate degrees, A.P. classes, great experiences. I have had people look in horror when I say my kids will go to Albany High. I feel bad that they can't see beyond bad testing numbers, to the good stories that are coming out.

Jay, my information comes from the charter schools themselves. So if anyone is spreading lies, its them.

@Sarah - So a charter school told you they "turn away most of their students, keeping only those who will do well on state tests."

That is illegal. Period.

Which school is telling you this?

Jay, dozens of charter and former charter parents have told me this. The statistics I cited come from the charter schools and speak very loudly as to what is going on.

@jay , @sarah, @melissa Thanks so much for your comments. Maybe Albany Schools need you on their PR team! Seriously, these stories really need to be heard by young families in Albany. There are so many of us who love it here, who constantly hear negative things about "the schools". The word needs to get out about the opportunities that exist here that don't exist in the 'burbs.

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