Accountability is the
Key to Improving
New York’s School System
I still remember the day I graduated from high school—even though it was longer ago than I’d like to admit. Graduating is one of the proudest days in anyone’s life—up there with starting your first job, getting married, becoming a parent—or winning a Gold medal. You really can’t overestimate the value of a high school diploma. It opens the doors to college, to better jobs, to higher wages, to a brighter future and that’s why a major focus of our public school reforms is helping more students graduate and move on to college or get a good job.
When we gained control of the public school system in 2002, graduation rates had been stagnant for more than a decade. But because we’ve raised standards and introduced accountability in our schools, graduation rates have climbed steadily every single year. The State Education Department recently released the numbers for 2007 and once again, the percentage of students who graduated within four years increased. The graduation rate for the class of 2007, including August graduates, was 55.8 percent.
While that rate is still much too low, it is climbing faster than it is in the rest of the state, including in other big cities like Syracuse and Buffalo. What’s more, a higher percentage of students are meeting the rigorous requirements needed to earn a Regents Diploma, which means they’re graduating better qualified than ever for successful college careers. More students are also getting diplomas by going to summer school after their senior year or by spending a fifth year in high school and we should applaud them for that, because it shows that they cared enough about their education to stick it out and finish all of their requirements.
But perhaps most uplifting, graduation rates for Black and Hispanic students are climbing at the fastest rates. That’s one more piece of evidence that the shameful and intolerable achievement gap that has separated students of different races and ethnicities is finally beginning to close. Of course, it goes without saying that, despite this encouraging progress, we’ve still got a long way to go. Too many children are not finishing high school. But it’s also just as clear that we are headed in the right direction and we can’t go back to the old days when the school system was mired in dysfunction and people simply shrugged at the fact that students weren’t learning.
Accountability, which starts with mayoral control, has been the key to our school system’s turnaround. It’s given us the ability to phase out social promotion, implement fair funding for all schools, achieve an agreement on merit-based pay for teachers, and other important measures. The result is that crime in our schools is falling, test scores and graduation rates continue to rise and more students are heading off to higher education or the working world, armed with the confidence and skills they need to live out their dreams.#