Online credit recovery hikes grad rates

High schools are boosting graduation rates by adopting online “credit recovery” programs, reports the Texas Tribune and the Hechinger Report in the New York Times. It’s not clear whether recovering students have learned as much as students who passed the original class.

Brett Rusnock can follow his students’ every move on his laptop: how much time they spend on computers each day at Waltrip High School in Houston, their scores on quizzes and when they stop working. He even gets e-mail alerts when they toil at home into the wee hours. “I can play Big Brother a little bit with this,” Mr. Rusnock said.

Students at Austin High work on their courses in a school computer lab that is run by two teachers and two assistants.

Mr. Rusnock is not a teacher. He is a grad coach, one of 27 in Houston monitoring thousands of students who take so called credit-recovery courses online. Like many other districts across the state, particularly those with high dropout rates, the Houston Independent School District offers these self-paced make-ups to any student who fails a class. In the spring and summer terms, 6,127 Houston I.S.D. students earned 9,774 credits in such courses, which are generally taken in conjunction with a full load of regular classes. About 2,500 more students are enrolled this fall.

Apex Learning provides Houston’s online curriculum; Apex also provides pencil-and-paper tests.

Texas also has raised the maximum age for high school students to 25 and authorized “dropout recovery” charter schools.

T. Jack Blackmon, who heads up the Dallas I.S.D. credit-recovery program, said the old model would continue to crumble.

“It’s the vision for the future as far as I’m concerned: kids going at their own pace,” Mr. Blackmon said. “The traditional school is only good for about a third of the kids, the ones who want football or choir or social activities — kids who have the school bug. For the rest of them, it’s just standing in line, waiting for the factory model to give them an education. A lot of kids don’t want to wait in line.”

While Houston’s grad coaches decide whether students have learned the material and are ready to move on, many districts do not provide that level of support or supervision. In some places, students take computer-generated multiple-choice tests online but don’t have to do any writing to “recover” a class.

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