Schools Chancellor Ramon Cortines recently gave out his annual report card on the city's schools, grading every elementary, intermediate and high school in the system on criteria including test scores, dropout rates and student suspensions.
Students were given copies of the report to take home. The reports give parents a glimpse into the schoolhouses that they might otherwise not get, but school officials warn that it can be misleading to judge a school on hard numbers alone. Each statistic is actually a compilation of broad variables, such as teacher quality, the wealth of resources, the commitment of students and the involvement of parents.
Here is The Bronx Beat's report on the 13 public high schools in the South Bronx. Benjamin Ames, Ross A. Snel and William Megevick looked at the top-ranked and bottom-ranked schools and asked students and teachers to get around the numbers and explain the ratings.
Morrisania's William H. Taft High School is in trouble. Taft's academic performance is among the worst in the borough, with few students passing the state reading and math tests and only a third of its senior class ready for graduation. Another third is held back. The final third drops out.
But teachers like Donald Lasky say that numbers don't tell the whole story. "We have a better school than the statistics say we do," said Lasky, who teaches social studies.
"All I know is that our students learn,'" Lasky said. "I don't know why we don't test better."
Many Taft students say they skip school because they're not taken care of. Some 3,000 students attend the four-year school, and it's easy to get lost in the crowd.
"They'll put you in the wrong class, then after you pass it, they'll say you didn't need that," said Ali Stover, a junior. "And they won't give you credit."
Stover needed to pass four science classes to qualify for the Regents Competency Test. But after passing a course called Biology One, he said he was told he didn't need it, and never got credit.
Whether or not Stover actually needed the biology class, today he is discouraged with the system. But still he attends classes, unlike the 25 percent of his classmates who skip them each day.