As I scroll through my social media news feed, I am so excited to see all the graduates. From Pre-K to eighth-grade, from high-school to college and beyond, each graduation is momentous and marks an educational milestone for not only the graduates and their loved ones, but for their teachers as well.
Graduation season, for most, is a time of celebration, reflection, and planning for future endeavors, whether they are going off to college, entering the work force, or joining a branch of the armed forces. Although graduation rates have improved over the last three to five years, sadly, a large cross-section of seniors in New York City’s public schools are ineligible for graduation because they didn’t meet the City and/or State requirements. This group is almost solely comprised of Black and Latino students from the general education and special education tracks.
As Kate Taylor writes in the New York Times,
Statewide, the disparities in graduation rates remain large for black and Hispanic students versus white students, students with disabilities versus general-education students, and students who are still learning English versus proficient English speakers. The rate for black and Hispanic students is more than 20 percentage points below that of white students, though the gap has narrowed by roughly five points since 2014.
Five points in three years! At this pace the achievement gap will never fully close. The world in which we live continues to grow exponentially and the skills needed in order to be upwardly mobile in our society requires knowledge and experiences that students of color, many already behind socially and economically, are not receiving.
The logical question that comes to mind is why not? What are we as a society — not just a set of school districts — not doing? Who should be held accountable for whole groups of students not graduating from high school and, sometimes worse yet, graduating from high school and entering college under-prepared for the rigor of college-level coursework? Are we, the NYC Department of Education, an educational powerhouse, really okay with graduating students who are the antithesis of “college and career ready,” the very phrase we coined? As an educator within this entity I am not pleased with these numbers, with these realities, and I pose these questions to myself as much as I do to you.
I mentioned students who go to college not truly having the reading comprehension and writing skills necessary to manage the challenges of college-level reading and writing assignments. Many times, such students knew from middle school that either college wasn’t for them or that their high schools would never adequately prepare them for higher education but they had few options in terms of technical or vocational schools. This needs to change. I see high value in the schools of New York revamping and re-implementing their vocational and technical education programs. In particular, the City could take notes from Long Island and Upstate NY’s BOCES programs which provide students with opportunities for a career and technical education in the fields of auto mechanics, cosmetology, and culinary arts.
I can not tell you how many students I have taught over the course of my teaching career who have been naturally savvy in IT-related work and in areas requiring them to work with their hands. More apprenticeships that lead to union trade careers like plumbers and iron workers need to be available. Not only would we see graduation rates increase for those currently not meeting the mark, we would simultaneously be helping our society meet the needs of the mosaic of intelligences and creativities that its members possess. This one-size-fits-all model of graduating from high school and going to college is not for everyone and, at the end of the day, even the doctor and the lawyer needs an auto-mechanic to fix her car and a plumber to check the leaky faucet in his kitchen sink.
According to Emily Richmond, “University of Connecticut researcher Shaun M. Dougherty looked at 100,000 students who entered the ninth grade in Arkansas between 2008 and 2010. His report, published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, compared their academic records through high school, and then tracked them for an additional year beyond graduation.”
Among the findings: “Students with greater exposure to CTE are more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in a two-year college, be employed, and earn higher wages.” Dougherty also concluded that CTE didn’t preclude or discourage students from continuing their educations after high school.”
I give a huge shout out today to all of the students graduating from high school and stepping into their futures as burgeoning adults. Yay, Class of 2017! In the same breath, I encourage those students who, for whatever reason, are still working towards graduation from high school, don’t give up. Go fiercely in the direction of your dreams. Challenge yourself and those around you help you achieve those dreams. Put in the work. In the end, it will be worth it. I promise you.