Graduation rate change hits some schools harder than others

News that Indiana won’t be able to count its general diploma when calculating high-school graduation rates came as a blow to many parents and educators. But the change will hit some schools much harder than others. And not necessarily the ones you might expect.

Some schools appear to have moved away from awarding the general diploma, and nearly all their graduates earn the Core 40 or honors diploma, which will count toward the graduation rate. But others continued to rely on the general diploma, awarding it to more than a third of their graduates. Those schools would see a big drop in their graduation rates under the change the U.S. Department of Education is pushing Indiana to adopt.

And high-school graduation rate is expected to be an important factor in the new school accountability system that Indiana will develop to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

In Brown County High School, for example, 42 percent of 2016 graduates earned the general diploma, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education. If those students didn’t count, the school’s graduation rate would have been only 57 percent. Counting those students, its rate was nearly perfect.

Laura Hammack, superintendent of Brown County Schools, said the general diploma is a suitable goal for many students. Some 18 percent of Brown County’s students qualify for special education and are more likely to earn the general diploma. Also, an increasing number of students are focused on career and workforce skills – something the state has encouraged – or plan to enter the military. Core 40 or honors diplomas aren’t required for those paths. Continue reading

An ambivalent farewell to No Child Left Behind

Nearly everyone from the White House to conservative Republicans to teachers’ unions has been celebrating the new federal education law, called the Every Student Succeeds Act.

At long last No Child Left Behind is being left behind.

The simplified version is that ESSA reverses federal education policy by leaving it to the states to set standards, adopt curriculum and design systems for holding schools accountable and turning around low-performing schools. As if the states weren’t already doing most of that.

Yes, the U.S. Department of Education created leverage for certain accountability and teacher evaluation schemes when it began approving waivers because states could no longer comply with NCLB. But the real education action has always been in the Statehouse, not the Capitol.

No Child Left Behind, which took effect in 2002, required annual testing and determinations of whether schools were approaching the goal of 100 percent proficiency. But it wasn’t the testing that made the law unpopular; it was the conditions that states attached. High stakes led to tense debates over test prep, accountability and who was really looking out for children.

Here in Indiana, the big changes in education policy – vouchers, charter school expansion, A-to-F grades for schools, a third-grade retention test, mandatory teacher evaluations, limits on collective bargaining – were pushed through the legislature by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, then-state Superintendent Tony Bennett and the advocacy group now called Hoosiers for Quality Education. Continue reading