NYC Schools Labeled as Drop-Out Factories Fight to Raise Graduation Rates
bjbjLULU MARGARET WARNER: Finally tonight,
a student perspective on one effort to improve the quality of New York City high schools.
This report is the product of a unique partnership involving the NewsHour’s educational division
and an after-school journalism program run by WNYC Radio in New York. Ten students from
around the city worked on researching and producing this. It is narrated by Shivahn
Sen, a freshman at Hunter College in Manhattan. SHIVAHN SEN, Hunter College: In the United
States, 1.3 million students from the class of 2010 didn’t graduate from high school.
Nearly 73,000 of these students were from New York City alone. Fazya Bacchus was dangerously
close to becoming one of the 7,000 students that drop out of school every day. FAZYA BACCHUS,
Flushing High School: Before, I was involved with drugs, and going out to parties, and
fights, and stuff like that. And now it’s going to school and getting my credits and
graduating. SHIVAHN SEN: Fortunately, she had a friend who helped her get back on track.
FAZYA BACCHUS: My best friend, she just told me: Go to school. We will graduate together.
We will go to college together. You know, we just want to do everything together. (LAUGHTER)
SHIVAHN SEN: However, many of Fazya’s classmates fall victim to the numerous difficulties facing
Flushing High School, which is located in Queens, N.Y. FAZYA BACCHUS: They have drug-selling
in the school, and there’s gang fights. There’s just a lot of stuff going on. SHIVAHN SEN:
Flushing High has been labeled a dropout factory by some educators. The term was coined by
Dr. Robert Balfanz of Johns Hopkins University. He characterizes a dropout factory as a school
from which fewer than 60 percent of the students graduate in four years. New York City’s Department
of Education has closed many such schools and targeted others, like Flushing High, for
closure. Robeson High School in Brooklyn is also on the shutdown list. However, teachers
and students at that school think their school’s characterization as a dropout factory is unfair.
LIZABETH COOPER, Paul Robeson High School: In every high school, you always have one
or two students that drop out. But, in Robeson, I see a lot of people graduating. And the
fact that they may not graduate in four years, but they will graduate in that fifth or sixth
year. So, I despise the fact that many people believe that Robeson is a dropout high school.
SHIVAHN SEN: Stefanie Siegel is a longtime teacher at Robeson High. STEFANIE SIEGEL,
Paul Robeson High School: One of the things that we have always been proud of is that,
even though we have young people who come with lots of challenges, we’re able to keep
them here. They won’t graduate in four years, for a variety of reasons: learning disabilities,
or such challenges in their home life, it’s just hard for them to have a good attendance,
so that it ends up taking them longer for those reasons. But they stay. SHIVAHN SEN:
Robeson is not the only school dealing with low graduation rates. The International High
School at Prospect Heights, where Rosie Frascella teaches, is experiencing similar issues. ROSIE
FRASCELLA, International High School at Prospect Heights: You know, my school is special because
they are all English-language learners. SHIVAHN SEN: In fact, students who speak English as
a second language have a four-year graduation rate of less than 40 percent. Teachers at
Prospect also disagree with the label “dropout factory.” ROSIE FRASCELLA: It’s another clich
name. You know, I know what I do. I know about my job. I know, when I go home, I dream about
my kids. I know I think about them. I know I spend at least 10 hours of my day working.
I know we are doing whatever we can with the resources we have, and I have full confidence
in my school. SHIVAHN SEN: When it is overwhelmingly young people of color who attend the schools
targeted for closure, some believe this is a civil rights issue. Anurima Bhargava is
the section chief of civil rights education in the Justice Department. ANURIMA BHARGAVA,
U.S. Department of justice: It is a civil right issue because it is about fairness.
It is about making sure that someone has a chance and that the doors are open to them.
But it’s also about making sure that we are actually preparing students to be able to
work and live and survive in the American economy today, which is very different than
it used to be. SHIVAHN SEN: Advocates like Bhargava point to research that suggests that
one of the most important factors to graduating is simply keeping the kids engaged and providing
them with support. ANURIMA BHARGAVA: So the question is, how do we actually think about
education as — not as a factory and not as a place that — where kids drop out, but as
a place where we’re actually figuring out what are their needs and how do we keep them
there, all right? And that’s going to be a very different model than what we have today
in schools. ROSIE FRASCELLA: Computers and spending a billion dollars on technology and
infrastructure is not going to stop kids from dropping out. Human beings stop kids from
dropping out, calling their parents, having that human conversation, that interaction.
SHIVAHN SEN: Fazya couldn’t agree more. She thinks having an adult who listens would help
kids in school. FAZYA BACCHUS: And when I talk to somebody, it helps me. I feel better,
and I go to my classes. I do what I have to do. SHIVAHN SEN: Paul Robeson High School
increased its four-year graduation rate from 40.4 percent last year to 50 percent this
year. However, the school remains slated for closure. h Fe h Fe h Fe h Fe h Fe h Fe h Fe
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State MARGARET WARNER: Finally tonight, a student perspective on one effort to improve
the quality of New York City high schools Normal Microsoft Office Word MARGARET WARNER:
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