More than meets the eye in graduation rates

I’m no fan of charter schools, but Indiana data showing that only 40% of their students graduate from high school are arguably misleading. The data are correct, but the category includes more than what we typically think of as charter schools: i.e., schools that resemble public schools but are privately operated.

It includes 20 or so adult high schools, which are designed to help older students and dropouts make up missing credits and earn a degree. Dominated by at least 15 Goodwill Excel Centers, those schools tend to enroll students who are behind on credits. Their 2019 “cohort” or on-time graduation rate was 18.2%.

It also includes virtual charter schools, which seem to have a lousy record for graduation rates, test scores and nearly everything else. The overall graduation rate for virtual schools and blended schools, which combine online and classroom learning, was 32.6%.

A half dozen Indiana charter schools are alternative schools for students with special challenges, including students with disabilities. I haven’t seen data on whether these schools are better or worse than public schools at serving these populations, but their overall graduation rate is under 30%.

If you look just at so-called brick-and-mortar charter schools that serve typical students, their graduation rate was about 88%, by my calculation. The graduation for public schools was 90.7%.

What’s interesting is that those brick-and-mortar schools are such a small part of the charter high school universe. They enrolled fewer than one-third of charter school students in the 2019 graduation cohort – probably not what Indiana legislators envisioned when they approved charter schools back in 2001.

1 thought on “More than meets the eye in graduation rates

  1. This is not altogether surprising to me. About twenty years ago, the Hudson Institute produced one of the first national studies of charter schools (Finn, Manno and Vanourek, Charter Schools in Action, Princeton University Press, 2001). One of the unexpected findings was that a sizable share of the charter schools operating at the time were serving children with one or another kind of special need. One can understand why parents of such children might feel that an option besides public schools would be helpful. Indeed, the principal federal law relating to children with disabilities (a term that can be very broadly defined) requires school districts to ensure they receive an “appropriate” education, which can include options besides traditional public schools.

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