The Vanishing High School Students
"100% graduation rates" - yet many 9th graders don't reach 12th grade
Page created February 11, 2011
by C.A.S.I.L.I.P.S. - Citizens Against Special Interest Lobbying in Public Schools
A number of Gulen charter schools advertise themselves as having "100% graduation rates." However, following a cohort of students as they go from 9th to 12th grade over 4 years shows that a large number of 9th graders never make it to twelfth grade.
How is it possible for this attrition to not affect the graduation rate? The way that graduation rate is calculated allows for a loophole. Official graduation rates usually exclude students who "transferred" to another school. The school has only to report that the departing student was planning to enroll in another school, and for purposes of computing graduation rates, it is as if the student never existed.
The practice of excluding transfers arose from traditional district schools, where the vast majority of such students are leaving only because their parents are moving out of the district. Traditionally, it was extremely rare for a student to voluntarily transfer from one district school to another without a physical relocation. Having chosen a school for 9th grade, very few students would voluntarily change schools during their high school years. In this context, excluding transfers did not distort the graduation rate much. It all evened out; some families would move into the district while others would leave.
The school choice movement, however, makes this traditional measure of graduation rate obsolete. Unfortunately, the system has not caught up yet, and the old, misleading method of computing graduation rate continues to be employed. The essential problem with this old measurement system is that charter schools are not penalized when many of their 9th graders never make it to their 12th grade for reasons other than physical relocation. Using the "school of choice" argument here is highly questionable - if the school is unable to motivate many of their students to stay in their high school, or if it is making their school experience so difficult that they feel forced to leave, or if they are being "counseled out," it is unreasonable for the school to absolve itself of any responsibility for their graduation.
The graphs below, for Gulen charter schools, show that families moving out of the area cannot possibly account for the large net loss of students as they progress through high school. Note that these graphs follow a particular class, or cohort, as they pass from 9th to 12th grade over a 4-year period.
The first school shown here is Wisconsin Career Academy (WCA), which says on its website that it is using a "curriculum is based on a model developed and successfully implemented by Concept Schools," and moreover that "The curriculum is designed to ensure 100% student proficiency on state standards in math, science and English Language Arts as well as a 100% graduation rate and acceptance into college." (It is unclear why WCA is not currently listed as a member school on the Concept website. There are numerous references to Concept Schools on the "Educational Program" page of the WCA website, and this along with many other connections indicate that this school is under the Concept umbrella in actuality even if not officially.)
Also, here is a line from a webpage for the 14th Annual Michigan Charter School Conference, organized in 2010 by the Michigan Association of Public School Academies:
"With a 100% graduation rate and 94% college acceptance rate, Concept Schools graduates attend prestigious colleges around the country including MIT, OSU, and Case Western Reserve University."
The next graphs shown here are for Syracuse Academy of Science, a Gulen charter school in New York State. On the education.com website it says "Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School had a 100% graduation rate with Regents Diploma in 2007." We are not sure of the source of this claim, since it is not confirmed by the New York State school report card. However, many parents searching schools online use websites such as education.com, so this information will affect their decisions, whether or not it is accurate .