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Editorial: An incomplete on graduation rates

Improved high school graduation rates, even by inches, means things are heading in the right direction but more important is making sure students have actually learned something.

Graduates must be able to get a job, support a family and contribute to society. Sadly, too many graduates are unable to complete basic college work. If students are socially promoted without the skills to make them successful in life, improved graduation rates mean nothing. Same goes for pathways to graduation. It must be rigorous.

Ian Rosenblum, executive director of the Education Trust-New York is concerned about an increase in local diplomas rather than Regents diplomas. He is concerned about the declining four-year graduation rates and increasing dropout rates for English language learners.

Rosenblum’s statement followed state Education’s announcement on 2017 statewide high school graduation rates. No one should be overjoyed.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia struck an appropriate cautionary tone, noting that the state’s graduation rate “continues its steady, upward trend,” but there are “troubling gaps in achievement” and that “we must accelerate the pace of improvement.”

Disparities among blacks, Hispanics and students learning English as a new language compared to their white counterparts remains disheartening. Urban districts cater to students from various backgrounds and the City of Buffalo is a case study.

The Buffalo school district held steady at 64 percent of last year’s graduating class earning their diplomas on time. That figure includes those who graduated in August. It is the same percentage as the previous year. Buffalo Public Schools must do better.

Superintendent Kriner Cash has targeted the next two years to reach the goal of 70 percent graduation rate. He intends to achieve the goal with more students earning “more rigorous diplomas.” Rigor is exactly what is needed to help young people grow into productive adults.

Regents diplomas in Buffalo increased by 4 percent, and 16 percent of the 2,452-student cohort is still enrolled, according to the district, which plans to offer more advanced coursework, innovative high schools and alternate pathways to graduation. That suggests a heartening increase not just in graduates, but graduates who are ready to move on.

The top achieving schools are familiar: City Honors, Olmsted, Leonardo da Vinci, Middle Early and Hutchinson-Central Technical. These schools posted graduation rates of more than 90 percent. That’s great. What about low-performing schools? Cash said it: Half of the city’s schools are above the state average for graduation rates, while the other half are below.

The superintendent has several strategies to improve educational outcomes: New Education Bargain, New Innovative High Schools, Rigorous Elementary Education, Extended Learning Time Programs, summer school options and Community School Saturday Academies, along with the “strong partnership” with Say Yes Buffalo.

The district promises “to work strategically with parents, teaches, mentors, pastors, our consortium of higher education leaders, and business partners, to engage students and promote higher aspirations,” the district’s statement read. They could have thrown in more partners, from neighbors to strangers.

Everyone is a stakeholder when it comes to improving educational outcomes. It takes a village to raise a child and each one of us should be an active participant.

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