A record number of public high-school graduates enrolled in college or a vocational program, the Department of Education announced Nov. 26, but one educator believed that school reforms were not the main reason for the uptick.

Of the graduating class of 2017, 59 percent registered for a two- or four-year college or a vocational program, up from 51 percent at the start of Mayor de Blasio’s first term, he noted. More than 45,000 students were college-bound, up from 43,466 in 2016.

‘Shows System’s Better’

“It’s an all-time high for New York City public schools. That shows that our school system is really doing better and better,” the Mayor told Errol Louis the same day the figures were released.

The DOE credited fees being waived for applications to the City University of New York—which 58 percent of the college-bound students will attend—as well as its Equity and Excellence for All agenda, for the increase.

“When you make things free—let’s face it, when you don’t have to pay for SAT tests, when you don’t have to track it down, it’s in your school, if you know the CUNY application fee is for free, it just keeps expanding the pool,” Mr. de Blasio said.

The number of high-school juniors who took the SAT jumped 51 percent after the fee was waived, the DOE noted. The de Blasio administration has touted a record-high graduation rate—74 percent—of public high-school students, but has also faced criticism for gaps in achievement among black and Latino students.

“We are building a college and career-ready culture in every single one of our middle and high schools, removing barriers to college and career access, and giving our students the resources they need to succeed after graduation,” said Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza.

Not the Right Gauge

But David Bloomfield, a Professor of Educational Leadership, Law, and Policy at Brooklyn College, said that the graduation rate was not the best indicator of academic quality: instead, a more-critical one was the number of students who met CUNY’s standard of college readiness. About 74 percent of CUNY freshmen had to take remedial math, while 23 percent and 33 percent, respectively, were placed in remedial reading and writing classes.

The data showed slight gains in college readiness: 49 percent of graduates were found to be sufficiently prepared, compared to 46 percent in 2016.

“The percent of students who successfully completed classes that will prepare them for college remained relatively flat, so the DOE didn’t move the needle,” Mr. Bloomfield said in a phone interview.

He added that at least some of the gains were because of “structural reforms rather than instructional reforms.” Last year, CUNY eased its college readiness standards by removing a requirement that students take an advanced math class. But the DOE attributed 2-percent of the 3-point increase to improvements in academic achievement.

Mr. Bloomfield noted there was an important piece of information missing from the data: “the large number of students who drop out.” Though the high-school dropout rate is the lowest in the city’s history—last year, it was 7.8 percent—that wasn’t a significant change from a year earlier, when the figure was 8.4 percent, according to figures released this past February.

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