It is indeed good news that the overall four-year graduation rate for Chautauqua County high school students broke 80 percent for the Class of 2013.
The county's 80.9 percent graduation rate was higher than the state's 77.8 percent mark. The county's rate of students graduating with a Regents Diploma with Advanced Distinction, 32.8 percent, was also higher than the state average of 30.7 percent.
That doesn't mean John King, state education commissioner, is wrong when he says every school in New York state can do better. A first glance at statistics released earlier this week by the state Education Department shows Chautauqua County schools still had 19.1 percent of their high school students fail to graduate in four years while county schools' dropout rate of 10.5 percent is 2.7 percent higher than the state average.
A further look into the statistics shows county schools - like their counterparts statewide - are struggling to educate the very children who most need an education. King and Meryl Tisch, state Board of Regents chancellor, mentioned during a news conference this week the lingering achievement gap between children classified as economically disadvantaged and children classified as not economically disadvantaged.
Nearly 37 percent of Chautauqua County's Class of 2013 was classified as economically disadvantaged, which the state defines as a student who participates in, or whose family participates in, economic assistance programs that include free and reduced lunch, Social Security Insurance, food stamps, foster care, refugee assistance, receives the Earned Income Tax Credit, HEAP, Safety Net Assistance, the Bureau of Indian Affairs or TANF. If one student in a family is identified as low income, all students from that household (economic unit) may be identified as low income.
Children classified by the state as economically disadvantaged graduate at a much lower rate in Chautauqua County than their non-disadvantaged counterparts (86.4 percent to 71.4 percent) and have a drop-out rate 4.5 percent higher than non-economically disadvantaged students. Chautauqua County schools have a higher graduation rate than the state for economically disadvantaged youth (71.4 percent to 68.7 percent) but more poor Chautauqua County youth drop out of high school than do poor youth statewide, 13.3 percent to 10.2 percent.
Here is why this should trouble each and every Chautauqua County resident.
A 2012 report by the Urban Institute titled "Child Poverty and Its Lasting Consequence" states among children born from the late 1960s through the 1980s, nearly three times as many children born to poor parents dropped out of high school and had teen premarital births, compared with children born to nonpoor parents. It also states children often follow their parents' example in educational attainment. Children whose parents did not finish high school are more likely to enter their 20s without high school degrees than children whose parents are high school graduates.
What happens to those students who drop out of high school? A May 2013 report by the American Psychiatric Association article by Dr. Russell W. Rumberger stated high school dropouts are less likely to find a job and earn a living wage, and more likely to be poor and to suffer from a variety of adverse health outcomes than high school graduates. Rumberger's sources also show high school dropouts are also more likely than graduates to rely on public assistance, engage in crime and generate other social costs borne by taxpayers.
Education is an amazing tool for those who want to have a better life than their parents and grandparents. It is truly unfortunate that so many in our county haven't realized it yet.