The State Education Department recently reported disappointing graduation results -- for cities and suburbs.
This is second-year data showing the progress of the ninth-graders of 2000 and 2001 as they moved through high school. Or, in too many cases, stagnated there, later to earn equivalency or alternative degrees, or drop out. Only 64 percent of the state's high school students graduate in four years, a figure State Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills calls "unacceptable" and obviously needing improvement.
Even after a fifth year, only 71 percent of the students graduate. Also, the gap between graduating blacks, Hispanics and whites is far too wide, as is the gap between boys and girls. Statewide, affluent suburban districts had a five-year graduation rate of 93.4 percent. Close, but not 100 percent either.
Progress is at a minimum, but there are areas of improvement. For example, fewer students have serious academic problems in middle school English now than in 2000 and 2001. Fourth-grade tests show progress for black and Hispanic students. Since the first fourth-grade tests in 1999, the percentage of blacks and Hispanics meeting all standards doubled.
Meanwhile, set graduation requirements higher -- 64 percent is barely passing in most schools. Make high schools accountable for meeting higher performance targets. Start with the state's 127 lowest-performing high schools, which have an average graduation rate of 40 percent.
Examine teacher qualifications. Teachers are certified, but in what? The Board of Regents plans to mandate that all teachers be certified in subjects they are actually teaching.
Buffalo's trying harder. Superintendent James A. Williams plans to provide summer school and after school help. Buffalo is also emphasizing literacy in the early grades, and the School Board recently voted to end social promotion.
Educators must do better to raise graduation rates and overall achievement. These new data provide more impetus.