Addressing The College-readiness crisis in NYC Public Schools

A study suggest that despite the perceived success of the small schools movement, our public education overlooks one key success factor: college-readiness. Although NYC boasts a record high of close to 70 percent graduation rate in public high schools last year, only 65 percent of Black and Latino/ Hispanic kids graduated on time. For students with disabilities, the number drops to less than 50 percent.

It seems initiatives taken to reduce dropout rates are failing many of our students; especially minorities and those with special needs. Breaking up schools for the sake of boosting graduation rates undermines a school’s ability to fund programs like multi-language instruction, accessibility for special needs, arts education, & sports that supplement classroom learning and nurture well-rounded students-the programs necessary to b

Recent studies are showing that the small schools movement is negatively affecting student’s preparedness for college. Less than half of NYC high school graduates are classified as ready to meet the academic demands of a 4-year college. In 2014, CUNY Chancellor James Milliken called the lack of college readiness as the system’s “biggest core issue.”

Principal David Fanning at A. Philip Randolph High School in West Harlem speaks of the challenges of running a school that aims to be accessible to all students while adhering to policies that focus on exclusively numbers. Breaking up schools dissolves budgets that can be set aside for special programs and prevent a large number of kids from developing a strong portfolio of elective and extra-curricular activities. This limits options for higher education to community college.

Community college does serve a purpose in society but, it largely falls short in providing the rich environment that fosters critical thinking skills for students who need it most. Often times, community college does not provide for opportunities these at-risk groups need to further their education. A NY Times article cited that “nationally, only 25 percent of first-time students entering public community colleges graduate”, based on a study from the National center of Education Statistics. Without a more holistic approach to education that allows students to critically think and question, they suffer from lack of college-readiness. This dramatically limits options for their future.

An Indiana University study found that “students from modest backgrounds were encouraged by their parents to be more deferential to authority-and try to figure things out for themselves, instead of asking for help.” The result is students failing to develop self-advocacy skills that are critical to their succeeding. When students of low socioeconomic status are reluctant to participate or ask for help in a school setting, there's a direct impact on a student's curiosity to learn as well as their willingness to seek help pursuing college admission. Most students are missing out on the opportunity to exercise what has been identified as some of the more crucial skills to development in today’s economy: Critical thinking & questioning.

Many studies have identified the obstacles that low-income minority students face including the disproportionate tendency to suspend African-american boys and the perceived ‘stereotype threat.’ The phenomenon describes the psychology of negative stereotypes stigma and its affect on individuals who identify with a certain population. By studying the standardized test performance among Black, Latino, and female college students, results suggest that when a person perceives him/ herself as the target of a widely-known stereotype it can have an adverse effect on performance and willingness to inquire about a subject in fear of sounding unintelligent.

Is it possible these external forces’ at home and in the classroom are behind student's ability to think critically and prepare for college?

In order to create a more inclusive experience, the College & Career Preparatory Institute (CCPI) works with school administration at A. Philip Randolph to fill in the gaps left behind in a system that focuses on graduation rates and test scores rather than critical thinking and inquiry. For 25 years, the program has effectively addressed the college-readiness crisis and encouraged students to find educational opportunities by teaching them power of effective questioning and self-advocacy.

Using self-advocacy as a key measure of success has a great influence on the holistic development on the student that may not occur within a traditional public school education. For example, the chance to learn about portfolio building , interpersonal skills, & public speaking are rare in a majority of public high schools. CCPI gets students accustomed to expressing their opinions as well as asking questions that are critical to learning and the pursuit of higher education.

The motivation for the program was to provide options for a quality education for all students, not just high performers. Executive Director, Charles Thompson mentions that the big difference in his program compared to other opportunity initiatives in NYC is that “it allows for all students to discover quality undergraduate programs without a highly competitive academic background. There are choices available for kids with an 81% GPA and not just the '90 percenters' however, most are not even aware and are not asking the questions needed to find them.”

Throughout the programs existence there has been significant results at A. Phillip Randolph compared to students following the standalone traditional public education model. 100% of high school seniors enrolled in CCPI graduated on time and over 85% have been accepted to a competitive 4- year residential college with an affordable financial package.

Some of the most selective institutions on the east coast that SBI graduates have attended:

  • Williams College

  • Middlebury College

  • Amherst College

  • Wesleyan University

  • University of Pennsylvania

One of the ways CCPI helped students exercise a critical mindset was during ‘Support for College Dreams Co-action Day’ sponsored by corporate partner, Ford Motors. It was a day long, collaborative workshop that gave students a platform to identify and address some of the challenges faced as people of color and/ or with disabilities in their community. Both thought provoking and empowering, the event allowed for students to ask questions of professionals, school administrators, and peers about actionable steps to overcome and succeed. The result was influencing a new perspective on the role of education in the lives of students and faculty.

Some of the issues mentioned:

  • Single Parent Home

  • Financial Insecurity

  • Negative peer pressure

  • Fear for safety

  • Lack of sleep

  • Nutrition & food security

  • Lack of internet access

  • No adequate study space

Shown below: Photos from our Ford Co-action Day in September. Student leaders gathered to discuss common issues and build a positive, success-driven environment.

When the issues were identified, students were able to come to terms with some of the factors that contributed to a low-achieving mentality and walk away with advice on facing them. Thompson mentions "public school systems are not equipped to have those conversations and without them; some never realize there are life-changing opportunities out there for them. When these kids are worried about staying out of trouble, school performance and college tend to fall on their priority list. Some are even convinced that the system has all but failed them.”

Thompson believes that a student’s ability to analyze a problem from different perspectives “is one of the critical steps missing in our school system that is critical to the development of our students. This guides students to developing a habit of taking control of their education and to seek out opportunities that will fill in the gaps within their experience.”

Although this approach to public education is certainly not easy, Principal Fanning and the faculty at Randolph see this process as necessary in establishing a diverse community that serves everyone and is the core mission of a public institution. The result is the cultivation of well rounded, forward-thinking members of our future society that are excited about higher education. A. Philip Randolph High School & the College & Career Preparatory Institute are building an unshakable foundation for the potential our school system has to better serve its students.

Click here to learn more about Student/ Alumni Programs at CCPI.


Middle-class children: Squeaky wheels in training. (2012, August 19). Retrieved from

New York City’s High School Graduation Rate Tops 70%. (2016, January 11). Retrieved from

Revamping Community Colleges to Improve Graduation Rates. (2016, June 22).

StudentsFirstNY’s Report Exposes College Readiness Crisis at NYC High Schools. (28, June 28). Retrieved from

#Collegeprep #APhillipRandolph #FordCoactionDay #SCAI #SBI #CCPI #Workshops

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