The Rochester City School District enrolls just under 30,000 students, 61 percent of whom are African American and 25 percent of whom are Latino. [There are approximate 10,000 school-aged white residents of the city, two-thirds of these are not enrolled in the city’s public schools.] Eighty-five percent of the district’s students are listed as “economically disadvantaged.”

wpid10020-wpid-this_is_dropout_nation_logo2In 2012-13 there were approximately twice as many students enrolled in ninth grade as in 12th grade because of a “gate” assessment at ninth grade. This high ninth grade enrollment is common among schools and districts serving children living in poverty, nearly unknown in wealthy communities. The large number of children spending more than one year in ninth grade can both be attributed to a lack of academic achievement in earlier years and be said to be a factor leading to the absence of a high school diploma four years later.

In the 2011-12 school year, the turnover rate of teachers with fewer than five years of experience was 51 percent. The turnover rate of all teachers was 28 percent, double the state-wide average. In a typical Rochester school, comparatively few teachers are highly educated, few teachers new to teaching are in the classroom after their second year, few of any teachers after their fourth year.

Statewide, 31 percent of New York students reach the National Assessment of Educational Progress Proficient (grade level) status in eighth grade reading, and four percent reach the Advanced level. White students score at Proficient or above 46 percent of the time; black New York State students reach Proficient or above 18 percent of the time. The New York State Department of Education believes that the new Common Core tests begun in 2013 are now aligned with NAEP.

In the 2014 administration of these tests, 5.7 percent of all Rochester eighth grade students scored at grade level in reading, level 3 or above (up from 5.6 percent the previous year). This was the lowest percentage at grade level of any of the state’s large cities. Among white students, 12 percent reached level 3 and 8 percent reached level 4. Among black students, four percent reached level 3 and none reached level 4 (due to rounding, the combined levels 3 and 4 totaled five percent). For black male students, 3 percent reached level 3 and none reached level 4. The failure of the district to teach its black students to read and write by eighth grade is nearly total.


Monroe High School is one of Rochester’s dropout factories.

There are many ways to calculate high school graduation rates, some more exotic than others. There is little difference in results among them for successful districts. On the other hand, they can produce widely differing results for less successful districts because of the ninth grade gate issue. If we wish to focus on the record of the school in educating its students, rather than, say, the “resilience” of individual students to the effects of an inadequate education, the commonsense method of dividing the number of diplomas by the number of students enrolled in ninth grade four years earlier will tell us what we want to know.

There were 2,505 black students in ninth grade of the Rochester public schools in the 2008-09 school year. There were 671 black recipients of New York State’s regular, and Regents, diplomas in 2011-12, a graduation rate of 27 percent. There were 1,330 black male students in ninth grade of the Rochester public schools in the 2008-09 school year. There were 323 black male recipients of New York State’s regular and Regents, diplomas in 2011-12, a graduation rate by this method of 24 percent. Ironically, this is a significant improvement on previous years.

The New York State Department of Education calculates an “Aspirational Performance Measure,” in effect, its judgment of whether students are well-prepared for careers and college. The state judged 5.1 percent of Rochester graduates in June 2013 as satisfying this measure. The percentage of black students was 2.9 percent.

As Princeton University’s Bruce Western and his colleagues have determined, the lifetime chances of incarceration for a young adult African American man without a high school diploma is as high as 60 percent, more – many more – black male students are being prepared by the Rochester schools for jail than for good jobs or college.

Rochester’s education results can be compared to those in a nearby working class suburban district, Greece, which has a k-12 enrollment of 11,281, 13 percent of whom are African American and 72 percent of whom are white. In 2012-13 there were approximately equal numbers of students in all high school grades, that is, the ninth grade “gate” was open. The teacher turn-over rate was 13 percent (half of that of Rochester).

The district’s eighth grade English Language Arts outcomes for 2014 were that 32 percent of the district’s students scored at levels 3 and 4 in the state English Language Arts test; 15 percent of the district’s black students did so, nearly four times that of black students in Rochester. The “four-year graduation-rate total cohort for accountability” of the Greece school district was 84 percent, 76 percent for black students.


Young black men like Sesly Williams deserve better than what Rochester gives them academically.

Black students in the Greece district are as likely to graduate from high school as the national average for White students. Black students in the Rochester school district have about one-third that chance. As with many districts like Rochester, a black student can double his or her chance of learning to read and write and graduate from high school by taking the bus to a nearby suburban district.

This brings us to the next question: How well prepared are these Rochester school district graduates?

We might first look at Monroe Community College for an indication of the postsecondary preparation and success of black students educated in the Rochester schools. Eighty-two percent of Monroe Community College’s 50,000 credit and non-credit students are Monroe County residents; 4,328 are listed as Rochester residents (which of course does not necessarily mean that they are graduates of the city school district).

The U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System counts 4,119 first-time students in fall 2006, 670 of whom were Black, 296 were black men. Completers within 150 percent of normal time (2012) total 938, 62 of whom were Black. Fourteen of those were men. Approximately nine percent of Black students enrolling in Monroe Community College and five percent of black men graduate within 150 percent of normal time. As noted, not all of those graduates attended Rochester city schools.

Looking at the University of Rochester, we find that in 2006 there were 1,219 first-time, undergraduate, degree-seeking students, 50 of whom were black. Each year the University enrolls, on average, four Black students from the Rochester school district, one of whom is male. In 2013 the University awarded 1,441 Bachelor’s degrees to students, 59 of whom were black. It is possible that two or three of these were from the Rochester school district, but the “Rochester Promise,” which funds tuition for graduates of the city school district, cannot find enough such students for the funding available.


Just like Kodak, Rochester’s traditional school district is hardly a going concern.

In 2006 there were 2,368 first-time, undergraduate, degree-seeking students at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the region’s other nationally-rated postsecondary institution. 108 of these were black, 32 of those were transfers-in. In 2013 the University awarded 2,478 Bachelor’s degrees to students, 102 of whom were black. Perhaps some of them were graduates of the Rochester schools.

It appears likely that only about one or two dozen male black Rochester school district graduates go on to receive Associate’s degrees each year and something on the same order, at most, receive Bachelor’s degrees. If we compare these educational outcomes for African American residents of Rochester to those for White residents of Monroe County (including Rochester) we can see that nearly four times the proportion of the latter as the former have attained education to the Bachelor’s degree level or above and that the proportions reverse for the populations without high school diplomas. It is not too much to say that a college education for Rochester residents is a white privilege.

The Rochester school district brings relatively few of its black students to grade level in reading in eighth grade. It graduates just over a quarter of them. A few dozen earn Associate’s degrees, a relatively few Bachelor’s degrees and above. Without those qualifications their opportunities for successful careers are quite limited, their chances of economic mobility beyond the station in life of their parents scant.

At the end of the day, the only thing Rochester does well is reinforce a socioeconomic caste system that keeps young black men and women at the bottom. Thanks to the district, they will have a good chance of being known to the criminal justice system.