Upstate School Reform: The Challenge of Regional Geography

Findings

An examination of K-12 education in Upstate New York finds:

  • While Upstate school districts as a whole are more homogenous than those Downstate, racial demographics—as well as income levels—vary considerably among individual districts. For example, the percentage of black students enrolled in the Syracuse City School System is 52 times greater than the levels found among suburban districts in the Central Upstate region; poverty levels are 2.6 times greater.

  • Despite strong variation in property wealth and tax rates within Upstate regions, the financial condition of Upstate schools is strong and rather equitable. However, given the relative homogeneity of expenditures across Upstate districts, this financial parity may not adequately support the educational needs found in poorer and more urban and rural communities.

  • Resource availability contributes to differences in the types of services available to students, including the quality of teachers. Although the quality of teachers is generally consistent across Upstate regions, within individual regions suburban districts attract and retain more highly qualified teachers than their urban counterparts.

  • While students across Upstate regions perform well on state examinations, substantial academic underachievement is present in most urban areas, as well as in several clusters of rural districts in the Central and Southern Tier regions. In addition, drop out rates in the largest Upstate cities are two to three times as high as those in suburban and rural districts, while their proportion of students attaining the Regents Diploma is comparatively low.

While great strides have been made to increase educational expectations, resources, and expenditures across New York state, these trends suggest several challenges for policymakers as they work to develop a fiscal and educational system that can support high levels of learning for all students in the state.