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High dropout rate, open questions at schools that closed in 2011

Of nearly 600 students who were enrolled in four high schools that closed their doors last year, less than half graduated and at least 22 percent left the school system without a diploma.

The information is contained in trove of data the Department of Education released today, in accordance with a recent City Council mandate, about the students who remained in 15 schools during their final year of operation last year. In addition to the four high schools, the city closed six middle schools, three elementary schools, and two primary schools last year. Together, those schools enrolled 1,994 students, ranging from just 54 at a Manhattan middle school to 358 at Canarsie High School in Brooklyn.

The council imposed the reporting requirement amid criticism that students affected by school closures drop out at a disproportionately higher rate as a result. At the high schools that closed last year, the dropout rate was indeed high, at 22.1 percent. A state audit last year put the city’s dropout rate at 10 percent.

But a high dropout rate could be expected — after all, the remaining students were those who had straggled at some of the lowest-performing schools in the city and had stayed there after other students had sought transfer to other schools. The students might well have dropped out even if their school stayed open.

More interesting, some say, are questions the data do not answer.

“What I’d really like to know is, what happened to all the other kids in the school when the closure was announced?” said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York. “These were much bigger schools.”

And at a press conference on Tuesday, several mayoral candidates asked for details about what has happened to students who would have attended schools that have closed but no longer have them as an option. They suggested, as has Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, that those students wind up in “warehouses” of low-performing, high-needs students.

According to the city’s data, just 60 of the 1,994 students in all grades were discharged from the system, meaning that they enrolled in a school elsewhere or provided a valid reason for not staying enrolled in the city.

The city released the required data, along with some voluntary details about the schools’ and students’ academic performance, in a 22-page document, posted below. Here are some highlights:

  • The average graduation rate at the high schools in their last year was 44 percent, higher than the 35.2 percent average they posted in 2007, just before the city moved to close them. But at Far Rockaway, just 30 percent of students graduated, and most of them received local diplomas.
  • The 81 students who remained enrolled in a city high school after their schools closed dispersed across 31 different schools. The School for Cooperative Technical Education, a vocational training program, received 37 of them; no other school took more than nine students.
  • The number of students who earned Regents diplomas from the four schools (127) matched the number of students who dropped out. Ten percent received an IEP diploma for students with special needs, which the state might eliminate because it does not qualify students for college or the military. Just eight students earned an Advanced Regents diploma, the highest credential the state offers.
  • Seventeen percent of the high school students completed at least one course through credit recovery, the controversial practice meant to help students make up missed credits that has attracted allegations of abuse.
  • Of the 1,994 students enrolled at the 15 schools last year, 17.7 percent received special education services, compared to about 14 percent of all students citywide.
  • Nearly a quarter of the students met the standards for chronic absenteeism, attending school only 80 percent of the time or less. At the high schools, that number was even higher. On average, about half of students at the High School for Public Safety & Law Students (81 students) and Far Rockaway High School (66 students) missed at least one out every five days of school last year.
  • Eighty-five percent of students at elementary and middle schools that closed last year were promoted to the next grade. But at KAPPA II middle school in Manhattan, just a third of the students were promoted. The other two-thirds were assigned to repeat the grade at a different school.

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