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Schools Reduce the Number of Students They Force to Leave Early
Schools Reduce the Number of Students They Force to Leave Early

Published: December 24, 2003

Five months after Chancellor Joel I. Klein admitted that the New York City schools were wrongly pushing out many struggling high school students, the Department of Education says it has turned around its handling of students who have fallen behind and are not expected to graduate on time.

"Discharges are absolutely down for the period ending Dec. 18," said Lester W. Young Jr., who heads the Office of Youth Development and School-Community Services. "We inherited a problem, the chancellor promised to fix it, and I believe we're on the right track."

Mr. Young said the number of students discharged from the city school system fell to 73,845 this year, from 91,585 last year, adding, "We're serious about this. We're not going to push kids out. Our job is to keep kids in." The number of dropouts, too, has plummeted this school year, to 9,873 as of Dec. 18, less than half as many as in the same period last year.

Those figures are impressive, even to critics of the school system, but many of those critics are less than confident that the problem has been solved.

Advocates for Children, a nonprofit group that represents many young people told to leave their schools, said it was getting as many calls for help as ever. This fall it filed two new lawsuits against city high schools for illegally discharging struggling students.

"It's certainly a good sign if the number of discharges is dropping," said Elisa Hyman, the lawyer handling the cases. "But the current procedures are not sufficient. Many schools are still pushing students out or have failed to re-enroll them when they have tried to come back after having been pushed out last year. It must be made clear that kids have at least seven years to try to graduate."

Last January, the group filed a federal class action lawsuit against Franklin K. Lane High School, which discharged half its student population over a three-year period. After the new procedures were in effect, the group filed lawsuits this fall against two more high schools, charging that they, too, were illegally discharging students.

Although state law gives students the right to stay in high school until they are 21, Mr. Klein conceded last summer that many students who were unlikely to graduate on time were being counseled, or even forced, to leave long before then.

"The problem of what's happening to the students is a tragedy," Mr. Klein said in July. "It's not just a few instances, it's a real issue."

Many operators of high school equivalency programs say they are seeing just as many young people as ever. At the Brooklyn Adult Literacy Program, for example, a discouraged Anita Cares said she was still deluged with calls from students who have been told to get a General Education Development diploma because they will not graduate on time.

"We've gotten kids discharged from F.D.R., Midwood, Boys and Girls and Cobble Hill, kids who came in and said, `They told me to leave and get my G.E.D.,' " said Ms. Cares, director of the Brooklyn program.

Some G.E.D. administrators say that not only are they hearing from as many pushed-out students as they did last year some are hearing from more but that the students seem to be younger.

"Last year we were getting a lot of calls from 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds," said Stacie Evans, director of adult education at Sunset Park Adult and Family Education in Brooklyn. "This year, most of the calls are 16-year-olds, and even 15-year-olds."

Just how many students are being forced out of school has been impossible to determine, in part because the system under which they were classified into bureaucratic "codes" that made it easy to avoid counting them in their original school's dropout statistics and impossible to determine where they had gone, why, or what had become of them. Nor did the city compile or release citywide statistics on how many students left each year in which category.

In September, the Board of Education changed its procedures, cutting down the number of codes and re-grouping them. The new codes have created their own confusion, though: it is now impossible to distinguish between students who transfer from one regular high school to another and those who are sent into auxiliary and alternative programs that lead, at best, to a General Education Development diploma. Both those moves are a Code 00.

— Tamar Lewin
New York Times


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