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%.
Forget, for a while, whatever bad news you’ve heard about education in Indiana. Let’s take a moment to celebrate what Hoosier students have accomplished. When it comes to staying in school and graduating, they’ve been doing about everything we could ask.
According to a recent report from the Indianapolis-based Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation:
- Indiana had one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country in 2015, at 87.1 percent.
- It had the narrowest “graduation gap” between low-income and non-low-income students of any state: 4.5 percentage points.
- It ranked in the top five states for closing the gap between all students and low-income students between 2011 and 2015.
- It had higher-than-average graduation rates for every subgroup of students except for Asian and Pacific Islander students.
“Indiana has much to be proud of,” the report says, referring to the record rates. “In addition, districts within the state are learning, innovating, and improving their abilities to serve their students and prepare them for the next steps in life. Indiana has taken concrete action over many years, following the evidence of what works to improve student outcomes and it has beneﬁtted as a result.”
Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick has appealed to members of the Indiana congressional delegation for help in addressing a change in how the state is required to calculate high-school graduation rates.
In a letter this week to Indiana’s two senators and nine House members, McCormick describes problems that could result from the change and invites the delegation to help resolve a disagreement between state and federal education agencies.
Under guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, Indiana will no longer be able to include students who earn the general diploma in calculations of the official graduation rate for high schools. About 12 percent of Indiana graduates received the general diploma in recent years.
Had the requirement been in place in 2016, McCormick explains, it would have reduced Indiana’s graduation rate from 89.1 percent to 76.5 percent, a percentage that “does not reflect well upon our state and could negatively impact our economy.”
“This drastic drop in graduation rate due to a simple, federal definition change will cause confusion, reflect poorly upon all of our communities and our state, and could result in decreased emphasis placed upon those students who may not achieve at least a Core 40 Diploma,” McCormick writes. Continue reading
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
Parents and educators have pushed back for years against attempts to eliminate Indiana’s general high-school diploma, arguing it’s an important option for students who would struggle to earn the more rigorous Core 40 or academic honors diplomas.
Now the federal government has dealt their efforts a blow. Under guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, Indiana will no longer be able to include students who earn the general diploma in calculating school graduation rates.
The change will have an impact on high-school grades, which are partially based on graduation rates. Over 8,600 students earned the general diploma in 2015. That’s 12 percent of high-school graduates.
And for students who struggle to earn the general diploma and likely wouldn’t complete a more rigorous course of study, the change seems to send a message that their efforts aren’t good enough. About 30 percent of students who earn a general diploma are special-needs students.
“The value of the general diploma will be diminished for students who have worked very hard to receive that,” said Sandi Cole, director of the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning at Indiana University and a former high-school special education teacher and department chair.
Indiana schools will still offer the general diploma, and students who earn it can count themselves as high-school graduates. But if the diploma doesn’t figure into accountability, will schools put as much effort into making sure all students earn at least that degree? Continue reading