Charter, Alternative, and On-Line Schools Have Lowest On-Time Graduation Rates, Study Finds

 

(This article is normally behind a paywall at Education Week.)

Charter, Alternative, Virtual Schools Account for Most Low-Grad-Rate Schools, Study Finds
By Catherine Gewertz on May 9, 2016 6:00 AM

Charter, virtual, and alternative schools account for a disproportionate share of U.S. high schools with low graduation rates, according to a study released Monday. Even though they enroll only a small slice of students, they account for more than half of the U.S. high schools that graduate 67 percent or less of their students in four years.

“Building a Grad Nation,” the seventh in an annual series of reports on U.S. graduation rates, concluded that regular district high schools make up 41 percent of those that didn’t surpass the 67-percent threshold in 2013-14. Charter, virtual, and alternative schools—a small sector, representing only 14 percent of the country’s high schools and 8 percent of its high school students—account for 52 percent of the schools that fell short of that mark. (The remaining 7 percent are vocational and special-education schools.)

The findings offer a challenge to a country that’s renewing its focus on graduation rates through the newly revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Known now as the Every Student Succeeds Act, the law requires states to report four-year graduation rates for schools that enroll 100 students or more, and districts to provide research-based help for schools that graduate fewer than 67 percent in four years.

With that new law in mind, the organizations that issue the “Grad Nation” reports annually—Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, the Alliance for Excellent Education and the America’s Promise Alliance—shifted their focus for this year’s report, from schools that enroll 300 or more students (about 13,400 schools) to those that enroll 100 or more (about 18,100 schools).

That change nearly tripled the scope of the study of schools with graduation rates of two-thirds or less: from 1,000 schools enrolling 924,000 students to 2,397 schools enrolling 1.23 million students. In a foreshadowing of the work that states face under ESSA, the Grad Nation researchers looked for patterns among the schools with low graduation rates. (Note: This paragraph reflects corrections made to the Grad Nation report.)

The contrast between “regular” district high schools, and alternative, virtual, and charter schools showed the starkest pattern. Here are the shares of U.S. high schools of each type, and their shares of schools with low graduation rates:

Regular high schools:

84 percent of U.S. high schools

7 percent have graduation rates of 67 percent or less

Alternative schools:

6 percent of U.S. high schools

57 percent have graduation rates of 67 percent or less

Charter schools:

8 percent of U.S. high schools

30 percent have graduation rates of 67 percent or less

Virtual schools:

1 percent of U.S. high schools

87 percent have graduation rates of 67 percent or less

The Grad Nation researchers called attention to the preponderance of low-grad-rate schools among charter, alternative, and virtual schools in part because the numbers of those schools have been rising in the last 15 years. Additionally, they enroll large shares of low-income, black, and Hispanic students.

“In many states, these various high school options have become popular pathways for students that have struggled to stay on track in traditional high schools,” the study says. “Therefore, it is critical that issues surrounding these schools be addressed.”

The report also pinpoints a bigger problem with low-graduation-rate schools in some states than in others. In Alaska, New Mexico, and Florida, 30 percent or more of the high schools have graduation rates of 67 percent or lower.

figure 10

Robert Balfanz, the-co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center, told reporters in a conference call that state variability is a key force in the numbers of low-grad-rate schools. For instance, of all the low-grad-rate schools in Hawaii, 100 percent were charter schools. In Arizona, the number was 73 percent, and in Indiana, 60 percent. Half of the low-grad-rate schools in California were charters. Kentucky, Texas and Washington topped the list of states with particularly high shares of low-grad-rate schools that were alternative schools.

But in some states, the charter sector is “helping solve the dropout crisis” by running many schools with good graduation rates, Balfanz said. He pointed to New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Oklahoma as examples.

Nina Rees, the president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, welcomed the report’s inquiry into graduation rates at different types of schools. But she took issue with its methdology, saying the charter sector’s share of low-grad-rate schools looks worse than it is because researchers didn’t adequately separate alternative schools from mainstream charters. She also pointed out that the study found that more than 4 in 10 charter schools are graduating more than 85 percent of their students.

Many celebrated last December when the nation’s high school graduation rate reached an all-time high of 82 percent for the class of 2014. But the milestone also sparked skepticism about whether states or districts were using shortcuts to boost their diploma numbers, by lowering academic expectations or changing they way they counted transfer students in each class cohort.

The Grad Nation researchers took on those questions, and concluded that there was little or no evidence that such practices were affecting state-level graduation rates. Further analysis would have to be done to make such conclusions at the district level, the report says. It did not examine schools’ increasing reliance on quick credit-recovery programs to improve graduation rates.

The Every Student Succeeds Act gives states much more autonomy than they had under the No Child Left Behind Act over the way they handle low-performing schools. With that in mind, the Grad Nation authors urged states to give graduation rates significant weight in the accountability systems, and to make sure that charter, virtual, and alternative schools, as well as traditional high schools, are monitored and provided solid help with low graduation rates.

They also urged states to report five- and six-year graduation rates, to capture a more accurate picture of diploma-earning. Many alternative schools, in particular, were created to serve students who struggled in traditional schools, and who might take longer to earn their diplomas, the report notes. Adding five-year graduation rates to the national picture would boost the rate by 3 percentage points, it says, and adding six-year rates would increase it by another point.

 

 

Do DC Charter Schools Have the Secret for Preventing High School Dropouts?

The conventional wisdom is that urban charter schools do a much better job than public schools at getting their students to graduate from high school and go to college.

But audited figures from the District of Columbia’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education over the past ten years show that despite all the advantages and extra corporate funding of charter schools, the attrition rates from both types of schools is essentially the same, and is very high.

The graphs and tables below show that both public and charter schools in DC have a serious attrition problem, in that large proportions of the students enrolled and counted in October of their 9th grade have somehow vanished by the time that the cohort of 12th graders is officially counted in October.

This attrition rate is serious in both cases: over the past decade, about 44 percent of the high school freshmen (9th graders), in BOTH the DC public schools and the DC charter schools, have gone missing when it is time for them to be counted as seniors (12th graders). The differences in attrition rates are trivial: 43% for the charter schools and 45% for the public schools.

Our data does NOT tell us where these students have gone. Some probably moved or transferred to another state, or went to a private or parochial school, or have been incarcerated, but a significant fraction of them of them probably flat-out dropped out of school. It would be wonderful if there was a source of data that tracked where these students actually went, but let’s not hold our breath waiting for that data to be gathered and released.

Think of the advantages of the charter schools in recruiting their students: a parent has to somehow navigate the application system, fill out the lottery form, appear for interviews, and agree to the behavior and attendance and work requirements — all of which will eliminate a large fraction of the hardest-to-reach students who have parents who are simply non-functional. However, for all of their boasts of 100% graduation rates, the DC charter schools either expel or push out large fractions of their incoming high school students, or those students withdraw on their own (for whatever reasons we can only guess at).

dcps hs attrition

 

 

dc charter high school attrition


Other than the colors and the total count of students, you will not notice much of a difference between the two graphs shown above. The first one shows how the students in the regular DC public high schools have been disappearing from the rolls (or not) over the past 9 years, and the second one shows how the students in the DC charter high schools have been disappearing over the past 8 years.

My conclusion?

High school dropouts are a very serious problem in Washington DC, and that attrition rate is virtually the same in both the regular public schools and in the charter schools. The charter schools do NOT have a magic wand that has solved the problem.

================

I also attach charts showing the entire enrollment, by grade level and year, for all of DC public schools and all of the DC charter schools, for the past decade. These tables were painstakingly gathered by Erich Martel, a retired DC social studies teacher (last at Phelps and Wilson), who has been raking through files showing administrative malfeasance for a very long time in the administration of DC public schools. His source has been the official audited enrollment figures published by OSSE (Office of the State Superintendent of Education).

dc public school audited enrollment 2002-2013

 

dc charter school audited enrollment 2003 through 2013
The colors are important here, because they allow you to follow a cohort, or age-group, diagonally down and to the right, as they proceed through their years in school. For example, the charter school “Class of 2012” in our last graph is the magenta diagonal that reaches the 12th grade in 2011-12. This group started in the fourth grade, in SY 2003-4, with 843 students. The next year, in 5th grade, in SY 2004-5, it had 919 students. Obviously some students entered this cohort at some point between October 2003 and 2004 (and most likely some kids departed as well; the data does not tell us how much churn took place, only the net loss or gain). This magenta-colored cohort reached its maximum size in the 7th grade, with two thousand, one hundred nineteen students. By the beginning of 9th grade, that cohort had 1,971 students, and by October of 2011, at the beginning of their senior year, the overall charter school cohort that I am calling the “Class of 2012” had shrunk to 987 students,  which is almost exactly half the size that it was when it began the 9th grade in 2008 with 1971 students. So I say that the attrition rate for that class was 50%, since 50% of the incoming high school freshman class has somehow vanished by the time that the rest of the cohort reached 12th grade.

I am not aware of any single DC charter school or public school that goes all the way from pre-school through 12th grade. However, as far as I have seen, every public or charter school that offers 9th grade now goes all the way to 12th grade, so it seems quite fair to examine the attrition rate for charter and regular public schools as a whole.

In the regular public schools, that same class went from 5,375 students in October 2002, when they began third grade, to 2,972 students when they began 8th grade in 2007, to 4,571 students when they began the 9th grade in 2008, and shrunk to 2,114 students when they began the 12th grade in 2011, for a high-school attrition rate of 54% for that particular age-group.

I notice something very weird about the regular DC public school enrollment figures: there is an enormous jump in enrollment from 8th grade to 9th grade, and then a large drop from 9th grade to 10th grade. My colleagues who teach high school tell me that this is because large numbers of students are made to repeat 9th grade; some of them are eventually skipped past the 10th grade, in part because administrators don’t want them to have to take the 10th grade DC-CAS test, because their scores would be low.

Notice that over the past decade, the 9th grade DC public school enrollment has totaled over fifty thousand students, larger than any other grade, which is awfully fishy, since the 8th grade total enrollment over that time was only about thirty-six thousand students and 10th grade total enrollment was a bit under thirty-eight thousand students.

Since the 9th grade DCPS enrollment figures seem artificially inflated (by a LOT), one might conclude that the attrition rates calculated in this post for DC public schools are higher than they ought to be.

Perhaps.

But however you measure it, attrition is a very serious problem in DC, and nobody has solved it.

======

If you want to see the attrition rates at individual DC charter schools, look here.

Published in: on March 27, 2014 at 9:16 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: