December 20, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
After years of Hartford school board members asking for numbers that reflect the city's actual graduation rate, the new superintendent delivered the news Tuesday: 29 percent.
"That is our true graduation rate," Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski said. "We are the lowest of the low in a state that is the highest of the high nationally."
Hearing what many would consider to be terrible news, school board members were giddy with excitement because they long believed the reality was more grim than the figures the public school system typically reports to the state. But board members didn't have the data to back up their hunches.
For the 2005-06 school year, for example, Hartford reported an annual graduation rate of 89 percent to the state, using criteria that appear to meet state standards. But Adamowski, at the board's request, took his own approach and broke down the data differently.
By Adamowski's calculation, 29 percent of the students who started together as freshmen made it to graduation in the 2005-06 school year; 10 percent dropped out; 27 percent remained enrolled but attended school only sporadically; and 34 percent transferred out of the district.
The largest number of students who transferred "out of the district" actually transferred to the city's adult education program, which is not accredited as a high school program, Adamowski said. So students can't use their diploma from the program to go to college.
Expressing outrage, Adamowski showed the board data revealing that more students graduate from adult education than from any of the accredited high schools.
"Our high schools may be pushing out the most challenging students or we may be providing an incentive for kids to go to the adult school because it's easier," Adamowski said.
"Given the levels of literacy in our city we need an adult school," he said, but students who enroll should be adults, not students of high school age.
Board members were delighted by the dose of reality.
"I've always thought the graduation rate was in that neighborhood," said Mayor Eddie A. Perez, chairman of the school board.
In the past, Perez has scoffed at graduation and dropout data provided by the school district. "We wanted to have a baseline of reality no matter how shocking that is," he said Tuesday. "This is a picture of reality. This is not bad news - this is the truth. We have a crisis and we need to work on that crisis. We have to act like grown-ups who want to do something."
Others expressed the same sentiment.
Board members Israel Flores, who graduated from Hartford Public High School, and Elizabeth Noel, who was a guidance counselor at Weaver High School for years, said they were not at all surprised by the numbers because they saw firsthand how many students dropped out. It frustrated them that the district didn't acknowledge what they suspected was the truth, they said.
Andrea Comer, another board member, was taken aback to learn that seven of 10 students weren't making it. "I was shocked. I knew the number had to be bad because they wouldn't give it to us."
For three hours Adamowski delivered other information that was less surprising but no less grim, showing poor science, reading and math performance of students. Those three areas must be prioritized, he said.
He also suggested as goals increasing student enrollment in college and raising parent and community satisfaction with the schools.
He hinted that he may propose increasing the school year by as much as a month - noting that European nations that outperform the United States have longer school years. And he criticized the school calendar that starts the school year after Labor Day and gives students a week off before they take the all-important Connecticut Mastery Test.
Adamowski noted that the state Department of Education has not enforced the edicts of the federal No Child Left Behind law requiring the redesign of schools that fail to improve. But the district should go ahead and do it anyway, he said. He suggested that some schools may be converted to charter schools while others may partner with area businesses, such as insurance companies, that would join the governance body of the school. Other schools would be reconstituted under different models, he said.
"You have to imagine a future where Milner School in its current form no longer exists," Adamowski said, naming one of the city's lowest-performing schools.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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