Online credit recovery is booming

To boost graduation rates, urban school districts are letting students pick up missing credits online, reports Education Week. The good news: That means waiving rules that require “seat time” in a classroom instead of  mastery of a subject.  The bad news: There’s no evidence that online programs work for struggling students. Can kids who failed to focus in a classroom stick with an online course? Are the standards for “mastery” high enough?

New York City, Chicago and Boston are turning to online credit recovery.  Policies differ on whether students can take online courses at home or must go to a school, but districts typically require tests to take place in a supervised setting.

Some 36 states let students to earn high school credits based on proficiency, which may include passing a test or an online course, according to Education Commission for the States. But many districts have stuck with seat-time rules. Capable students might pass out of enough courses to graduate a year or two early.

Seat-time rules are obsolete, says Carmeta P. Vaughan of America’s Promise Alliance, which works to improve graduation rates.

“The notion that students should have to sit in a chair for a certain amount of time when it’s only a certain aspect of algebra they didn’t get baffles me,” Ms. Vaughan said.

Chicago is targeting ninth graders who finish the year short of the normal six credits. Experience shows that students who fall behind in ninth grade are far less likely to graduate.

Boston is using online credit recovery for non-graduating seniors who prefer working at home to attending a traditional summer school.

New York City will introduce online credit-recovery options in 10 schools. The district has approved Apex Learning, Aventa Learning, the Florida Virtual School, CompassLearning and K12 Inc. to provide the courses.  Unlike Chicago and Boston, New York City will require students to sit in classroom computer labs with certified teachers in the room.

When I was reporting for Our School, San Jose was pushing credit-recovery alternative schools based on filling out worksheets. Students were told they could earn double the normal number of credits and get caught up. But very few stuck with it. I’m sure online classes are a lot better, but students who’ve failed classes tend not to be motivated, organized, self-directed learners. I see the potential for a game of let’s pretend: Students pretend they’ve learned, online providers pretend they’ve taught and schools pretend all their graduates have a high school education.

About Joanne


  1. tim-10-ber says:

    What I hear from teachers in our district is credit recovery and many graduate level online courses are a joke. So…we let high school kids answer and few questions to keep the kid on track to graduation with no gain in educational foundation for the next level course…who are we fooling and who are we hurting and why?

  2. Every student in my school who has done these has been less than thrilled.

  3. toss255 says:

    I’ve heard rumors in NYC of credit recovery classes where the students sit in front of computers and answer multiple choice questions until they get them right — so if A is wrong, try B, etc.

  4. Cognitively, this is very shallow, short term memory stuff. They will learn enough to pass the unit, units add up to passing the course.

    But they don’t remember much after the sessions. It does take “seat” time to master subjects.

  5. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I’d have to see the software to know for sure, but I can’t but suspect that this is all so much horse manure designed to keep angry parents and angry students from burning down the city because the child is barred from graduating with his or her friends.

  6. NYC is doing the right thing. I use online for Credit Recovery. If students work outside of class; it’s simply or, if the kids look around, for math. They are done quickly. At first, I emphasized that CR students take the final in class to verify at least short-term learning. However, they would fail so miserably that telling them to restart (even if they had copied every answer) was simply too upsetting. They would do nothing.

    Now I have all work done in my lab. I adjust for each student and award progress. This works. Just about everything else is pretend or self-deception.

  7. I don’t know about the online courses. I’m curious to see how demanding they are.

    But I do know about the credit recovery alternative schools.

    This is not an exaggeration: A student can get an entire year’s credit by putting in some seat time plus about 20 hours of work at the 4th grade level. That comes to about 2 hours of 4th grade work per class per semester.

    Essays don’t have to be longer than two hundred words and maybe two will be required the entire year. Good spelling is appreciated but not required. The only way to get an F is to not do it.

    Seat time, often but not always, means sitting anywhere you want in the classroom so you can talk to friends or sleep.

    Students are not allowed to talk on their cell phones or fight. And that’s about it.

    Believe it or not, these schools actually help a lot of students.

    They don’t learn anything–not at all– but for many it’s a holding pattern to give them time to get out of a downward spiral. Some grow up, gain a little confidence and even go on to college.

    Alternative schools are a joke. But the alternative to alternative school is usually a lot worse.

  8. Roger Sweeny says:

    Cognitively, this is very shallow, short term memory stuff. They will learn enough to pass the unit, units add up to passing the course. But they don’t remember much after the sessions.

    The question that cries out for research is “how different is this from a class with lots of seat time?” Every high school teacher knows that without a lot of “review,” students do significantly worse on mid-terms and finals than they do on “unit tests.” And every high school teacher knows that by the following September, students have forgotten a good deal of what they had “learned” the year before.

    Just how much have they forgotten? Nobody knows. It would be hard to find out. And perhaps we’re afraid to know the answer.

  9. In education, as in many other endeavors, the law of diminishing returns applies. With students who are behind, and probably resistant, and preoccupied with the rest of their lives, great effort may be required to accomplish minimal learning. But I’m with Robert; since employers pretty much demand HS graduation, we have to provide the opportunity for same, even if it doesn’t look much like what we had hoped for for the students.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by kriley19, Joanne Jacobs. Joanne Jacobs said: New blog post: Online credit recovery is booming […]