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The figure below shows patterns of entry and exit from the NYC public school system for students who were born in 1996 (i.e., students scheduled to enter kindergarten in September 2001, and to graduate high school in June 2014).

The graph includes a total of 108,241 students who were born in 1996 and were enrolled for at least two consecutive semesters and three semesters overall between October of 2000 and June 2014. (It excludes students who were more than one year ahead of or more than three years behind their expected grade).

Entry and Exit from the NYC Public School System for Students Born in 1996[1]


When Do Students Enter the NYC School System?

  • Most students enter the school system at a young age. In fact, over 80,000 students, around 75 percent of the full cohort, arrived before age 7 (i.e., before 2nd grade).
  • About 35 percent (38,900) first enrolled in an NYC pre-school program at age 4. (Note that this was before the introduction of NYC’s Pre-K for All initiative, which enrolled almost 70,000 4-year-olds in fall 2015.)
  • The remaining students trickled in fairly evenly between ages 7 and 17, with a modest jump around age 14 (the start of high school).
  • In analyses not shown here, we also found that this pattern was relatively stable for all cohorts of students born between 1996 and 2001.

When Do Students Exit the NYC School System?

  • Of the 109,000 students born in 1996, 34,000 (around 31 percent) left permanently before age 18, indicating that they left the NYC school system and never re-entered (in most cases, these students likely transferred to a private school or a public school outside of NYC.)
  • 50 percent of the students who left the system permanently did so by age 11 (the expected start of middle school). There were no notable spikes in students leaving in any of the years leading up to age 11; the flow was relatively steady.

By the time students this group of students turned 18 (i.e., by June 2014):

  • 39 percent had graduated (42,481),
  • 25 percent were still enrolled (27,294),
  • 31 percent had left the system, most likely for a private school or other district, and
  • The remaining 4 percent had dropped out (4,445).

Big Questions

Looking at students’ trajectories through the NYC school system raises questions about the experiences of different groups of students. For example:

  • Are there differences in the educational outcomes of the students who enter NYC public schools during Pre-K, kindergarten, or later?
  • Are there systemic differences between students who leave the system during elementary school and those who remain enrolled?
  • Why do students choose to enter or leave NYC public schools?
  • And, how do these patterns vary based on demographic characteristics, including race, gender, family income, immigration status, and English Language learner status?

By investigating these patterns, the Research Alliance hopes to identify particular obstacles and leverage points along the path to high school graduation that might provide opportunities for effective educational intervention.

What other questions should we be asking? Are you exploring any of these topics? Let us know via email.


This post was developed using data provided to the Research Alliance for New York City Schools by the NYC Department of Education. Analyses conducted by Jasmine Soltani.


[1] Each bar shows a student’s status for the Fall or Spring term of the expected grade for age (e.g., Kindergarten at age 5). If a student graduated in either term, this status takes priority, followed by active, dropped out, and other discharge. Students who were in ungraded special education classes for their entire time in the NYC public school system are excluded from this sample.


How to Cite this Spotlight

Soltani, J. 2016. "When Do Students Enter and Exit the NYC Public School System?" Spotlight on NYC Schools. Research Alliance for New York City Schools.