Introduction

Children really are our future. The little ones that we are raising today will one day be working at our family businesses, voting in local elections, and teaching future generations.

Education Icon

The indicators on this page measure outcomes across various critical stages of a child’s development. Children who enter school unprepared for kindergarten can struggle, lose confidence and fall behind. If they are not able to ‘learn to read’ by third grade, they are less able to ‘read to learn’ from Grade 4 and beyond. And without a financial means to attend college in their sights, many aren’t motivated to keep up attendance or try hard in their high school studies.

Thanks to the work of our local literacy coalitions, the Early Childhood Alliance, Say Yes to Education Syracuse, and multiple community organizations, we are beginning to see optimistic development in these areas. But much work still needs to be done to ensure that all of our children have equal access to effective schooling and enter school ready to learn and excel.

By ensuring that our children receive a quality education across their lifespan, we are also addressing numerous community challenges at the same time — from poverty to home ownership and healthcare outcomes. Setting them up well now will help our next generation to succeed, planting the seed for a prosperous and thriving region.

Early Childhood Education

Kindergarten Pass Rates - Syracuse

Absenteeism K-3 - Syracuse

Grade 3 Pass Rates - Syracuse

Grade 3 Test Scores - Onondaga County

Grade 3 Test Scores - Madison County

Grade 3 Test Scores - Oswego County

Grade 3 Test Scores - Cayuga County

Grade 3 Test Scores - Cortland County

Grade 3 Test Scores - Syracuse

Grade 3 Test Scores - Madison County

Grade 3 Test Scores - Oswego County

Grade 3 Test Scores - Cayuga County

Grade 3 Test Scores - Cayuga County

Summer Learning Loss - Syracuse

Let's Break It Down

Disparities persist between city and suburban test scores.

Kindergarten readiness rates measure the percent of children deemed ready to enter kindergarten according to assessment scores, though most children continue on regardless. A child’s early education – pre-kindergarten through third grade – is a crucial period considered to be predictive of their success in the future.

A stark contrast exists between Syracuse and other areas of Onondaga County in third grade Math and English Language Arts (ELA) test scores. Out of a potential four-point scale, the majority of students in the Syracuse City School District are testing at level one or two, meaning performance is well below proficient standards for the third grade level. In many suburban school districts, significantly higher percentages of students are coming in at levels three and four.

Some rural school districts also have high percentages of students scoring poorly. For example, in Madison County the majority of students in the Morrisville-Eaton, Canastota, and DeRuyter Central School Districts had math and ELA third grade test scores below proficient standards in 2018.

Poverty is one factor that likely contributes to the disparities in children’s test scores. Another challenge in Syracuse is the large numbers of students who are immigrants and have limited English proficiency, which makes ELA tests difficult to pass. Some scholars point to segregation in Syracuse schools as another cause of the achievement gap.

Why Does It Matter?

Early childhood education is a major predictor of a child’s future.

A child’s early education can impact his or her future significantly. Children who enter kindergarten already behind may struggle to keep up through the remainder of their education. Having access to a strong education between pre-kindergarten and third grade correlates to school success, high graduation rates and low instances of juvenile crime and teen pregnancy.

The ability to successfully read directly influences all other areas of a child’s education and learning capabilities. Until third grade, students are typically learning to read, while after third grade, students are reading to learn. Therefore, a student who is not able to read proficiently by third grade may also struggle in other subjects like math and science.

Summer learning loss, or the tendency for students to lose some of what they learned over the school year during summer break, can set children back significantly when they return to school in the fall. In contrast, students with access to learning opportunities and educational materials during the summer months often see gains heading into the new school year.

With greater access to quality education, our future citizens and workforce can become economically stronger and more civically engaged.

Early childhood education is a major predictor of a child’s future.

A Local Story

Reading as a Family

Chol-Awan Majok was the first in his family to attend school when he immigrated to the United States at age sixteen as one of the ‘lost boys’ of Sudan. The lessons he learned from his father were ingrained in him at an early age — that learning how to read and write is crucial to being successful in life.

His father always encouraged Chol to do his very best in school. His dad pushed him to make a real difference in the world; nothing was too small to accomplish and knowledge was power. Those simple lessons are something he finds invaluable now that he sees his own children flourishing.

Chol and his wife, Abiei, take a page from his father’s book by bringing their children to the library each week. Even when they were too young to know how to read, they wanted to teach them the importance of learning. When their third child was born, Chol’s wife enrolled them in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library through the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County.

Imagination Library is a countywide program designed to improve children’s kindergarten readiness. Each month, enrolled children receive a free book in the mail to them, up until their fifth birthday.

Setting time aside to read is something that Chol and his family look forward to. The look in his children’s eyes when the books arrive says it all; they can’t wait to read them, so Chol and his wife always set aside time to read them together as a family. 

“When the new books come in the mail we take time to bond and read together,” said Chol. “It is a priceless tool for our children’s education and we are grateful to have this program available to us.”

What You Can Do

Give input and get involved.

Whether you’re an experienced volunteer, an activist, a student, working professional, or a stay-at-home parent, there are roles both big and small that you can play to shape the future of the region.

See Additional Opportunities View All
Volunteer
Read to children through Syracuse 20/20’S Book Buddy Program Learn More »
Donate
Support the Mid-York Library System Learn More »
Take Action
Join a community action group Learn More »
Civic Engagement
Join a board Learn More »

Attendance

Public School Enrollment - Onondaga County

Public School Enrollment - Madison County

Public School Enrollment - Oswego County

Public School Enrollment - Cayuga County

Public School Enrollment - Cortland County

Public School Enrollment - Syracuse

Public School Enrollment - Oneida

Public School Enrollment - Oswego City

Public School Enrollment - Auburn

Public School Enrollment - Cortland City

Dropouts - Onondaga County

Dropouts - Madison County

Dropouts - Oswego County

Dropouts - Cayuga County

Dropouts - Cortland County

Dropouts - Syracuse

Dropouts - Oneida

Dropouts - Oswego City

Dropouts - Auburn

Dropouts - Cortland City

Let's Break It Down

Dropout rates are higher for students living in lower income areas

Public school enrollment is highest in the city of Syracuse, as it has the highest population in Central New York. Public school enrollment in Onondaga, Madison, Cayuga, Oswego and Cortland County school districts generally remained consistent over the past decade, with small increases and decreases throughout. However, some school districts have seen large changes. Between 2010 and 2020 the Central Square School District saw enrollment decline by over 1600 students, while Syracuse City School District enrollment increased by over 1600 students.

Unfortunately, many students do not stay in school long enough to graduate. Every year the New York State Education Department reports on these students in each school district’s dropout rate. Dropout rates show that large disparities exist between students of differing income level households. Within Onondaga County, areas with more wealth had lower high school dropout rates.

In 2020 the dropout rate in the Syracuse City School District was nearly 11 percent, which was higher than most other districts in the region and well above the national dropout rate of 5.1 percent. Other districts with high dropout rates include the Fulton City School District (10 percent), Oneida City School District (10 percent), and small districts throughout the region (7 to 14 percent).

It is important to note that the most recent available data are from 2020, a year that ended with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and an abrupt transition to remote schooling. Many school districts saw their graduate rates increase and dropout rates decrease in 2020, which may have been due in part to New York State’s decision to waive the Regents exam requirements. However, it is impossible to know exactly how much of an impact the pandemic had on dropout rates.

Why Does It Matter?

Attendance and graduation are key to a student’s future success.

Jobs in today’s economy most often require at least a high school diploma. In addition, it has been found that educational attainment correlates directly to earnings during a person’s lifetime. In 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 30 percent of employment opportunities required less than a high school diploma and the weekly median wage for that segment was $619, or approximately $32,000 per year.

Attendance is a key factor in successful high school completion. According to the Department of Education, irregular attendance is associated with decreased likelihood of graduating and poor outcomes as an adult. Students who are chronically absent may be caring for other siblings or family members, working to support their family, struggling with behavioral health or physical health issues, or may not be engaged in their schoolwork.

Differences exist in absenteeism and high school dropout rates between White students and students of color. According to the Department of Education, 14.5 percent of White students nationally were chronically absent in the 2015-2016 school year compared to 20.5 percent of Black students, 17 percent of Hispanic students and 26 percent of Native American students in the same time period.

In New York State, Black and Hispanic students are less likely to graduate from high school than their White counterparts. In 2020, the graduation rate was 77 to 78 percent for Black and Hispanic students versus 91 percent for White students. Only 46% of students identified as English Language Learners graduated. Additionally, the graduation rate for students considered economically disadvantaged was 80 percent versus 91 percent for students who were not economically disadvantaged.

Attendance and graduation are key to a student’s future success.

A Local Story

Learning What's Out There

When students enter the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection (HW-SC) program, Regional Executive Director Wayne O’Connor says many dream of becoming NBA players or cosmetologists.

Over the course of the program, O’Connor hears students’ aspirations evolve; they say journalist, photographer, researcher or even an environmentalist.

These new passions are ignited when HW-SC students explore the city of Syracuse and beyond on “learning expeditions.”

Learning expeditions put students in the field – whether that’s a zoo or a state park. O’Connor arranges interviews with professionals and gives students the resources needed to document their expedition, record observations and take photographs and video.

It was on a learning expedition that Charisma Sykes found that her passion and interest lay in the environment.

“[What I’m most interested in] is preservation and [the importance of] renewable energy,” said Sykes. “We are putting too much fossil fuels in the air. The way we are heading – the earth can’t handle it. People are getting sick and things are getting destroyed. There’s nothing getting preserved.”

Sykes and other students traveled to Beaver Lake and Rosamond Gifford Zoo where they learned about animals’ well-being in zoos, birds and their environment through nature photography.

Expeditions such as Charisma’s are especially important because many HW-SC students have never set foot outside of the city of Syracuse. There are more than 1,100 HW-SC students in 10 Syracuse City School District schools, and 99 percent face poverty and other life challenges. Students come to this program with evidence-based risk factors, including poor attendance, failing two or more core subjects and low standardized test scores. At the time she came to HW-SC, Sykes was struggling with math.

“I really wasn’t good at math,” said Sykes. “I really needed help and tutoring. I asked my parents [if I could join] and they said it was OK.”

Sykes has been a mainstay at Hillside, starting early when she was in middle school. Now a senior at Henninger High School, she credits the organization for her newfound confidence. She has observed the staff and countless advocates work hard to make sure every student succeeds.

For O’Connor it’s simple: It’s being there for their students and setting the bar high.

“We have high expectations,” said O’Connor. “We give a lot of love, affection and support. We’ve learned to work on Saturdays, and we’ve learned to work late.”

What You Can Do

Give input and get involved.

Whether you’re an experienced volunteer, an activist, a student, working professional, or a stay-at-home parent, there are roles both big and small that you can play to shape the future of the region.

See Additional Opportunities View All
Volunteer
Transport students to and from college through On Point for College Learn More »
Donate
Send Syracuse students to college through Say Yes to Education Syracuse Learn More »
Take Action
Join a community action group Learn More »
Civic Engagement
Join a board Learn More »

Public School Completion

Educational Attainment - Onondaga County

Educational Attainment - Madison County

Educational Attainment - Oswego County

Educational Attainment - Cayuga County

Educational Attainment - Cortland County

Educational Attainment - Syracuse

Educational Attainment - Oneida

Educational Attainment - Oswego City

Educational Attainment - Auburn

Educational Attainment - Cortland City

Graduation Rates - Onondaga County

Graduation Rates - Madison County

Graduation Rates - Oswego County

Graduation Rates - Cayuga County

Graduation Rates - Cortland County

Graduation Rates - Syracuse

Graduation Rates - Oneida

Graduation Rates - Oswego City

Graduation Rates - Auburn

Graduation Rates - Cortland City

Let's Break It Down

Central New York and the City of Syracuse are seeing rising graduation rates.

In Onondaga, Madison, Oswego, Cayuga, and Cortland counties, a significant majority of the workforce over the age of 25 had at least a high school degree in 2019. 5,384 people in Onondaga County’s workforce had at least a 12th grade education but no high school diploma. Census tracts throughout Central New York with lower median incomes had more people in the workforce without a high school diploma compared to tracts with higher median incomes.

Graduation rates measure the percentage of students who graduate in four years from high school each June, though many students graduate soon after in August or the following year. In 2020 the average graduation rate was 84 percent in Onondaga County, 89 percent in Madison County, 84 percent in Cayuga County, 85 percent in Oswego County and 83 percent in Cortland County. In most counties, the city school district had the lowest graduation rate.

Central New York’s overall graduation rate of 85 percent was the same as the state rate of 85 percent in 2020. In recent years the Syracuse City School District has seen its graduation rate increase from 54.5 percent in 2015 to 66.3 percent in 2020. Rates also rose in the region’s other city school districts and in New York State overall.

Why Does It Matter?

Educational attainment is essential in today’s economy.

Jobs in today’s economy most often require at least a high school diploma. In addition, it has been found that educational attainment correlates directly to earnings during a person’s lifetime. In 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 30 percent of employment opportunities required less than a high school diploma.

Because a high school diploma is becoming more of a minimum requirement for employment, students who graduate are more likely to get a higher paying job. In 2020, the Bureau found the average median weekly earnings for someone with less than a high school diploma was $619 and that segment carried an unemployment rate of 11.7 percent. By comparison, workers with a high school diploma had median weekly earnings of $781 and an unemployment rate of 9 percent. Those with a Bachelor’s degree had median weekly earnings of $1,305 and an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent.

With a more educated workforce, our economy is able to grow and adapt to changing needs and modern technologies.

Historically, there have been significant economic and racial disparities in public school completion rates. In New York State, the graduation rate in 2020 for Black students was 78 percent, compared to 91 percent for White students. One positive sign is that in Syracuse disparities in graduation rates between some racial groups have decreased. In 2020, White, Hispanic or Latino, and Black students in the Syracuse City School District all had graduation rates between 69 and 71 percent, with Black students having the highest rate. American Indian or Alaska Native and Multiracial students had lower graduation rates (59 and 61 percent, respectively).

2016 Gallup poll found that there is a strong link between hope and grades, achievement scores, retention and future employment. This means that the more hopeful a student feels about his or her future, the more engaged and motivated they may be to stay in school, and ultimately graduate.

Educational attainment is essential in today’s economy.

A Local Story

The Initial Push

Aarick Knighton always planned to go to college, but credits his Say Yes Syracuse (Say Yes) scholarship with “cracking open the door” to more options.

Knighton, a 2011 Corcoran High School alum, used his Say Yes scholarship to study Information Management and Technology at Syracuse University. After graduating, Knighton worked as a social media manager, first for Syracuse.com and later for Syracuse University, before jumping into the political arena this past spring as Mayor Ben Walsh’s campaign manager.

“The initial push that Say Yes gives is invaluable, it really is,” Knighton said.

Say Yes to Syracuse provides fully endowed last-dollar tuition guarantee scholarships to all eligible Syracuse City School District (SCSD) students. Beyond the financial support it also provides families with academic support specialists, access to mental health clinics and legal services designed to help mitigate the systemic barriers to higher education. The SCSD graduation rate increased by 26 percent over the past ten years from 45 percent in 2010 to 71 percent in 2020.

The 2020 graduation rate of Black, Latino and Asian students in the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) met or exceeded that of White students, signaling that the program is helping students break through challenges historically caused by systemic racism.

Knighton said Say Yes provided financial flexibility that he is still experiencing, five years after he graduated from Syracuse University.

“The financial relief—that one less payment a month, the thousands of dollars less in debt—it provides flexibility as we build our young lives, as we move, have families, establish careers,” Knighton said. “I am super grateful to Say Yes for that, and I know my classmates are, too.”

Ahmeed Turner, Say Yes Syracuse’s Executive Director, explained that the foundation of Say Yes is rooted in the economic revitalization of Central New York. Its mission is to provide opportunities for young people to gain a meaningful career and to make a positive impact on the community.

Since the fall of 2009, 4,900 Say Yes students have enrolled in 2 and 4-year colleges (public and private). In July 2020, the Central New York Community Foundation joined forces with Say Yes to continue its support of local students.

“In my opinion, Aarick embodies all of what Say Yes stands for; he took advantage of the tuition guarantee, and he stayed here,” Turner said. “He’s always had this sense of civic responsibility and I think the scholarship emboldened him to be more active in the community.”

“A lot of the local students have the capabilities and the talents to succeed in college and beyond, but they don’t always have the resources or the opportunities to do so. Most people will take off running if you just give them the keys.”

What You Can Do

Give input and get involved.

Whether you’re an experienced volunteer, an activist, a student, working professional, or a stay-at-home parent, there are roles both big and small that you can play to shape the future of the region.

See Additional Opportunities View All
Volunteer
Tutor adults or children at the Northside Learning Center Learn More »
Donate
Put underprivileged children through summer camp at Camp Lookout Learn More »
Take Action
Join a community action group Learn More »
Civic Engagement
Join a board Learn More »