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HOUSTON, WE HAVE A SIMILAR PROBLEM: New York City Struggles to Accurately Count Dropouts

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"We've had guidance counselors calling on their cell phones from the bathroom saying they've been told to get rid of kids,"

New York City schools are facing charges reminiscent of the recent accusations against the Houston Independent School District, according to the New York Times. The Times is reporting that many of the city’s public schools are trying to improve their graduation rates by pushing out students who struggle academically. This strategy presumably would improve the school’s statistics by recording students as going to “auxiliary services” programs rather than as dropouts.

Citing a report by Advocates for Children, the article notes that New York City schools discharged more than 55,000 high school students during the 2000-2001 school year-a number that dwarfs the 34,000 students who actually graduated from high school. “It’s not a new problem, it’s just worse,” said Elisa Hyman, a deputy director of Advocates for Children. “We’ve had guidance counselors calling on their cell phones from the bathroom saying they’ve been told to get rid of kids,” she told the Times.

The problem of encouraging, or even forcing, lower-performing students to leave school is not confined to New York City and Houston. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools with low graduation rates risk falling into the “in need of improvement” category, where they could face federal sanctions. In Miami, school officials are investigating a principal who tried to remove students he viewed as a drag on the school’s test scores.

Meanwhile, in New York City, scores of students who have not completed high school are rushing to sign up for General Educational Development (G.E.D.) diploma classes, which traditionally serve low-income adults and immigrants. However, according to Azi Ellowitch, a teacher at the Lehman College Adult Learning Center, more and more young students are registering for a G.E.D. program. “These are kids who have gone back and forth, and have fallen behind,” she told the New York Times. “Schools don’t seem to know what to do with that. Those kids are the least appropriate for the G.E.D. program. If they need brushing up, we can certainly help them. But that’s not what most of these kids need. They need years of basic learning.”

At the same time, an unconventional view is gaining currency among some educators who argue that some students would be better served if they could “escape from the routine and irrelevancies of an American secondary school” before graduation. In a June column in theWashington Post entitled, “Is Dropping Out of High School Always Bad?,” Jay Mathews wrote about the ideas of Ron Wolk, the creator ofEducation Week. Wolk claims that some students, usually those unchallenged by typical high school fare, might be better served by dropping out of high school and beginning work on a G.E.D.

In his most recent column Mathews explores the practical application of Wolk’s ideas through the stories of several high school students who dropped out of school and have already earned several hours of college credit at a community college by the time their classmates graduate from high school.

Read the New York Times article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/31/nyregion/31PUSH.html?hp

The Jay Matthews article is available at:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62192-2003Jul29.html

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