By Katya Starostina
Graduate Research Assistant, Urban Initiative
On January 27th, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released graduation and dropout rates for all school districts for the 2012-2013 school year. The state’s four-year graduation rate increased for the seventh consecutive year, with 85 percent of the entire cohort of students who entered 9th grade in 2009 graduating on time four years later (accounting for students who transfer out of or into the district during that time).
For New Bedford and Fall River, graduation rates have been well below the state average and declined the previous school year. This time around, however, the four-year graduation rate in Fall River increased by 5.8 percent and in New Bedford, by 7.2 percent.* This marks a significantly higher percent change than other comparable Gateway Cities such as Lawrence, Lowell, and Brockton. These cities experienced a 1.2, 2.7, and -0.9 percent changes, respectively. According to a post by MassINC, school districts in the state’s Gateway Cities posted an average graduation rate of 75.3 percent, 9.7 percent below the state average.
Improving graduation rates for subgroups has been a priority for the state and specifically Gateway Cities. Over the years, English Language Learners (ELLs), students of color, and low-income students have been graduating at a much lower rate than the rest of the students. In New Bedford, ELLs, whose graduation rate has been on the decline in the last four years, was the most improved of all groups – a 24 percent increase in one year. The graduation rate for Hispanic students increased by 13 percent and the rate for low-income students grew by 5.7 percent.
In Fall River, the group that has seen the biggest decline in the past 4 years has realized the biggest increase this year. The percent change for ELLs is even more significant that in New Bedford – a whopping 54 percent. Graduation rates for Hispanic students increased by 9.2 percent and for low-income students, by 7.6 percent.
The state has recognized the persistent achievement gaps in the Gateway Cities that disproportionately affect low-income students, ELLs, students of color, and students with disabilities. The FY13 state budget included $3.5 million in new funding to support the implementation of the Gateway Cities Education Agenda, proposed by Governor Deval Patrick. The agenda focused especially on supporting ELLs and increasing career readiness for high school students.
According to this press release, New Bedford benefited by receiving $40,000 to launch the New Bedford Academy of Engineering within New Bedford High School that will focus on advanced manufacturing, clean energy, health care, and the STEM fields. Fall River received $45,000 to better prepare students for the growing job opportunities in the STEM fields through the creation of the Science, Engineering, and Math Career Academy. Fall River also received $235,000 to create a five-week intensive summer program centered on English language instruction, literacy workshops, and college awareness to help bridge the transition that ELLs face from middle school to high school.
Governor Patrick proposed an additional investment in education as well to expand access to high quality educational opportunities, totaling approximately $550 million in its first year and increasing to nearly $1 billion annually over the next four years. The proposal includes an additional $20 million to implement all components of the Gateway Cities Education Agenda and increase comprehensive supports to students and their families in Gateway Cities.
In partnership with Gateway City mayors, city managers, and school officials, MassINC recently released The Gateway Cities Vision for Dynamic Community-Wide Learning Systems. A culmination of a year-long series of planning sessions, this vision highlights effective new models to equip students with the necessary skills required by the changing economy. The Vision will guide a multi-year effort to use data and public education to help Massachusetts make the right investments in Gateway City learning systems.
It is exciting to see all the newly developed strategies and funding that New Bedford and Fall River can take advantage of to improve the public school system. The momentum to boost education in Gateway Cities is building, and more and more key stakeholders are taking part. Join the Urban Initiative for the Opportunity in the Gateway Cities Summit hosted by Teach for America in Lawrence on April 12 to contribute to the conversation.
* Percent change was calculated by dividing the percentage difference between the two numbers by the first number and multiplying by 100.