Enrollment and Achievement in Ohio’s Virtual Charter Schools

August 02, 2016

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Fordham’s latest study, conducted by learning technology researcher June Ahn from NYU, dives into one of the most promising—and contentious—issues in education today: virtual schools. What type of students choose them? Which online courses do students take? Do virtual schools lead to improved outcomes for kids?

With over thirty-five thousand students enrolled in its fully online charter schools (“e-schools”), Ohio boasts one of the country’s largest populations of full-time virtual students. The sector has also grown tremendously, with a 60 percent increase in enrollment over the past four years—more than any other type of public school. Using four years of comprehensive student-level data to examine Ohio’s e-schools, the study finds: 

  • E-school students are mostly similar in race and ethnicity to students in brick-and-mortar district schools. But e-school students are lower-achieving (and more likely to have repeated the prior grade), more likely to participate in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, and less likely to participate in gifted education.
  • Students taking online math courses are more likely to enroll in basic classes relative to students taking face-to-face courses. Almost no students take advanced math courses (like AP Statistics, Calculus, or Algebra II) online, especially compared to students who take face-to-face classes.
  • Across all grades and subjects, students who attend e-schools perform worse on state tests than otherwise-similar students who attend brick-and-mortar district schools, even accounting for prior achievement. In contrast, students in grades 4–8 who attend brick-and-mortar charter schools perform slightly better than their district school counterparts in both reading and math. Results are mixed but modest for students in grade ten.
  • Findings also suggest that e-schools drag down the performance of the entire charter sector.

Online schools offer an efficient way to diversify—and even democratize—education in a connected world. Yet they have received negative, but well-deserved, attention concerning their poor academic performance, attrition rates, and ill capacity to educate the types of students who enroll in them. This is especially true in Ohio, where virtual schools have failed (as yet) to realize their potential.

Using a slightly different analytical approach than CREDO’s Online Charter School Study (2015), Dr. Ahn’s results corroborate the disappointing findings on Ohio’s online schools. Bold changes in policy and practice are needed to ensure that these schools better serve their students. For advocates of online learning and educational choice, the work has just begun.

Can Policymakers Fix What Ails Online Charter Schools?

By Dara Zeehandelaar and Michael J. Petrilli


A major development of recent years has been the explosive growth of online learning in K–12 education. Sometimes it takes the form of “blended learning,” with students receiving a mix of online and face-to-face instruction. Students may also learn via web-based resources like the Khan Academy, or by enrolling in distance-learning “independent study” courses. In addition, an increasing number of pupils are taking the plunge into fully online schools: In 2015, an estimated 275,000 students enrolled in full-time virtual charter schools across twenty-five states.

The Internet has obviously opened a new frontier of instructional possibilities. Much less certain is whether such opportunities are actually improving achievement, especially for the types of students who enroll in virtual schools. In Enrollment and Achievement in Ohio’s Virtual Charter Schools, we at Fordham examined this issue using data from our home state of Ohio, where online charter schools (“e-schools”) are a rapidly growing segment of K–12 education. Today they enroll more than thirty-five thousand students, one of the country’s largest populations of full-time online students. Ohio e-school enrollment has grown 60 percent over the last four years, a rate greater than any other type of public school. But even since they launched, e-schools have received negative press for their poor academic performance, high attrition rates, and questionable capacity to educate the types of students who choose them. It’s clearly a sector that needs attention.

Our study focuses on the demographics, course-taking patterns, and academic results of pupils attending Ohio’s e-schools. It was authored by Dr. June Ahn, an associate professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. He’s an expert in how technology can enhance how education is delivered and how students learn.

Using student-level data from 2009–10 through 2012–13, Dr. Ahn reports that e-schools serve a unique population. Compared to students in brick-and-mortar district schools, e-school students are initially lower-achieving (and more likely to have repeated the prior grade), more likely to participate in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, and less likely to participate in gifted education. (Brick-and-mortar charters attract even lower-performing students.)

The analysis also finds that, controlling for demographics and prior achievement, e-school students perform worse than students who attend brick-and-mortar district schools. Put another way, on average, Ohio’s e-school students start the school year academically behind and lose even more ground (relative to their peers) during the year. That finding corroborates the disappointing results from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) 2015 analysis of virtual charter schools nationwide, which used a slightly different analytical approach.

Importantly, this study considers e-school students separately from those in other charters. It finds that brick-and-mortar charter students in grades 4–8 outperform their peers in district schools in both reading and math. In high school, brick-and-mortar charter students perform better in science, no better or worse in math, and slightly worse in reading and writing compared to students in district schools. This confirms what some Ohioans have long suspected: E-schools weigh down the overall impact of the Buckeye State’s charter sector. Separate out the e-school results and Ohio’s brick-and-mortar charters look a lot better than when the entire sector is treated as a whole.

The consistent, negative findings for e-school students are troubling, to say the least. One obvious remedy is to pull the plug—literally and figuratively—but we think that would be a mistake. Surely it’s possible, especially as technology and online pedagogy improve, to create virtual schools that serve students well. The challenge now is to boost outcomes for online learners, not to eliminate the online option. We therefore offer three recommendations for policy makers and advocates in states that, like Ohio, are wrestling to turn the rapid development of online schools into a net plus for their pupils.

First, policy makers should adopt performance-based funding for e-schools. When students complete courses successfully and demonstrate that they have mastered the expected competencies, e-schools would get paid. This creates incentives for e-schools to focus on what matters most—academic progress—while tempering their appetite for enrollment growth and the dollars tied to it. It would also encourage them to recruit students likely to succeed in an online environment—a form of “cream-skimming” that is not only defensible but, in this case, preferable. At the very least, proficiency-based funding is one way for e-schools to demonstrate that they are successfully delivering the promised instruction to students. That should be appealing to them given the difficulty in defining, tracking, and reporting “attendance” and “class time” at an online school.

Second, policy makers should seek ways to improve the fit between students and e-schools. Based on the demographics we report, it seems that students selecting Ohio’s e-schools may be those least likely to succeed in a school format that requires independent learning, self-motivation, and self-regulation. Lawmakers could explore rules that exempt e-schools from policies requiring all charters, virtual ones included, to accept every student who applies and instead allow e-schools to operate more like magnet schools with admissions procedures and priorities. E-schools would be able to admit students best situated to take advantage of the unique elements of virtual schooling: flexible hours and pacing, a safe and familiar location for learning, a chance for individuals with social or behavioral problems to focus on academics, greater engagement from students who are able to choose electives based on their own interests, and the chance to develop high-level virtual communication skills. E-schools should also consider targeting certain students through advertising and outreach, especially if they can’t be selective. At the very least, states with fully online schools should adopt a policy like the one in Ohio, which requires such schools to offer an orientation course—the perfect occasion to set high expectations for students as they enter and let them know what would help them thrive in an online learning environment (e.g., a quiet place to study, a dedicated amount of time to devote to academics).

Third, policy makers should support online course choice (also called “course access”), so that students interested in web-based learning can avail themselves of online options without enrolling full-time. Ohio currently confronts students with a daunting decision: either transfer to a full-time e-school or stay in their traditional school and potentially be denied the chance to take tuition-free, credit-bearing virtual courses aligned to state standards. Instead of forcing an all-or-nothing choice, policy makers should ensure that a menu of course options is available to students, including courses delivered online. To safeguard quality and public dollars, policy makers should also create oversight to vet online options (and veto shoddy or questionable ones). Financing arrangements may need to change, too, perhaps in ways that more directly link funding to actual course providers. If it were done right, however, course choice would not only open more possibilities for students, but also ratchet up the competition that online schools face—and perhaps compel them to improve the quality of their own services.

Innovation is usually an iterative process. Many of us remember the earliest personal computers—splendid products for playing Oregon Trail, but now artifacts of the past. Fortunately, innovators and engineers kept pushing the envelope for faster, nimbler, smarter devices. Today, we are blessed as customers with easy-to-use laptops, tablets, and more. But proximity to technology, no matter how advanced, isn’t enough. E-schools and their kin should facilitate understanding of how best to utilize online curricula and non-traditional learning environments, especially for underserved learners. From this evidence base, providers should then be held to high standards of practice. Though the age of online learning has dawned, there is much room for improvement in online schooling—and nowhere more than in Ohio. For advocates of online learning, and educational choice, the work has just begun.

—Dara Zeehandelaar and Mike Petrilli

This post originally appeared on Flypaper

How can we improve the performance and accountability of Pennsylvania cyber charters?

If it sometimes seems like “tuition-free” cyber charter ads are running non-stop, consider that in just one year your tax dollars paid for 19,298 local TV commercials for Agora Cyber Charter, just one of Pennsylvania’s 13 cyber charters.  And far from being tuition-free, total cyber tuition paid by Pennsylvania taxpayers from 500 school districts for 2013, 2014 and 2015 was $393.5 million, $398.8 million and $436.1 million respectively.

Those commercials were very effective, especially if you were an executive at K12, Inc., a for-profit company contracted to manage the cyberschool.  According to Agora’s 2013 IRS filing, it paid $69.5 million that year to K12, Inc.  According to Morningstar, total executive compensation at K12 in 2013 was $21.37 million.

Not so effective for kids or taxpayers, though.  What the ads don’t tell you is that they are paid for using your school tax dollars instead of those funds being spent in classrooms, and that academic performance at every one of Pennsylvania’s cyber charters has been consistently dismal.  While the PA Dept. of Education considers a score of 70 to be passing, Agora’s PA School Performance Profile (SPP) scores for 2013, 2014 and 2015 were 48.3, 42.4 and 46.4.

In fact, not one of Pennsylvania’s cyber charters has achieved a passing SPP score of 70 in any of the three years that the SPP has been in effect.  Additionally, most PA cybers never made adequate yearly progress during all the years (2005-2012) that the federal No Child Left Behind law was in effect.  While cybers may be a great fit for some kids, overall they have been an enormous waste of taxpayer dollars drawn from all 500 school districts without any authorization by those districts.  Unlike brick and mortar charter schools which must be authorized by their local school district, cyber charters were authorized, and are ostensibly overseen by the state Dept. of Education.

Even if the cyber’s SPP score is 50 points less than a school district school, locally elected school boards have virtually no discretion when it comes to paying cyber tuition bills.  If they don’t pay the cyber school the Department of Education will draft their account.

These poor results are reflected in national studies.  Stanford University reported that online schools have an “overwhelming negative impact,” showing severe shortfalls in reading and math achievement.  The shortfall for most cyber students, they said, was equal to losing 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days in math during the typical 180-day school year.  In math it is as if they did not go to school at all.  The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a charter advocacy group based in Washington, said the findings were so troubling that the report should be “a call to action for authorizers and policymakers.”

What can Pennsylvania policymakers do to improve the performance and accountability of our cyber charters?  Here are some possibilities for our legislators to consider as they return from summer break.

Consider cyber charter reform separately from brick and mortar charter school reform legislation.  Charter reform has proven to be a very tough nut to crack.  There seems to be increasing agreement that cyber education as presently configured is not working for most of our students or our taxpayers.

Consider closing some of the most persistently underperforming cybers with scores in the 20s, 30s and 40s and have their students transfer to one of the better performing schools.  One of the tenets of school choice is supposed to be that failing schools would be closed.

Consider funding cyber education via a separate dedicated budget line instead of tuition payments from school districts.  These schools are already authorized by the state department of ed, not by school boards.

Consider providing PDE with the staffing and resources needed to effectively oversee the cyber charters that they have authorized.

Consider the recommendations of the PA Auditor General’s June 2012 special report on Charter and Cyber Charter Education Funding Reform. http://www.paauditor.gov/Media/Default/Reports/CyberCharterSpecialReport201206.pdf

Consider the recommendations of the PA Special Education Funding Commission’s December 2013 report that calls for using three funding categories based upon the intensity of services required to meet special education students’ needs.

In 2014-15 cyber charters reportedly received over $100 million more in special education tuition payments than they actually spent on special education services.


Consider requiring all ads for cyber charters to clearly state that the ads are paid for using school tax dollars and to clearly state the cyber charter’s SPP score and the fact that a score of 70 is considered passing.

Consider creating a centralized marketing website at PDE instead of having cyber charters spend tax dollars on ads.  This site would link to the websites for each of the state’s cyber schools.

A blog posting entitled “Can-policymakers-fix-what-ails-online-charter-schools? by Dara Zeehandelaar and Michael J. Petrilli recommended three strategies for improving online schools:

(1) Consider adopting performance-based funding for e-schools.  When students complete courses successfully and demonstrate that they have mastered the expected competencies, cybers schools would get paid. This creates incentives for cybers to focus on what matters most—academic progress—while tempering their appetite for enrollment growth and the dollars tied to it. It would also encourage them to recruit students likely to succeed in an online environment.

(2) Policy makers should seek ways to improve the fit between students and e-schools. It seems that students selecting cyber schools may be those least likely to succeed in a school format that requires independent learning, self-motivation, and self-regulation.  Lawmakers could explore rules that exempt cyber schools from policies requiring all charters, virtual ones included, to accept every student who applies and instead allow cybers to operate more like magnet schools with admissions procedures and priorities.

(3) Policy makers should support online course choice, so that students interested in web-based learning can avail themselves of online options without enrolling full-time in a cyber charter. This might include encouraging students to use their own school districts’ programs if their school district or intermediate unit offers cyber education.

Cyber charters were intended to be a better alternative to traditional schools that were deemed as failing.  Over 10 years later that has consistently proven not to be the case.  We have spent over $1 billion in tax dollars on cyber tuition in Pennsylvania in just the past three years.  Our students and taxpayers deserve better.

Lawrence A. Feinberg of Ardmore is serving in his 17th year as a school director in Haverford Township.  He is the founder and a co-chairman of the Keystone State Education Coalition.

Alabama Virtual Academy at Eufaula City Schools (ALVA) Kicks Off its Second School Year


Students at Alabama Virtual Academy at Eufaula City Schools (ALVA), an accredited, full-time, online public charter school, began their 2016-2017 school year on August 4th. This marks its 2nd year of operation in the state.

Alabama Virtual Academy at Eufaula City Schools is a tuition-free, full-time public school program for grades K-12. Students at ALVA follow the Eufaula City Schools district calendar.

Students enrolled at Alabama Virtual Academy at Eufaula City Schools learn outside the traditional classroom and receive their courses and participate in teacher-led instruction online. State-certified teachers work in close partnership with parents or other guardians who serve as learning coaches for the students.

“We are excited to be working with students and families in Alabama this year through Eufaula City Schools,” said Kayleen Marble, ALVA Head of School, “We are looking forward to meeting all of our students and providing them an excellent education option through this program.”

Earlier this summer, ALVA challenged enrolled families to prevent summer ‘brain drain’ by offering students free access to LearnBop, a self-paced solution that simulates a one-on-one, personalized math tutoring experience. The award-winning online program will continue to be available free of charge throughout the fall and can be used alongside the regular math curriculum to build math skills or prepare for high-level exams.

Eufaula City Schools is partnering with K12 Inc. Alabama Virtual Academy at Eufaula City Schools will use K12’s award-winning curriculum and academic services. K12 Inc. is accredited by AdvancED, the world’s largest education community.

About Eufaula City Schools

Established in 1872, Eufaula City Schools is the oldest city school district in Alabama and is the heartbeat of this beautiful southeast Alabama city. Eufaula City Schools is a progressive district providing many academic, enrichment, and technical opportunities for students and teachers while maintaining the values and traditions of the best in public schools. More information can be found at www.ecs.k12.al.us.

About K12 Inc. K12 Inc. (LRN), is the nation’s largest provider of proprietary curriculum and online education programs. For more information on the school, please visit: http://alva.k12.com and follow us on Facebook.

View source version on businesswire.com: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160815005923/en/

Morgan Hill K12 charter school closes

A Morgan Hill charter school is closing its doors due to a terminated contract and financial troubles, which means almost 250 students will have to enroll in new schools before the start of the academic year, Santa Clara County education officials said Wednesday.

Silicon Valley Flex Academy at 610 Jarvis Drive served 240 students between grades six to 12 and opened in 2011 under a countywide charter, county education officials said.

In November, Santa Clara County’s Board of Education had renewed the academy’s charter for another five years from 2016 to 2021, according to the county office.

On Monday night, the academy’s board told the county the academy would close because of “fiscal unsustainability” after its service provider, K12, cut their contract, county officials said.

Classes for the new school year were set to begin on Aug. 11, according to the school’s website.

The county office is working with the charter school’s board along with Morgan Hill Unified School District and its Superintendent Steve Betando to register the students for the 2016-17 academic year.

The district’s first day of school is scheduled for Aug. 16.

“Our first and highest priority is always the wellbeing of the students,” county Superintendent of Schools Jon Gundry said in a statement.

“Since learning of this impending action, I have been in close contact with Superintendent Steve Betando to ensure students and families will have options and opportunities following this decision by the Silicon Valley Flex Academy board,” Gundry said.

The school “boasted a blending learning model by combining an online K12, Inc. curriculum with offline lessons and small-sized breakout sessions,” according to the academy’s Parent Teacher Organization website.

Staff members from the academy and county’s Charter Schools Office are working to ensure they meet requirements to close the charter school under the state Department of Education and education code, county officials said.

Parents can speak to staff about the closure at the academy today and next week, according to county officials.

The district has scheduled an information meeting on the transition for academy parents and students at 7 p.m. on Aug. 4 at the Ann Sobrato High School theater on campus at 401 Burnett Ave. in Morgan Hill.

Teachers claim virtual charter school company inflates enrollment

By Jane Meredith Adams | | 5 Comments

More than 30 teachers at the largest online charter school network in California filed complaints against their employer on Thursday, alleging that the schools violated state and federal laws by failing to provide special education services, inflating enrollment figures and paying for conferences in Yosemite and Palm Springs with federal money intended for students from low-income families.

The teachers filed their complaints – 69 in all – with the California Department of Education, county superintendents and nine school districts that oversee nine branches of the California Virtual Academies schools. The network operates 11 schools in California with an enrollment of 14,500 students.

“There is little oversight of virtual public schools in California,” said Cara Bryant, a longtime California Virtual Academies teacher and current teacher trainer based out of the branch known as CAVA @ Sonoma, in a statement.

“I do not believe all students are getting the education they need enrolled in CAVA,” Bryant said.

K12 Inc., the parent company of California Virtual Academies, denied the allegations and suggested they were part of an effort to unionize teachers at the schools. Other allegations included the illegal sharing of confidential student information, such as Individualized Education Plans for special education students, with all teachers; failing to keep adequate financial reserves; and failing to improve a pattern of sub-par student academic achievement and graduation rates.

At the CAVA@Los Angeles school, for example, 274 students were enrolled in the 12th grade in 2012-13 but none of those who graduated had completed all the courses required for UC or CSU admission.

“The latest round of complaints filed by a small group of individuals are consistent with prior complaints brought against the California Virtual Academies by various labor organizations seeking to represent CAVA certified teachers,” said Katrina Abston, head of schools for the network, in a statement from K12.

Some teachers at the California Virtual Academies have formed a group known as the California Virtual Educators that is seeking to unionize and affiliate with the California Teachers Association, according to Stacie Bailey, a high school science teacher at California Virtual Academies.

“As with the prior complaints, CAVA absolutely believes these current complaints are without merit,” Abston said. The charter schools undergo annual financial audits by independent external auditors, Abston said, and have “a strong record of compliance.”

David Thoming, superintendent of the New Jerusalem Elementary School District, said the district would investigate the complaints and asked the letter writers to send evidence of non-compliance. Families in the New Jerusalem district have been very happy with the CAVA@San Mateo school, he said, which provides homeschool families a structured curriculum and high school students a more flexible schedule. One student in the district is an accomplished gymnast who is enrolled in CAVA@San Mateo so she can take classes around her workout schedule.

“They love it,” Thoming said. “They wouldn’t be as large as they are if families didn’t like it.”

He added, “No one’s forcing them to go there and along the same line, for the teachers, no one’s forcing them to work there.”

Links to the complaints can be found on the California Virtual Educators website. The California Virtual Academy schools named in the complaints and the districts that oversee them are:

  • CAVA@Fresno – Orange Center School District
  • CAVA@Jamestown – Jamestown Elementary School District
  • CAVA@Kings – Armona Union Elementary School District
  • CAVA@Los Angeles – West Covina Unified School District
  • CAVA@Maricopa and CAVA@Maricopa High – Maricopa Unified School District
  • CAVA@San Diego – Spencer Valley Elementary School District
  • CAVA@San Joaquin – New Jerusalem Elementary School District
  • CAVA@San Mateo – Jefferson Elementary School District
  • CAVA@Sutter – Meridian Elementary School District

Jane Meredith Adams covers student health and well-being.

Learning company that once served local districts focus of state audit


Learning company that once served local districts focus of state audit

SACRAMENTO — An online learning company that once partnered with Lodi Unified School District to serve its students is the focus of a state audit, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced this week.

The California Department of Education has contracted with the State Controller’s Office to conduct an audit of California Virtual Academies and the group’s related charter schools because serious questions have been raised about a number of their practices. It is expected to be completed next March.

“The goal of the audit is to make sure these schools are spending public education funds properly and serving their students well,” Torlakson said in a press release.

The State Controller’s office will conduct the review of CAVA and related charter schools to verify whether these non-profit schools:

• Are organizationally separate from K-12, Inc. a for-profit company that these non-profit charter schools contract with.

• Accurately reported attendance, enrollment, and dropout graduation rates to the California Department of Education.

• Appropriately allocated and reported shared expenses.

• Appropriately identified, accounted for and disclosed related-party relationships.

According to a lawsuit filed in San Francisco two years ago, the same organization was accused of diverting students and money to its own charter schools.

The lawsuit was filed by David Ehrenfeld, a former employee of K12, Inc. who helped the company enter a contract with Lodi Unified to create an online learning program. He claimed in his lawsuit that K12 later tried to siphon students and money into a charter school owned by K12.

Ehrenfeld, who was seeking back wages and lost commissions from K12, was the national account manager for Lodi Unified, an online program for Elk Grove Unified School District and K12’s California Virtual Academy-San Joaquin, which was overseen by Stockton Unified.

Although not specifically named in the suit, Lodi Unified entered a contract in spring 2011 with K12 to begin an online learning program for students, but the program fizzled and was not continued after two school years.

The virtual academy used one part-time and one full-time district teacher specially trained by K12, and was overseen by an Independence School administrator at Henderson School. Students were required to visit Independence School regularly to meet with a teacher to discuss progress and turn in coursework.

But the academy closed in Lodi Unified in 2013, when district officials said enrollment expectations were not met. There were only 12 students during the first school year, according to district figures, although K12 had promised at least 100 students when the program was approved by the school board.

In his lawsuit, Ehrenfeld claimed that K12 diverted students into CAVA, shifting state money based on student attendance. His also contended that unnamed clients discovered and reported that K12 was diverting students intending to enroll in public school district-operated independent study programs into K12-operated public charter schools, including CAVA.

State records show that, while Lodi’s virtual academy sputtered for lack of students, state apportionment based on CAVA’s student enrollment nearly tripled — from 559 students to 1,512 — during the time period K12 served Lodi Unified, according to the State Department of Education.

The suit did not list damages to Lodi Unified or any other district that affiliated with K12, as Ehrenheld was solely seeking compensatory damages for personal wage and benefit loss. It is unclear whether there was a resolution in the case

In a previous interview, Tim Hern, Lodi Unified’s chief business officer, said records indicate the district split student income with K12, with the district drawing $46,380 and K12 receiving $17,615. The balance was used to offset the district’s cost of instructors for the program.

Under its contract with the district, K12 coordinated and oversaw student enrollment. Hern said that arrangement could mean the district would not have been aware of irregularities in student transfers.

“Because they were handling enrollment, I don’t think we would have ever known that, if it was happening,” Hern previously said.

The K12 program was launched before he joined the district, and the district officials who orchestrated the program have since left.

2016 Building a Grad Nation Report


Written annually by Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, and released in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education, this report examines the progress and challenges the nation faces in reaching the GradNation goal of a national on-time graduation rate of 90 percent by the Class of 2020.

Release Date: 


Download the Full Report

Download the Executive Summary

Download the 2016 Data Brief

The nation has achieved an 82.3 percent high school graduation rate – a record high.

Graduation rates rose for all student subgroups, and the number of low-graduation-rate high schools and students enrolled in them dropped again, indicating that progress has had far-reaching benefits for all students.

This progress, however, has not come without its challenges.

First, this year the nation is slightly off pace to reach a 90 percent on-time graduation rate by 2020.

Second, at both the national and state levels, troubling graduation gaps remain between White students and their Black and Latino peers, low-income and non-low-income students, and students with and without disabilities.

Third, low-graduation-rate high schools – a key focus of the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act – pose a significant roadblock to the national goal of a 90 percent graduation rate for all students. While the number of low-graduation-rate high schools has declined considerably over the past decade, in some states they still predominate.

The 2016 Building a Grad Nation report is the first to analyze 2014 graduation data using new criteria established by ESSA and the first to show the impact of additional time on graduation rates.

If all states were required to report five-year graduation rates, the national high school grad rate would go up about 3 percentage points. If all states were required to report six-year grad rates, the rate would go up an additional point.

The report provides a new national and state-by-state analysis of low-graduation-rate high schools; the number of additional students it will take for the country and each state to reach 90 per-cent; a look at the validity of graduation rates; and policy recommendations for change.

National & State Picture

After flat-lining for 30 years, high school graduation rates began to rise in 2002. This steady climb became more accelerated in 2006 and, in 2012, the nation reached an historic milestone, an 80 percent on-time graduation rate.

The upward trend continued through 2014, as the national graduation rate hit another record, 82.3 percent, up more than 10 percentage points since the turn of the century.

When the graduation rate hit 80 percent, we calculated that the national graduation rate would need to increase by roughly 1.2 percentage points per year to achieve 90 percent by the Class of 2020. Between 2013 and 2014, the nation missed this mark, and will now have to average closer to 1.3 percentage points per year to reach the goal.

Moving from percentages to raw numbers, meeting the 90 percent goal would mean graduating 284,591 more students.

To graduate students equitably across all subgroups means focusing on students of color, those with disabilities, English-language learners and students from low-income homes. Despite all the progress, these subgroups still graduate at lower rates than other students.

For more information on subgroup graduation rates, go to the 2016 Building a Grad Nation Data Brief.

At the state level:

  • Iowa became the first state to surpass 90 percent, with a 90.5 percent rate in 2014.
  • 20 other states are on pace to reach a 90 percent graduation rate.
  • Five on-pace states – Nebraska, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Texas and Wisconsin – are within 2 percentage points of the goal.
  • 21 states are currently off track to reach 90 percent by the Class of 2020.

Low-Grad-Rate Schools

The number of low-graduation-rate schools – defined by ESSA as those enrolling 100 or more students and graduating 67 percent or less of them – has declined considerably, but in some states they still predominate. (Note: Previous reports have focused on high schools with at least 300 students. This calculation, made to align with ESSA, allows a closer look at more rural, charter, alternative and virtual schools.)

  • There are 1,000 large, low-graduation-rate high schools (more than 300 students) nationwide, enrolling 924,000 students, compared to 2,000 in 2002, enrolling 2.6 million students.
  • Vulnerable students are overrepresented in low-graduation-rate high schools. Of the roughly 924,000 in large low-graduation-rate high schools, 65 percent were from low-income families, and 63 percent were Black or Hispanic/Latino.
  • When including high schools with student populations of at least 100 students, there are 2,397 graduation-rate high schools across the nation, enrolling 1.23 million students.
  • Nationwide, 33 percent of all non-graduates in 2014 were enrolled in low-graduation-rate high schools.
  • Though alternative, charter, and virtual schools collectively account for 14 percent of high schools and 8 percent of high school students, they make up 52 percent of low-graduation-rate high schools nationwide and produce 20 percent of non-graduates. Regular district high schools account for 41 percent of low-graduation-rate high schools and are where the majority of students who do not graduate on time can be found.
  • Low-graduation-rate high schools by school types. Out of all low-grad-rate schools in the nation, 41 percent are regular district schools, 28 percent are alternative schools, 26 percent are charter schools and 7 percent are virtual schools.
    (According to NCES definitions, there is inherent overlap between the alternative, charter, and virtual schools categories, so these numbers do not add up to 100 percent. When looking just at district-operated alternative schools, they make up 23 percent of low-graduation-rate high schools, and when separating virtual schools out from charter schools, the percentage of low-graduation-rate schools that are charter schools falls to 22 percent.)
  • Regular district schools (84% of all high schools). Seven percent (7%) of regular district public schools, or roughly 1,000 schools nationwide, were low-graduation rate high schools. Regular district high schools had an average graduation rate of 85 percent. The number of low-graduation-rate regular district high schools across states ranges from zero in Delaware, Hawaii, and Kentucky to more than 276 in New York and 203 in Florida.
  • Charter schools (8% of all high schools). Now authorized in all but seven states, the of charter schools is rising with mixed results on graduation rates. Thirty percent (30%) of charter schools were low-graduation-rate high schools, while 44 percent had high graduation rates of 85 percent and above. Nationwide, charter schools reported an average graduation rate of 70 percent. Hawaii, Arizona, Indiana, Ohio and California have the highest percentages of low-graduation-rate charter high schools.
  • Alternative schools (6% of all high schools). Established to meet the needs of “at risk” students, 57 percent of alternative schools are low-graduation-rate high schools. They have an average graduation rate of 52 percent. Sixty percent (60%) of students at alternative high schools are students of color. In 10 states, including Kentucky, Texas, Washington, Idaho and Iowa, 50 percent or more of low-graduation-rate high schools were alternative schools in 2014. Other states have experienced greater success with alternative schools.
  • Virtual schools (1% of all high schools). Schools offering all instruction online have greatly increased in recent years. Virtual schools were disaggregated in NCES data for the first time in 2013-14. The data shows that 87 percent of virtual schools are low-grad-rate schools with an average graduation rate of 40 percent. States with the highest percentage of non-graduates coming from virtual schools include Ohio, Idaho, Pennsylvania and Colorado.

Validity of Grad Rates

Rising high school graduation rates have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, as more people question whether the gains are real, whether high school diplomas are a meaningful measure of achievement, and whether high school graduates are adequately prepared for college and careers.

  • The most rapid rise in graduation rates occurred from 2006 to 2014, during an era when states were increasing graduation requirements, including exit and end-of course exams. Thus, graduation rates rose even as it was getting harder to graduate.
  • If standards were being lowered, one would expect ACT and SAT scores to decrease, but scores (and the percentage of SAT-takers who meet the College Board’s College and Career Readiness Standards) remain flat.
  • There is evidence that more students are participating in rigorous coursework. Since 2004, the total number of graduates taking an AP course has risen from 558,993 in 2004 to over 1 million in 2013. The number of students passing at least one AP course has risen in tandem, from 351,647 to 607,505 in 2013.
  • We will have a more comprehensive look at the relationship between high school and college and career readiness in a forthcoming report.

Policy Recommendations

To move the needle to 90 percent by the Class of 2020 and help ensure accuracy in graduation rate reporting, the report includes recommendations, including:

  • Set clear definitions and give graduation rates the weight they deserve in ESSA so that schools and districts are held accountable for graduating traditionally underserved students.
  • Clear up issues of clarity and variability in graduation rate collection and reporting regulations to allow for apples-to-apples comparisons.
  • Create evidence-based plans to improve low-graduation-rate high schools.
  • Require the reporting of extended-year graduation rates. Some students require an additional year or two of high school to earn a diploma. Today 31 states report five-year rates for the Class of 2014. These additional graduates move the national graduation rate from 82.3 percent to greater than 86 percent. And six-year rates, reported in 13 stats, add another percentage point.
  • Ensure that alternative and virtual schools are included in state accountability and improvement systems.
  • Provide real pathways to engage students who have fallen off track. Students who have fallen off track to graduation need the things that all students need to be successful: positive relationships with caring adults, strong and tailored instruction, opportunities to engage in learning experiences that connect school to careers and life beyond, and the support and resources to help them figure out what they want to do once they have earned their diploma. These should be at the core of any school or program, particularly those serving vulnerable student populations.

2016 Data Brief

Released in January, the 2016 Building a Grad Nation Data Brief focused on 2013-14 national and state graduation rate data released by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The brief provides information on graduation gaps at the national and state level for students from low-income families, Black and Hispanic/Latino students, English-language learners and students with disabilities.

The brief also provides State Progress Reports.


Lead Sponsor:

Supporting Sponsors:

About GradNation

The GradNation campaign – led by America’s Promise Alliance, the Alliance for Excellent Education, Civic Enterprises, and the Everyone Graduates Center at the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University – mobilizes individuals and organizations to raise the on-time high school graduation rate to 90 percent by the Class of 2020, with no school graduating fewer than 80 percent of its students on time. GradNation also aims for dramatic increases in postsecondary enrollment and graduation.

Fourth-grader finds success with online school

Nine-year-old Gabe Neis had a tumultuous third-grade year at Bridgewater Elementary School.

With attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia, he had trouble in the noisy atmosphere of a classroom full of nearly 30 other children.

He was bullied and didn’t get along with the teacher. Confidence, ability and progress withered.

“He hated school; it was the last place he wanted to be,” said Heidi Neis, his mother. “There was a sense of hopelessness.”

Since wrapping up the third grade, however, Gabe has made strides. Next year he’ll join his school’s student council as fifth-grade class representative.

During his acceptance speech, Gabe said he thought he was stupid, but now knows he’s smart. That he thought he couldn’t do anything, but now he knows he can be successful.

What happened this year, then?

Gabe joined Bonneville Joint School District 93’s online school.

“It’s fun. I get to stay at home — it’s like having a sick day but you’re still at school every day,” Gabe said.

Serving about 100 students, the K-8 Bonneville Online School was created for children who can’t find success in traditional schools.

This month, Fuel Education, an online education provider, presented Gabe and the school with its 2016 Transformation Award. The reward is reserved for schools and students that demonstrate excellent use of Fuel’s framework.

“We really pride ourselves on innovative learning for each individual,” said Shelley Andrus, the online school’s lead teacher. “For some students with different learning, behavioral or health needs, that flexibility is super important to them.”

Students enrolled are pulled from brick-and-mortar schools and taught at home by a “learning coach,” usually a child’s mother. The learning coach gets a crash course in teaching from district personnel.

Still enrolled in public school, the students take state-mandated standardized tests when necessary. The online school provides a curriculum and constant text, phone, email or video interaction with district teachers.

“I’ve improved with learning. The fall was tough but I’m starting to get facts easier,” Gabe said. “But it isn’t just me, it’s with the support of my teachers and mom.”

For many students, the online school allows a level of involvement that’s logistically difficult to swing in a traditional classroom.

“When you have close to 30 students, some that may have disabilities fall to the wayside. They don’t get the attention and accommodations they may need,” Neis said.

During warmer months, Gabe and his mother take advantage of the sunny weather and run through lessons outside. Sometimes at the table on their porch, other times on the trampoline in their backyard.

The one-on-one nature of a home-based education allows Neis to know whether Gabe needs to take a five-minute break on the trampoline or a spin on his bicycle to burn some energy. The flexibility of the schedule, meanwhile, allows those breaks to happen when they need to.

Figuring those habits out, however, was a difficult learning process for Gabe and his mother, who hadn’t had any experience teaching.

“There was a lot of tears and frustration,” Neis said. “Feeling like Shelley had to talk me down off a ledge or something, I was so overwhelmed in how I was going to do this.”

Throughout the process, Neis learned more about her child’s disabilities and how to set up him up for success. Reading instructions aloud, for example, or dialing back math work to a lower grade level.

“I didn’t have a clue how much his dyslexia impacted him,” Neis said. “You don’t just jump into a primary teacher role without figuring it out. I’ve had to learn as much as he has.”

Neis can text the district’s online school teachers in times of struggle and swap teaching tips with other parents during monthly learning coach meetings.

Students also have access to optional weekly Thursday gatherings with online school teachers and other kids in the program. They participate in games and activities. Sometimes guests come to present.

Though the gatherings offer a good chance at socialization, that isn’t necessarily their main purpose — many of the online school’s students still participate in faith communities, Boy Scouts, et cetera.

Instead, the weekly meetings show the children that others also have problems with traditional education.

Andrus said students get to see they aren’t the only ones who struggle to learn in crowded classrooms, while parents also see other families are going through the same situation.

Neis only began to feel comfortable teaching about a month into the school year.

Gabe, meanwhile, has worked during weekends along with winter and spring breaks to catch up on the courses he toiled with at the year’s beginning.

He may not be ready to rejoin a traditional school anytime soon. Still, the quiet porch outside of Gabe’s homehelps himsucceed in a way the schoolhouse couldn’t.

“He’s gained confidence in his own ability to work again; he’s really driving his own education,” Neis said. “I’m excited to see where he goes. And if he’s an online learner through high school that’s fine with me.”

Reporter Kevin Trevellyan can be reached at 542-6762.

Idaho School District Wins 2016 Fuel Education™ Transformation Award

Bonneville Joint School District recognized for innovative use of online learning to address students’ individual needs

08:30 ET
from Fuel Education

HERNDON, Va., May 11, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Not all students excel in a traditional brick-and-mortar school. Whether a student is home or hospital-bound because of a chronic illness, has behavioral or learning challenges, or has other unique needs, they still need access to high-quality education. The Bonneville Online School, in Idaho’s Bonneville Joint School District, uses the power of online learning to address the needs of its students outside of the traditional education environment.

Personalized learning solutions provider Fuel Education™ (FuelEd™) has named Bonneville Online School (BOS) its 2016 Transformation Award winner. Schools and districts using FuelEd solutions were encouraged to submit success stories to demonstrate how they have used innovative online or blended learning programs to transform education for their students. Bonneville was selected from dozens of entries for providing K–8 students with a flexible school structure that enables them to have a successful academic experience from home.

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“We are very pleased to honor Bonneville Online School as an outstanding example of how school districts can use online and blended learning to help students overcome education barriers,” said Gregg Levin, General Manager of Fuel Education. “Fuel Educations primary goal is to help our school and district partners to personalize learning for each student—regardless of their personal circumstance—so they can achieve their academic goals.”

When 9-year-old Gabe enrolled at BOS in fall 2015, he had been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, and had been exhibiting behavioral issues with his principal and teacher at his previous brick-and-mortar school. Gabe started working on his FuelEd courses at grade level, but his learning coach—his mother—immediately realized his skill levels were well below grade level. With the support of his teacher, a modifiable curriculum, and his learning coach, Gabe is now a dramatically different student. He is confident and enthusiastic about school and puts in the extra effort needed to stay on track, even working on some Saturday mornings and school vacation days. Gabe has pride in his accomplishments and sees himself as an online, at-home learner until he graduates.

Gabe is just one of the more than 100 students enrolled in BOS. BOS was founded in 2010 at the request of a group of local parents who wanted an in-district online school that offered a curriculum approved by the superintendent. Students have the flexibility to complete FuelEd courses at their own pace with guidance from a learning coach and one of BOS’ three teachers. BOS takes an innovative approach to the mastery of content. If students score between 70-79 percent on an end-of-lesson test, students review missed questions with their learning coach to prove they know the material instead of retaking the test. For instructional support, teachers and students connect via phone, email, text, Class Connects and Google Hangouts for one-to-one or group instruction. Every Thursday, students can attend an optional face-to-face session with their teachers and peers.

BOS measures student success based on their participation in Thursday sessions, the level of direct communication with teachers, and growth and proficiency assessments. Nearly 60 percent of students attend the optional Thursday sessions. Students and their learning coaches are in almost constant communication with teachers.

The 2016 FuelEd Transformation Award submissions represented districts with diverse demographic, economic, and geographic backgrounds and identified specific challenges such as increasing graduation rates, providing flexible scheduling, and differentiating instruction for at-risk students. Despite their different backgrounds and goals, each district was able to use FuelEd’s digital curriculum to effectively address these challenges.

To read more about BOS and their program, as well as past FuelEd Transformation Award winners, visit www.getfueled.com/resources-results/transformation-awards.

About Fuel Education
Fuel Education™ partners with school districts to fuel personalized learning and transform the education experience inside and outside the classroom. The company provides innovative solutions for pre-K through 12th grade that empower districts to implement successful online and blended learning programs. Its open, easy-to-use Personalized Learning Platform, PEAK™, enables teachers to customize courses using their own content, FuelEd courses and titles, third-party content, and open educational resources. Fuel Education offers the industry’s largest catalog of K–12 digital curriculum, certified instruction, professional development, and educational services. FuelEd has helped 2,000 school districts to improve student outcomes and better serve diverse student populations. To learn more, visitgetfueled.com and Twitter.

©2016 Fuel Education LLC. All rights reserved. Fuel Education and FuelEd are trademarks of Fuel Education LLC or its affiliates. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

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