Graduation rates declined

It’s not surprising that Indiana high school graduation rates declined in 2021. It’s probably a little surprising that they didn’t decline more than they did.

According to the Indiana Department of Education, the graduation rate for public and charter schools was 86.69%. That’s down one percentage point from the 2020 rate.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought massive disruption to schooling in 2020-21. Some high school seniors no doubt adapted well to online or hybrid classes, but others didn’t. We heard stories of students who gave up on school, sometimes to work or care for siblings. An analysis by the state DOE found 2020-21 disruptions had an academic impact ranging from moderate to significant for Hoosier students. You’d expect the graduation rate to drop.

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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%.

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‘Public hearings’ without the public

Indiana law requires charter school authorizers to conduct a public hearing before they give permission for a new school to open. Did the Indiana Charter School Board follow the law when it authorized the Excel Center that will open this fall in Bloomington?

James Betley, executive director of the Charter School Board, said there were two “community meetings” in 2018 in Bloomington, attended by representatives of business and civic groups, including Judy DeMuth, the superintendent of the Monroe County Community School Corp.

He said those meetings were “open to the public,” but I can’t find any evidence that the public was told about them. There was nothing about them in the local newspaper, either before or after the fact. If the “public” wasn’t informed, in what sense were they public hearings?

Excel Centers are adult charter high schools operated by Goodwill Education Initiatives, a program of Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana. The schools are designed for adults who dropped out of school and want to go back and earn enough credits for a high school diploma. At least 15 Excel Centers have opened since 2010 in Indianapolis, Lafayette, Kokomo, Richmond and other cities. Continue reading