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Buffalo's high school graduation rate falls to 47%

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WBFO News file photo
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The Buffalo Public Schools District has once again experienced a drop in its graduation rate. The State Education Department released graduation rates Monday. Statewide, the rate held steady at 74 percent for the first class of students required to meet new, stricter graduation requirements.

Four of the "big five" state districts posted graduation rates slightly lower than in 2011. But for Buffalo, the rate dropped by more than seven percent to just under 47 percent.  

Students who entered high school in 2008 were the first who didn't have the option of graduating with a so-called "local" diploma, meaning they had to earn a regents diploma requiring them to pass five regents exams.

New York City's rate was 60 percent. Yonkers held at 66 percent while Syracuse was at 48 percent and Rochester 43 percent.

WBFO News reached out to city Schools Superintendent Pamela Brown for reaction. Her office issued a written statement, noting that since her arrival, Brown has implemented several strategies to improve the rate, including the creation of a "college-going culture," improving instruction, and intervention for struggling students. 

The district has set an aggressive target of an 80 percent graduation rate by the year 2018.

There has been an uproar for years about the high school graduation rate in Buffalo, with parents, teachers, administrators, and the public saying it has to get better.

Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, tells WBFO News the graduation rate reflects economic disparities.

"There's this huge disparity between what's offered in the schools in Buffalo and what's offered in the wealthy suburbs around the state and that closely correlates with the fact that those wealthy districts have much higher investment spending per student and much higher...they are able to offer higher quality program," said Easton.

Easton says districts like Buffalo need more pre-kindergarten programs, more Advanced Placement, and in Buffalo, more effort to get kids to show up every day.

State Regent Robert Bennett says the new Common Core Standards will help down the line but some immediate changes are needed.

"Given the new Common Core standards that we just finished our first year of implementing, in the years ahead, we have continued high expectations for students. So, I think the adults have got to work a little bit differently and a little bit more effectively to make sure we have better results," said Bennett.

Bennett says Buffalo has to regain control of its school buildings so they can be kept open much longer hours and provide more tutoring and social services.

The following is the full statement issued by Superintendent Pamela Brown: 

"Upon my arrival in Buffalo, I learned that the District's graduation rate from 2011-2012 was around 48% based on preliminary results.  In response to that, the District immediately implemented several strategies in order to improve our graduation rate, including the following:

Creating a College-going Culture through:

Setting an aggressive target of an 80% graduation rate by 2018
Informing the community about Say Yes scholarships
Ensuring that all graduating seniors apply for college and scholarships

Improving Instruction through:

Providing professional development for all staff
Conducting Instructional Rounds in all schools
Increasing access to student data for early intervention

Interventions for Struggling Students through:

Providing after-school academic programs
Providing a Credit Recovery program
Offering Summer School for all students

With these key strategies in place, we are very optimistic that increased graduation rates will follow.  As always, it is our goal to provide a world-class education for every child.
      

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.