Over the past decade, New York City’s high school graduation rate has risen dramatically, yet roughly a quarter of each entering 9th-grade class still does not graduate on time. Some of these students permanently drop out in their first four years, but a much larger percentage actually stay enrolled (or reenroll after temporarily leaving school) and continue working toward their diploma. These “persisting” students are not only a large group (about one in five—or more than 12,000 students per entering class), they are also particularly vulnerable. Yet, the fact that they continue to have a connection to the education system offers meaningful opportunities to intervene and provide them with support.

On June 7, at an event that engaged a diverse group of NYC scholars, educators, policymakers and community leaders, the Research Alliance’s Zitsi Mirakhur and Kathryn Hill presented findings from our new Persisting Students study. Research Alliance executive director James Kemple opened the event with brief introductory remarks emphasizing the importance of better understanding the experiences and pathways of persisting students. He also explained how this study fits into the Research Alliance’s Equity, Access, and Diversity series—a new line of research that examines areas of progress as well as stubborn barriers to equity, access, and diversity in NYC schools.

Zitsi Mirakhur’s presentation highlighted several key take-aways from the study, including:

  • It is possible to identify at-risk students early;
  • While persisting students are frequently absent, they generally remain enrolled in school;
  • Persisting students have a variety of academic needs, which call for individually tailored interventions; and
  • There are promising strategies to support persisting students as they work toward earing their diploma.

Following Mirakhur’s presentation, Kathryn Hill moderated an electric roundtable discussion with three NYC persisting students, Angelique Lamour and Joseph Bynum—students of Research and Service High School—and Joshua Narcisse—a recent graduate. They spoke to the challenges that led them to fall off track academically, including missing a lot of school, feeling like teachers had “given up” on them, and issues with family or friends. “I had no at-home support, no moral support, and I felt, ‘What’s the point of being in school if I have nobody to prove myself to?’” Narcisse said of his initial experience behind.

The students also described dedicated educators and support staff who had helped them reenage with school and explained what a difference it had made to feel like someone in the school system really cared about their well-being and future endeavors. Hill highlighted how the student discussion underscored several key themes that also emerged in the Research Alliance’s study, including high rates of absenteeism as a predictor of struggling to graduate, the need to communicate early and often with students who begin missing school and falling behind in classes, and the importance of supportive relationships between students and caring adults.

The remainder of the event was dedicated to a stimulating panel discussion moderated by Charlton McIlwain of NYU Steinhardt. Panelists included Michelle Costa of the NYC Department of Education, Mark Dunetz of New Visions for Public Schools, Sister Paulette LoMonaco of Good Shepherd Services, and Dez-Ann Romain of Brooklyn Democracy Academy. The participants shared their thoughts about promising practices for supporting persisting students, and echoed Hill’s remarks about the centrality of relationships.

"A transfer school is a family. I am a head of a household,” said Principal Romain.

Panelists spoke to the need not only to continue supporting persisting students on an individual level, but also to ensure that at-risk students receive the support they need much more consistently and systematically.

"It is within our control to do significantly better,” said Dunetz.

The panelists reflected on important next steps for policy and research focused on this group of students, including critical questions about how to hold schools and systems accountable for serving this vulnerable, but resilient group of young people.

Many thanks to everyone who participated in the event! The conversations that took place will provide important insight and guidance for future Research Alliance work.