The Philadelphia Daily News
Study: Graduation rates in district up
Critics: Edison report doesn't mention it
November 15, 2001
by Mensah M. Dean
A study has found that the School District of Philadelphia has a much higher graduation rate than most of the nation's largest school systems, a point not included in the recent Edison Schools Inc. study of city schools, critics of the for-profit firm said yesterday.
Philadelphia ranked 14th out of the 50 largest systems, with 70 percent of its seniors graduating on time in 1998, according to the study conducted by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a New York think tank.
Commissioned by the Black Alliance for Educational Options - which ironically has ties to Edison - the study also showed that Philadelphia ranks seventh out of the 45 largest systems in graduating African-American students: 65 percent.
Edison - which the state wants to manage city schools - recently completed its own state-commissioned study of Philadelphia schools. It did not mention those graduation figures, but instead asserted that over the last 10 years Philadelphia schools have been among the worst in the nation with a 50 percent dropout rate.
The Edison report compared Philadelphia to three "similar-sized" districts to make the point that each had better student performance while spending less money.
The new study indicates that Philadelphia's graduation rate, however, is higher than the three: Broward County (Fort Lauderdale) 60 percent, Clarke County (Las Vegas) 54 percent and Houston, 52 percent. Edison critics also noted that Philadelphia maintained a higher graduation rate while also having a higher poverty rate.
Deidre Farmbry, the school district's chief academic officer, said the new study validates the internal reforms that are underway.
"We have put in place many programs to provide the assistance our students need to graduate and be productive citizens," she said, "and those programs are paying off in a graduation rate that would be the envy of school districts across the nation."
Steve Aaron, Gov. Schweiker's spokesman, dismissed the graduation study. "What those numbers do not show you is what type of education have they received. Where are they going after graduation? Do they have the ability to read? Are they going to good colleges?"
Jay Greene, the Manhattan Institute senior fellow who wrote the study, said that in the graduation rate, the school district is in the middle or upper middle of the pack. He noted white students have a 91 percent graduation rate. Mayor Street and school district officials have complained bitterly that Edison has been evasive in explaining how it reached its conclusions. And they have denounced Edison's recommendation that the district be run by a private company.
If Gov. Schweiker and Street don't agree on a reform plan by Nov. 30, it is likely that Edison will be hired to manage the schools.
Meanwhile, Street was urged yesterday to return to negotiations with the state in a letter from a business group, Greater Philadelphia First, and a joint letter from state Sen. Vincent Fumo and state Rep. Dwight Evans. *
©2001 The Philadelphia Daily News