For African-American and Hispanic male students, New York has the worst four-year high school graduation rate in the country, according to a study by the Schott Foundation for Public Education.
In fact, the researchers say, a meager 37% of black and Hispanic boys are graduating for New York high schools in four years.
The number for male, white students is 78%, according to the foundation’s report titled, “The Urgency of Now.”
"I think this is just an enormous tragedy and it's happening under the nose of the people in the wealthiest city in the country," said Michael Holzman of the Schott Foundation.
NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott says the city is working to improve graduation rates and his office points out that while the Schott study focuses on four-year graduation rates, many students do graduate in five or six years.
“Our commitment is to make sure that all students are graduating and graduating college and career ready,” said Walcott.
To help combat the problem, the Chancellor has created a special unit in the Department of Education to improve outcomes for black and Hispanic students.
Researchers in the unit are studying ways to keep a brush with the law from stopping an education, like it did with 22-year old David Echols.
“I loved school, I really did,” said Echols. “The reason why I left school was due to incarceration.”
He was arrested on drug charges as a teenager and dropped out of high school six years ago.
Echols is now in a program funded, in large part, by Mayor Michael Bloomberg using his own personal fortune.
“I won’t feel right until I obtain my GED and go to college,” said Echols.
Another factor that is disproportionately affecting black students, according to the study, is out-of-school suspensions.
“They suspended me for 90 days,” said Corey Pettaway. “It’s all my fault. I made my own decisions.”
Pettaway said his father died when he was 13, so he was more interested in making money to help his mother than doing schoolwork.
“It’s a devastating, devastating situation,” said Dr. Richard Reeves, who runs a young adult literacy program in East Harlem through the Union Settlement Association. “Our young men have issues that stop them from being able to function in the system. And the system is not designed to meet those needs.”
Echols and Pettaway are in the program now, working towards their GED’s.
Echols looks forward to attending college.
Pettaway wants to be a chef.