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Gates: NYC grad rates are good, but students not college-ready

SEATTLE — One of the most interesting parts of the Gates announcement (detailed more in this Ed Week story that just went up) is not the new direction the foundation is taking, but the conclusions it has drawn about its old direction, which leaders are criticizing for not focusing enough on what happens inside classrooms.

What does this mean for New York City, where the explosion of small high schools has been largely bankrolled by Gates funding — and where efforts to improve the public schools have been focused mainly on structure, not curriculum?

Bill Gates suggested that the New York City small schools have been an exception to the overall disappointing results of small school projects, noting that in 2006 the schools’ graduation rates at small schools were 18 percentage points higher than the citywide rate. Then he thanked Chancellor Joel Klein, who was in the audience, and Mayor Bloomberg, who was not, for working with the Gates Foundation.

But just a few minutes later, Gates pointed out one major shortcoming of the New York City small schools: Students were just as unprepared for college as were students citywide. Less than 40% of graduates, he said, met the City University of New York’s standards for college readiness, giving them no appreciable advantage over graduates citywide. (I’m looking into what he’s referring to; my guess is that his evidence is the number of students who graduated with a full Regents diploma, versus the easier-to-attain local diploma.)

Later, announcing the foundation’s intention to improve teacher performance by exploring with merit-based pay systems, Bill Gates named three programs he sees as exemplary models — none of them New York City. (The three places were Denver, Prince George’s County, Maryland, and the charter school network Green Dot.)