spin cycle

Bloomberg praises 2011 grad data growth, but hedges on future

Bloomberg with Walcott and Nilda Gomez-Katz, one of four high school principals at the old Bushwick High School building.

Mayor Bloomberg did his best to put a rosy spin on the newly-released graduation rates that showed New York City’s progress last year has flattened for the first time in seven years.

Stunted graduation numbers weren’t a setback as much as they were an impressive achievement in the face of higher standards, he said at a press conference this afternoon. And better rates of improvement in other cities weren’t an indication of New York City’s failures, but a credit to what those school districts were doing right.

“They’re doing a great job and they should be congratulated,” Bloomberg said, even though in past years he’s used such comparisons to tout his own city’s growth. “That doesn’t mean we aren’t doing a great job.”

But even Bloomberg grew sober when asked about future graduation rates. Beginning this year, all students who began high school in 2007 or after will not have the option to earn a less-demanding local diploma, which for years helped prop up the city’s overall graduation numbers.

“That’ll make it tougher,” the mayor said. The man to his left, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, quickly agreed.

Last year, about 10 percent of the city’s graduates earned a local diploma, which was available to students who scored between 55 and 65 on the New York State Regents exams. That won’t be an option this year, meaning graduation rates could drop significantly.

The elimination of the local diploma is part of a larger effort to make students more prepared for college, but critics have said it will leave thousands of students at risk of dropping out.

Officials played down those concerns on Monday and said that demanding graduation requirements was more important than four-year graduation marks.

“If you raise standards, it is going to be tougher to get everybody up to the same level,” Bloomberg said. “But we’re in favor of raising standards.”

Walcott said he didn’t expect dropout rates to increase if students can’t meet the graduation requirements in four years. If anything, he said, the city would focus on efforts to keep them in the school system until they complete their graduation.

Graduation rates could fall for other reasons, as well. As part of new guidelines being implemented next year, principals are required to limit the controversial practice of credit recovery, a program that allows students to quickly earn class credit through online work. The guidelines will also prohibit teachers from grading their own students’ exams, which experts believed led to inflated test scores.

Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suranksy said he expected principals could successfully meet the new guidelines without sacrificing graduation rates.

“We’re confident that, in the data that were seeing, people are rising to the challenge,” said Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suranksy.

The press conference took place in a classroom belonging to the Academy of Urban Planning, one of four small high schools that replaced the now-closed Bushwick High School. Bloomberg used the opportunity to highlight the differences in graduation rates between low-performing high schools and the small schools that replaced them when they closed. In 2002, the 19 large high schools had a combined graduation rate of 35.7 percent, while the small high schools that replaced them stood at 68 percent in 2011.

But even parts of those numbers were disputed. The United Federation of Teachers emailed reporters a graph showing that the graduation rate of more than 100 new small high schools had dropped significantly from 77 percent to 69 percent in the last five years.

DOE officials quickly sent over what they said was a more accurate graph of the same schools. Graduation rates have declined from 73 percent in 2009 to 70 percent last year, according to the DOE’s version.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.