January 11, 2016

Rising graduation rates reflect steady progress, greater state investment needed to close achievement gap

Source: NYSUT Media Relations
ALBANY, N.Y. Jan. 11, 2016  — New York State United Teachers today said higher graduation rates reflect steady progress by public education and the hard work of dedicated teachers and staff, but noted the achievement gap remains unacceptable and called out for a much greater state investment in public education.   
NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said the 1.7 percent increase in the state’s graduation rate — to 78.1 percent — does not truly reflect gains being made in New York’s classrooms. She noted, for example, the August graduation rate — 80.3 percent — is slightly above New York’s goal of 80 percent that has been approved by the U.S. Department of Education. And, the graduation rate in the state’s high-needs, large city districts has climbed 5.2 percent in three years.  
“The rising graduation rates reflect hard work by dedicated teachers and school related professionals who, in concert with parents and their communities, are doing whatever they can to ensure that no child falls through the cracks,” Magee said. “However, the achievement gap remains stubbornly and unacceptably high, and educators will not rest until it disappears entirely.”
In 2015-16, Magee said, 31 percent of the state’s school districts are operating with less state aid than six years ago, and budget cuts during the Great Recession disproportionately hit districts serving the state’s neediest and most vulnerable student populations. “A significant state aid increase is needed, is justified and will pay off for our students and public schools,” Magee said.   
NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino noted that the Regents’ efforts to boost graduation rates through alternative pathways to a diploma are a “positive step.” She said lifting graduation rates in the state’s large high-needs school districts, where more than half of students live in poverty, will take a significant new investment in smaller class sizes; academic support programs; additional guidance counselors and social workers; and programs to support newly arrived students, English language learners and students with special needs.
“Teachers, parents and students are working hard, and the higher graduation rates reflect that. Many more students are graduating in August, or in five years, and that kind of persistence and dedication should be acknowledged and rewarded,” Fortino said.
Fortino said additional state funding, especially for small city, rural and the Big Five school districts, is essential. “We know that when we provide additional support for access and opportunity to students in high-need districts, they graduate and contribute to the success of their communities and our country,” she said.
New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.
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