There was some very good news out of the Buffalo School District last week, with the announcement that 66 percent of graduating seniors enrolled in college last fall, the highest percentage in at least seven years. Questions abound, but the basic news represents a heartening development.
Much of the credit must go to Say Yes to Education, the nonprofit organization that partnered with Buffalo Public Schools two years ago. Part of the deal is that it promises to ensure that all graduating students who want to attend college will have the money to do so.
Buffalo Superintendent Pamela C. Brown also claimed a share of the credit, noting that the district’s preliminary graduation rate for 2013 was 54 percent, a notable increase over the previous year’s dismal 47 percent. If those rates hold up upon review – the district’s numbers are still being audited by the state – then she certainly deserves some of the glory.
There appears to be no doubt about the percentage of students going on to college. The data were provided by the National Student Clearinghouse, which reports that the highest previous percentage in the past six years was 61 percent. Older data has been requested to determine when, if ever, a greater share of Buffalo’s graduating students went on to college.
This development doesn’t signal the end of concerns about moving Buffalo’s students into post-secondary education. Many more should be encouraged to attend college and, across the country, colleges are finding that many high school graduates aren’t prepared for the rigors of higher education. It would be strange, indeed, if Buffalo weren’t overrepresented in that group.
Nevertheless, something fundamental is happening here. Expectations are rising. Students and their parents are lifting their sights. They are starting to understand that their possibilities are far greater than they had counted on. A larger world is opening up. That’s magical. And it’s a standard that, properly nourished, can be passed on from generation to generation. That’s the real promise of Say Yes to Education.
Plainly, though, there is much more work to do. It’s heartening that 66 percent of graduates enrolled in either a two- or four-year college or a post-secondary career program, but the number still leaves out the other 34 percent of Buffalo graduates. The goal must be to continue increasing that number year after year.
The goal also must be to increase the number of students graduating. Say Yes helps with that, but if administrators, teachers and parents aren’t continually improving their performance, then the task becomes very difficult.
And, clearly, it is important to ensure that the students who do graduate are prepared for the demands of higher education. More than half of the 352 Buffalo graduates who enrolled in Erie Community College this year needed at least one remedial course. There can be little more discouraging than for a new freshman to show up for college only to learn, in a particularly painful way, that he doesn’t have the skills necessary.
But Buffalo has made a start and, for today, that’s worth celebrating. Maybe the ship is starting to turn.