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ROC the Future releases State of Our Children Report Card

Students in the Rochester City School District continue to trail their counterparts statewide in third-grade English language arts proficiency, high school graduation rates and kindergarten readiness, an annual report from ROC the Future shows.

ROC the Future, a nonprofit alliance of more than 60 local organizations dedicated to improving outcomes for Rochester children, on Tuesday released its eighth annual State of Our Children Report Card, which details student-level achievement, as well as data on school and community systems and examples of how the coalition is working to change and create systems to support cradle to career outcomes.

The Report Card also addressed the pandemic and systemic racism and the effect both have or will have on student learning.

“The short-term and long-term effects are not yet known,” the report said of COVID-19 and remote learning. “What we do know is we must be ready to step up in new ways to support our children and families as they recover from lost learning and work through social and emotional impacts.”

In examining school and community systems, ROC the Future also is intentionally focusing on race equity.

“We recognize that racism is embedded in the structures, policies and practices of our institutions and communities,” the report states. “Taking a systems-level approach will disrupt structural racism and build racial equity, ensuring that all children have the opportunity to thrive from cradle to career.”

In terms of kindergarten readiness for RCSD and community-based programs, the percentage of children ready fell in 2019 to 52 percent. Readiness among African American children improved to 51 percent, while the percentage of white children ready for school fell to 64 percent. Some 49 percent of Hispanic and Latino children were ready for kindergarten last year, unchanged from the 2017-2018 school year.

ROC the Future has set a goal of 80 percent readiness across the board.

Some 18 percent of RCSD students showed third-grade ELA proficiency in the 2018-2019 school year, up from the previous year but still far below the 52 percent statewide. The lowest-performing school reported a 3 percent proficiency, while the highest reported 48 percent.

Forty percent of non-economically disadvantaged students showed third-grade English language arts proficiency, compared with 16 percent of economically disadvantaged kids. Among African American students, 18 percent show third-grade ELA proficiency, down from the previous year, while among Hispanic and Latino children that dropped to 14 percent.

High school graduation rates improved to 63 percent in 2019 but remained far behind the 83 percent statewide. The lowest graduation rate was 30 percent, while the highest was 95 percent. Students of color had a 63 percent graduation rate, while white students fell to 64 percent. Asian students had the highest graduation rate at 76 percent.

RTF has set a goal of 80 percent of all high school seniors in Rochester graduating with their ninth-grade cohort.

Additionally, the report card shows:

• Student achievement varies greatly from one school building to another.
• Family support for pre-K children and adolescents is strong, but adolescents report little sense of support at school or in the community.
• Pre-kindergarten programs continue to provide high-quality classroom environments but supports in elementary and secondary schools vary greatly.
• The need to be attentive to community factors, including child poverty, youth employment, family mobility and access to transportation.

“Systems-level change in schools is not only about making the current education system work better. It is also about transforming the system for the future. Our children, especially the youngest, are learning for careers and a world that do not exist yet,” the report states.

To meet that challenge, RTF has formed the Community Commission on Education. Chaired by Melanie Funchess and Dirk Hightower, the planning group has introduced its goals to community stakeholders and content experts for feedback and interest. The commission will launch this year with a focus on creating a framework for its work over the next two to three years.

“We need the entire community to support the education of our children,” said RTF Director of Research & Analytics Stephanie Townsend. “Our region’s larger employers can play an important role not only through their philanthropic contributions but also through their own organizational practices.”

Townsend suggested the business community help in those endeavors by:

  • Offering paid time off for parents/guardians to attend school conferences and children’s medical and dental appointments
  • Providing high quality, on-site early childhood programs or a childcare benefit for employees
  • Paying livable wages
  • Offering high school internships and summer employment for youth

This year’s “State of Our Children” address that typically accompanies the report card has gone virtual and will take place from Nov. 16 to 19 with the theme of “Equity and Education: The Next Horizon.” Each day will offer a series of one-hour discussions focused on pertinent topics related to the digital divide, racial equity and education and educational access.

Each of the panel discussions will feature speakers who bring a wide variety of perspectives to each topic. Additionally, the final day will also feature the announcement of the winners of the Jacque Cady Annual Advocacy for Children Award, Parent Leader Award and the Organizational Partner Award. Each panel discussion will take place on Facebook Live.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Report: Rochester’s child poverty rate, disparities still high

African American children are nearly four times more likely to experience child poverty than white chidlren, while Latino children are more than three times more likely, an updated report from ACT Rochester and the Rochester Area Community Foundation shows.

“Hard Facts Update: Race and Ethnicity in the Nine-County Greater Rochester Area” is an update on the organizations’ 2017 report. The update offers sobering data of the deep disparities in the Rochester area.

Jennifer Leonard
Jennifer Leonard

“This updated report leaves no doubt that we need to change local practices that have systematically disadvantaged our neighbors of color,” said Jennifer Leonard, president & CEO of the Community Foundation. “Fortunately, the report does show some improvement in educational disparities, likely due to a renewed focus on school climate and racial equity in the Rochester city schools.”

Child poverty rates in the nine-county region demonstrate the stark differences among racial and ethnic groups, as well as when comparing the Rochester region with both New York state and the nation. For the nine-county region, African American children have a 49 percent poverty rate, while the rate for Latino children is 40 percent. The rate for both white and Asian children is 13 percent, according to the report.

One of the educational measurements in the report is Grade 3 reading level. The measure often is cited as a critical milestone in a child’s education. The observation is that if a child can “learn to read” by this point, he or she will be able to “read to learn” in later grades, according to the report. But just 27 percent of Latino students and one-quarter of African American students in the nine-county region achieve this milestone, compared with 52 percent of white students and 53 percent of Asian students.

Latino and African American students in the Rochester region lag behind students of the same groups statewide, and by a margin of 16 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Similar gaps exist in Grade 3 math proficiency as well.

Grade 8 English scores show an even greater disparity among racial and ethnic groups, the report shows. There is a 31 percentage point gap in the proficiency rate between African Americans and whites, while there is a 28 percentage point gap between whites and Latinos.

The report isn’t all doom and gloom. While graduation rates within the region exhibit drastic disparities, the gaps in graduation rates are somewhat less stark than those for education testing outcomes. With recent improvements in local graduation rates, the gap for African Americans and their statewide counterparts has narrowed significantly. There currently is no gap for Latinos.


The four-year graduation rate for Latinos in the Rochester region in 2019 was 75 percent, while for African Americans it was 72 percent. That compares with 91 percent for white students and 92 percent for Asian students.

Other important findings in “Hard Facts 2020” include:

• Compared with whites in the region, African Americans are almost 3 times as likely to be unemployed and 3 times as likely to live in poverty, and earn incomes that are less than half of whites in the region.
• Compared with non-Latino whites, Latinos are 2.5 times as likely to be unemployed and 3 times as likely to experience poverty, while earning incomes that are only slightly higher than half (53 percent) those of Whites in the region.
• Compared with whites, African Americans are dramatically less likely to own homes (32 percent versus 73 percent); more likely to pay a higher percent of income for rent (44 percent compared with 30 percent); and, for those who do own homes, own a lower-valued residence (59 percent of average white-owned home values).
• For Latinos, the outcomes are similar: Homeownership is lower (35 percent compared with 73 percent); rent burdens are higher (44 percent of income versus 30 percent); and home values are lower (68 percent of white homeowners).


Corroborating these findings, a recent study by Diversity Data Kids found income disparities between African Americans and Latinos and whites in Monroe County to be the fifth highest in the U.S. out of more than 31,000 counties.

“Economic disparities within our region and in comparison to the nation and state are extraordinary,” the report states. “These disparities — way out-of-line with the national and statewide experience — reflect a type of racism that must be stopped if our region is to prosper.”

ACT Rochester and the Community Foundation offer a number of suggestions to begin to turn things around:

• Conduct community-wide conversations about race, racism and inequality.
• Develop goals and a plan to reduce the region’s exceptional concentration of poverty, specifically in the city of Rochester. There are three broad strategies to achieve this: reduce poverty, attract more people of means into the city and expand housing opportunities outside of the city for people in poverty.
• Take immediate actions to lessen the concentration of student poverty.
• Work to reverse the de-concentration of employment. For several decades, the city of Rochester was able to hold onto its employment base even as the population declined. But with the loss of manufacturing, with its anchoring brick and mortar plants, jobs have left the city.
• Plan to reduce residential segregation. A 2012 study found that segregation in our area recorded the Rochester metro area as having the 5th highest degree of segregation among cities of Rochester’s size. Rochester’s rating placed it 31 percent higher than the mid-point of comparably sized cities.

The report’s authors suggest that individuals learn, engage, advocate and ask the hard questions that address racism and segregation in the community.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

So you’ve got your kid into college, but will they graduate?

Graduation Achievement Student School College Concept
Colleges need to take extra steps to ensure their students make it to graduation.

Just in time for back-to-college, a new book says higher education has a dirty little secret: dropout rates.

David Kirp, author of “The College Dropout Scandal,” says it’s shameful that 40 percent of college students seeking a bachelor’s degree never make it to graduation, especially because help is at hand.

In his book, released this month, Kirp writes, “Every college administrator with a pulse knows the tools that have proven to remedy the dropout problem. They don’t cost a fortune and they don’t require a genius to make them work.”  But they do take leadership and emphasis on the welfare of students, he said.

As if the self-esteem issues of failing weren’t bad enough, many dropouts leave college with debt from the courses they took, but no degree to help them get a job with an income to match their loan payments.  

“Many of them are actually worse off economically than if they hadn’t started college. While they earn a little more than those who never went beyond high school, they leave college with a pile of debt …. Dropouts are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as college grads, and they are four times more likely to default on student loans, thus wrecking their credit and shrinking their career options,” Kirp asserts.

Students of color who come from lower-income families and are first-generation scholars experience greater challenges staying in school because of finances and a lack of college-savvy family members to guide them. Despite how bright those students may be, dropping out can reinforce in their own minds and those of others the idea that they’re not cut out for college, Kirk suggests. 

But a little help – sometimes as simple as an older student talking with incoming freshmen about how it’s normal to feel out of place and overwhelmed that first year and what can be done about it – can make a big difference in keeping those students on track.  

Additionally, the picture is brighter locally. Rochester-area colleges are nearly all above average in their graduation rates, some substantially so. And many are already employing at least some of the methods Kirp says have proved successful in raising those graduation rates further.

Some of the truisms of graduation rates apply, such as those schools that are more selective graduate a higher percentage of students. University of Rochester’s rate (completing a bachelor’s degree in six or fewer years) is at the top locally, at 86 percent. 

But other truisms didn’t apply, such as state schools’ graduation rate averaging 50 percent or lower. SUNY Geneseo, known as one of the more selective schools in the SUNY system, graduated 81 percent of its students in the six-year cohort beginning in 2012. 

Brockport, at 65 percent, was lower, but still above average. In addition, 73 percent of black students in that cohort graduated, beating both the campus average and the percentage of white students. The school has not been able to dig into the statistics yet to figure out why black students are graduating at a much higher rate there than at other schools. While that rate is unusual even at Brockport, It’s apparently not a statistical anomaly, either, as there were 783 black students, or 11.1 percent of the student body, last school year. 

Kirp, a public policy professor at the University of California at Berkeley, recommends schools use five major tools to improve graduation rates: 


  • Share more information with students, such as how to seek help after a failing grade or where to find internship opportunities.  
  • Give nudges, perhaps in the form of text reminders about important deadlines or tasks that need to be completed, such as selecting next semester’s courses.
  • Data analytics, ranging from tracking early warning signs of struggles and sharing that with appropriate adults, to looking at which courses are oversubscribed, preventing students from getting their course requirements in time.
  • Offer experiences that generate a sense of belonging, from social outings with faculty members to group volunteering events.
  • Revamp curriculum. Research suggests gateway courses such as remedial math sometimes present an insurmountable hurdle; teaching those courses in a more engaging way than straight lecture would help more students pass them. Additionally, four-year schools are sometimes out of sync with community colleges that feed them, causing transfer students to lose credits and faith. 

That last piece is particularly important, as Kirp says 40 percent of college freshmen are enrolled in community college, and 80 percent of those plan to gain a bachelor’s degree by transferring if they make it that far.  

Some local colleges report they have added executive-level positions in their administrations tasked with improving graduation rates, and they are employing some of the tactics Kirp outlines in his book. Kirp provides in-depth case studies of a number of schools that have improved their retention, sometimes by targeting demographic groups that are prone to dropping out.

The University of Central Florida, for instance, looked to a nearby community college to help solve its lagging graduation rate. UCF and Valencia Community College worked out an agreement whereby the community college’s courses were better aligned with majors at UCF, and UCF guaranteed admission to its bachelor’s programs for any student who graduated from Valencia. Immediately, the community college’s graduation rate doubled.

Similarly, Rochester Institute of Technology recently announced a somewhat similar program with Monroe, Finger Lakes and Genesee community colleges, allowing students who follow prescribed course paths at the community colleges for a year before their automatic entry to RIT to work on a bachelor’s degree. The students will gain an associate’s degree, too, after their second year in the program.

RIT boasts a 70 percent graduation rate overall, though the rates vary substantially from program to program, notes James C. Hall, dean of the University Studies Division and executive director of  the School of Individualized Study at RIT. The university it always trying to improve its graduation rates, he said. 

One step RIT is making is moving to a profession advising staff for all undergrad students, instead of tacking advising duties onto professors’ workloads. Though faculty still have a role in advising, the university had done more work to coach the advisors whether they are staff or faculty. 

“There’s more general understanding on the part of faculty and staff on just how important keeping students is to the financial viability of the institution,” Hall said. “Like any customer, you want to keep them once you find them.”

Hall said the university also adopted the Starfish software that can provide early alerts to advisors when a student seems to be floundering. The system also allows a student to send up a red flag to get help without a face-to-face interaction, something that stymies this particularly tech-savvy but socially inexperienced generation. 

Still, though, Hall says there’s no substitute for human interaction.  

“None of that beats a student knocking on a faculty door,” Hall said. That’s the way for students to gain high-quality information, such as an opportunity to work in a faculty members’ laboratory, or an internship, and the way to share what’s bugging them in a way that texting can’t solve. “The more opportunities students have to share in a human release sort of what it is generating anxiety for them,” the more likely they are to overcome that issue, he suggested. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

Kirp puts it this way: “the more students believe that they belong, the better they do academically.”  

College retention programs don’t always have to focus on student’s own problems and barriers. They gain a sense of self-worth by helping others, too. Both University of Rochester and Brockport have community service projects that are tied into orientation. 

Roberts Wesleyan College’s new head of diversity, Herb Alexander, decided to focus on students of color, who tend to have lower graduation rates. The overall rate is 68 percent, but it’s 48 percent for African Americans and 36 percent for Latinos. Alexander recruited seven black male students – all members of the college’s basketball team – to help mentor students in Rochester city charter  schools.

“This is a way of instilling the value of getting a college education,” a college administrator said.  And it may serve as a reminder for the college students, too.  Roberts’ graduation rate had been nine points lower just a couple of years ago. But then the college became a little more selective in accepting students, resulting in a better retention rate. 

At Nazareth College, the numbers have been going the other way, slipping steadily over the last few years. The most recent six-year cohort, the class that entered in 2012, had a graduation rate of 66 percent, a little above average. But the class entering in 2008 graduated 75 percent. 

Andrew Morris, Associate Vice President for Retention and Student Success, was hired in 2013 to deal with the problem. The college didn’t know then what the graduation rate this last year would be, but it had a good idea based a bellwether statistic: the percentage of freshmen who return for their sophomore year. That stat had been going down even earlier. More recently, though, it has been going up again, Morris said, indicating the graduation rate will rebound in a few years. 

Morris said the college has been doing some deep data mining, trying to find danger points on which to focus. One that turned up is that students who don’t complete 30 credits in their first two semesters are more likely to fall behind and drop out. As a result, the college takes action once a student finishes one of the first two semesters with less than 15 hours.   

“We want to make sure you’re having a conversation about what is the plan, talking with your advisor about what happened and why it happened and what you’re going to do about it,” Morris said. But staff have learned to take care in the language they use during this conversation, he said, to avoid making a student feel there’s something wrong with them for failing to complete 30 hours. 

Kirp’s book talks a lot about first-generation students and minority students assuming the  hiccups they encounter come from their being unfit for college. It might be a common problem for everyone, but others know how to work through it.  

 Nazareth continues to try to connect people face to face, Morris said, sometimes through unexpected and subtle ways.”There’s almost some social engineering that can happen,” he said, noting the college fixed up a fountain that had been in disrepair for some time and planted flowers around it. Suddenly, it because a gathering spot for students. 

Kirp’s book describes Amherst College also taking a facilities approach to break down the barriers and lack of inclusion caused by athletes commandeering long tables in the dining halls. It brought in round tables instead, limiting the number of people who could gather at a single table. 

Morris mentioned a more surreptitious tactic and one that he doesn’t expect Nazareth will adopt: a Pennsylvania college slowed the speed of wireless internet service in students’ rooms and boosted it in common areas in their dormitories, forcing students to come out of their rooms if they wanted high-speed internet.  

“This is the reality that students are plugged into their phones and social media,” Morris said, but engineering their internet service to force interaction may be going too far. “How are we going to meet them where they are?”

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