The city announced earlier this year that for the first time ever, the average high school graduation rate had topped 70 percent. But according to a study released today, the numbers are much less encouraging when you compare rich neighborhoods to poorer ones: students living in Battery Park City, Greenwich Village, and Soho graduate on time over 95.1% of the time, while students who live in Morris Heights, Fordham South, and Mount Hope graduate in four years just 60.9% of the time.
Measure of America analyzed high school graduation rates according to the neighborhoods in which students live, as opposed to those in which they go to school. The study's authors included students who attend charter schools, as well as those attending public schools, but omitted students attending private or parochial schools.
The conclusion was depressing, if not surprising: students in neighborhoods with high poverty rates are less likely to graduate high school on time, and conversely, the higher median household income is in a neighborhood, the higher the graduation rate of students who live there.
And according to the city, racial disparities in the city's graduation rates still persist: 85% of Asian students and 82% of white students are graduating on time, while black and Hispanic students are graduating at rates of 65.4 and 64%, respectively.
"Far too many young people from low-income black and Latino neighborhoods in the Bronx and central Brooklyn are winding up in high schools with low graduation rates, going to school mostly with other teens who share their socioeconomic disadvantages," the report says. "For them, the link between neighborhood conditions and school quality remains as strong as ever, even if the school they now attend is farther from home."
The researchers also found that students who live in districts where adults have completed bachelor's degrees have considerably higher high school graduation rates than those where fewer adults received four-year college degrees. Lastly, researchers found that in neighborhoods where few people use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, students tend to graduate high school on time.
The city's school choice program, introduced in 2004 in part to combat the link between students' home addresses and graduation rates, has rising high schoolers rank up to 12 schools that they would like to attend, and allows students attending eligible lower-performing high schools to apply to transfer elsewhere.
But as this research shows, that link remains strong—the report from Measure of America hypothesizes that it's because there simply aren't enough good schools to serve all of the city's high schoolers. It also notes that identifying and applying to 12 high schools is a time-consuming process, and that families living in poverty typically have less time to spend on such a task.
The report's authors argue that the city needs to be doing more to address these disparities, noting that in parts of the city—many in the Bronx—four in ten students won't graduate high school on time.
"The city's school choice program does provide benefits to some children," said Kristen Lewis, a co-director of Measure of America and one of the authors of the report. "But it rests on the assumption that all kids have adults in their lives with the time, language skills, social networks, and financial resources required to navigate this bewildering process.
"Unfortunately, many don't. We need reforms to help level the playing field for these kids. As a start, middle schools need more guidance counselors with smaller caseloads, and families need more good high school options across the city to choose from."