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Education Reporter

Challenged on Multiple Fronts 
Big Apple schools face absenteeism, staff
crime, dropouts, 'pushouts,' & low test scores
NEW YORK, NY - New York City schools have suffered a spate of embarrassing publicity in recent months, adding to the Herculean turnaround task of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

During 2002-03, 1,495 education department employees were busted for crimes - an average of more than one crime for each of the city's 1,200 schools and an 18% jump from the previous year. Most of the alleged crimes, which included drug offenses, robbery, sexual abuse, falsifying documents and unlawful weapons possession, occurred off school property. Staffers arrested for serious offenses are immediately reassigned to desk jobs and away from students pending the outcome of their criminal cases, the chancellor's aides told the New York Post (9-2-03).

Over the summer, 40% of the city's 279,772 high school students were enrolled in summer classes because they flunked courses or state Regents exams. Many of the summer students didn't bother to show up, which is no surprise given that 18% of high-school students don't show up on any given day during the school year. In some of the worst schools, more students play hooky than go to school (nypost.com, 7-14-03).

The city's official dropout rate is around 20%. However, if the students who are "pushed out" were included, the number could be 25% to 30%. With state standards requiring students to pass stringent Regents exams in order to graduate, many schools are pressuring students who may hurt the schools' statistics to leave long before graduation, according to the New York Times (7-31-03). Chancellor Klein has conceded that "pushouts" are "a real issue."

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools with low graduation rates risk being designated as "failing." Under the city's statistical reporting system, dropouts count against a school's graduation rate but most discharges do not. The city's schools discharged more than 55,000 high school students during 2000-01 and graduated 34,000.

Not all discharges are "pushouts"; discharges include students who move out of the city, transfer to private schools, drop out voluntarily, or "transfer to another educational setting." The latter category can hide "pushouts," according to the Times report.

In the wake of high failure rates on the Regents exams, New York State's education commissioner plans to lower the bar for graduation. Only about 37% of the state's 11th- and 12th-grade students who took the Math A exam passed it last year, which led commissioner Richard P. Mills to set aside the results. The previous year, 61% passed. Many teachers also denounced the physics exam as too tough. The state education officials plan to make adjustments to the tests and loosen the score requirements for graduation (New York Times 10-9-03).

The Regents exams are part of an eight-year effort by New York State to strength-en educational standards. To earn a diploma, high school students must pass statewide exams in English, math, a science, American history and government, and world history and geography.

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