Credit recovery goes online

As high schools struggle to raise graduation rates, many have turned to online credit recovery programs, writes Hechinger’s Sarah Carr on Education Next. Are students learning — or just being moved along? It’s not clear, but many are dubious.

“There’s a political motivation,” says David Bloomfield, professor of educational leadership, law, and policy at Brooklyn College. “It’s an end run around higher standards.”

Oceanside Unified in California improved graduation rates after opening three centers that offer online credit recovery. Superintendent Larry Perondi believes “the centers have improved the life prospects of students who would have dropped out otherwise, including young parents and teens battling drug addiction.”

Perondi “encourages the district’s best teachers to work” in the centers and assigns extra counselors and social workers to support students.

Three New Orleans charters enroll only students who’ve fallen behind in coursework.

Their supporters argue that the schools provide a much-needed safety valve for students who don’t work well in conventional settings and prefer to move through courses at their own pace; critics worry about the quality of the online courses and fear they take the onus off of traditional high schools to meet the needs of all students.

At the Jefferson Chamber Foundation Academy, the average student is an 18-year-old sophomore. “Some of the students failed the same classes multiple times; others dropped out for a period of months, or years,” writes Carr. “The school supplements the online courses with in-person tutorials and small-group instruction.”

The NET, another charter for high-risk students, combines online courses with traditional in-person classes and “advisories.”

Students and teachers say the online courses have some universal benefits: the teenagers can move at their own pace and get instant feedback on how they are doing.

. . . The biggest drawback, however, is that many of the courses are either too easy or too hard. . . . stronger schools and teachers are increasingly figuring out how to use the online courses as a jumping-off point to address individual students’ needs, supplementing easy courses with more challenging material, for instance, or harder courses with extra in-person tutorials.

But some schools rely exclusively on the online courses.

Success charters lose space in NYC

The high-performing Success Academy charter network will lose space for three schools, the New York Post reports. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Department of Education reversed “co-location” decisions made last year.

The actions block new elementary schools in Queens and at Murry Bergtraum High School near City Hall. Bergtraum is the F-rated school running an online “credit recovery” program that’s left students illiterate.

At Success Academy Harlem 4, already in operation, the decision will leave 210 fourth and fifth graders without a school in the fall.

The Harlem charter is one of the top performing schools in the city, said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. At Success Academy’s Harlem 4, “83 percent of the students passed the state math exam last year, putting it in the top one percent of all schools in the state. Why would anyone want to stop that kind of student achievement?”

Success charters’ success has annoyed the mayor, write Andrew Rotherham and Richard Whitmire in USA Today. The schools, run by the controversial Eva Moskowitz, have shown that low-income minority students can earn high test scores.

Consider the third-graders at Success Academy Harlem 5. They share a public school building with P.S. 123. If Harlem 5 children lose their seats, they might have to enroll in P.S. 123.

. . . The schools have similar students, but 88% of Harlem 5 third-graders passed New York’s math test compared with 5% of P.S. 123′s.

New York City charter students are outperforming peers who attend traditional public schools, a study by Stanford’s CREDO found. There are 70,000 students enrolled in the city’s charter schools and 50,000 more students on charter school waiting lists.

Students: ‘Us deserve respect’

At an F-rated New York City high school, failing students earn quick credits through online courses, the New York Post reported.

While it’s called “blended learning,” the credit-recovery “courses” don’t include interaction with a teacher. One teacher is assigned to 475 students trying to earn credits in a wide variety of subjects. Murry Bergtraum High for Business Careers specializes in overage or held-back students who lack credits.

After the Post story ran, students wrote to defend the program. Nearly all the letters were filled with spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, reports the Post.  

A junior wrote: “What do you get of giving false accusations im one of the students that has blended learning I had a course of English and I passed and and it helped a lot you’re a reported your support to get truth information other than starting rumors?.?.?.”

Another wrote: “To deeply criticize a program that has helped many students especially seniors to graduate I should not see no complaints.”

One student said the online system beats the classroom because “you can digest in the information at your own paste.”

“Us as New York City Students deserve respect and encouragement,” one letter read. “We are the future of New York City and for some students, The future of the country.”

I doubt if that future will include business careers.

Graduation rates are up, but is it real?

High school graduation rates are up, but why? Tonight, PBS NewsHour looks at charges schools are increasing numbers artificially by “labeling dropouts as transfers, encouraging home schooling for their most troubled students, or creating alternative systems such as computer-based ‘credit recovery’ courses.”

The show also examines small theme-based schools in New York City and early college programs in Texas that seem to be getting more students to a valid high school diploma.

Credit recovery is a scam

Credit recovery programs are a scam, writes Checker Finn on Education Gadfly.

Universal “college and career readiness,” unless far more carefully defined and monitored than anyone has done so far, is just as fraud-inducing a K-12 goal as “universal proficiency by 2014” was for No Child Left Behind.

Credit recovery is driven by the desire to give people a second chance, “our obsession with ‘graduation rates,’ our fixation on ‘universal college and career readiness,’ and our unwillingness to acknowledge that anybody might actually be a ‘failure’ (and pay the price),” Finn writes.

Whether students are given credits for sitting in class, pleasing a teacher or — more likely — completing a series of worksheets and a test, there are strong incentives to pass students, Finn writes.

. . . who sets the passing score and determines whether the exam-taker meets it? Once again, school districts, private firms, and even states face powerful incentives (as with “proficiency” under NCLB) to set their standards at levels that lots of young people will meet, whether or not that has anything to do with “mastery.” In today’s America, those incentives are stronger than the impulse to demand bona fide “readiness” for colleges and careers.

Common Core Standards, which will come with new assessments for English Language Arts and math, could set a real standard for college and career readiness, Finn writes. So could high-quality end-of-course exams. But  the pressure will be intense to lower the bar.

That would, however, be a bad thing, not just for the integrity of the education system and America’s international competitiveness but also for the young people themselves. Today’s foremost objection to “credit recovery” is not the second-chance opportunity but the painful reality that getting credit in this fashion does not denote true mastery and that colleges and employers won’t honor it any more than the G.E.D., maybe less.

I think the only alternative is to create two or three levels of high school diploma:  Brittany graduates with an academic diploma and honors in math, chemistry and physics, while Biff earns a basic diploma and a woodworking certificate.

In 2 days, failing students pass, graduate

Three Los Angeles seniors who failed a required class, were able to transfer to a credit-recovery school for two days, pass and return to graduate with classmates, reports the Los Angeles Times. Teachers are annoyed.

 The students withdrew from STEM Academy of Hollywood as late as June 13, a Wednesday, attended the adjacent Alonzo Community Day School the next day, and checked back into STEM to graduate that Friday.

The three had failed economics or history classes taught by Mark Nemetz, who complained the fast shuffle “damages the credibility of STEM.”

“Why should next year’s seniors make a serious effort next year if they know they have this option available to them at the end?” wrote teacher Julio Juarez.

STEM Principal Josie Scibetta said she was obligated to accept the credits and  told the Times she’s concerned about Nemetz’s “rigid” grading policies.

Alonzo, the alternative school, is intended for students who are at risk of dropping out. Although it has a traditional school day, it measures credits only by work completed, not the time the students spend in class, said Principal Victorio R. Gutierrez.

It’s difficult and rare, but not impossible, for a talented student to complete in two days material that another student might need a year to master, Gutierrez said. He added that his school’s rigor does not necessarily match that of a regular high school, but his instructors teach the required material, and students have to produce work and pass quizzes to demonstrate their knowledge.

Credit recovery undermines standards, writes Walt Gardner on Ed Week.

Shelbyville’s plan to prevent dropouts

Shelbyville, Indiana made Time‘s Dropout Nation cover in 2006 with a 75 percent graduation rate. Learning Matters TV looks at what the town is doing to prevent dropouts, including offering online “credit recovery.”

Critics charge ‘credit recovery’ abuses

New York is looking into charges that credit recovery programs make it too easy for students to blow off schoolwork, earn credits for doing very little and pick up a diploma. Principals are evaluated based on graduation rates, providing an incentive to lower standards. (Students can earn P.E. credits online.) Read teachers’ comments on Gotham Schools.

It’s not just a New York City thing. Teachers all over the country have been complaining about credit recovery.

‘Click-click’ credits raise graduation rates

K-12 schools are adding — and sometimes requiring — online classes, reports the New York Times.  Failing students try to “recover” credits online; successful students take electives and Advanced Placement classes that don’t generate enough interest to justify a class. But the quality of online learning is suspect, especially for weak students.

Memphis City Schools now requires all students to take at least one course to graduate, starting with this year’s sophomores. School officials say “they want to give students skills they will need in college, where online courses are increasingly common, and in the 21st-century workplace,” the Times reports.

But it is also true that Memphis is spending only $164 for each student in an online course.

. . . “It’s a cheap education, not because it benefits the students,” said Karen Aronowitz, president of the teachers’ union in Miami, where 7,000 high school students were assigned to study online in computer labs this year because there were not enough teachers to comply with state class-size caps.

Idaho will give a laptop to every high school student and require four or more online courses. Critics complain the state will replace teachers with technology.

Chicago and New York City are piloting online learning programs, which include both credit recovery and advanced classes for high school students, as well as “personalized after-school computer drills in math and English for elementary students.”

Nationwide, an estimated 1.03 million students at the K-12 level took an online course in 2007-8, up 47 percent from two years earlier, according to the Sloan Consortium, an advocacy group for online education. About 200,000 students attend online schools full time, often charter schools that appeal to home-schooling families, according to another report.

There’s little research on the effectiveness of online courses for K-12 students, reports the U.S. Education Department.

Even online advocates are “dubious” about online courses that let students who’ve failed a regular class “recover” the credits, the Times reports. These “click-click credits” are used to boost graduation rates.

Sheffield High in Memphis, once a “dropout factory” with a graduation rate below 60 percent, now hopes to graduate 86 percent of the class of 2011. Online classes have helped. The district buys software for the Florida Virtual School, then pays its own teachers extra to work 10 hours a week with 150 online students.

The Times watches Daterrius Hamilton’s online English 3 course.

. . . he read a brief biography of London with single-paragraph excerpts from the author’s works. But the curriculum did not require him, as it had generations of English students, to wade through a tattered copy of “Call of the Wild” or “To Build a Fire.”

Asked about social Darwinism, the 18-year-old student did a Google search, copied a Wikipedia entry and e-mailed it to the teacher.

Online classes aren’t always money savers, writes Sarah Butrymowicz on HechingerEd. In particular, online credit-recovery classes don’t work without “some sort of teacher presence, whether virtual or physical.”

Failure to educate

In her final year as a Boston public high school teacher, Junia Yearwood attended her first  graduation ceremony.  It was a charade, she writes in the Boston Globe.

I knew that most of my students who walked across the stage, amidst the cheers, whistles, camera flashes, and shout-outs from parents, family, and friends, were not functionally literate. They were unable to perform the minimum skills necessary to negotiate society: reading the local newspapers, filling out a job application, or following basic written instructions; even fewer had achieved empowering literacy enabling them to closely read, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate text.

However, they were all college bound — the ultimate goal of our school’s vision statement — clutching knapsacks stuffed with our symbols of academic success: multiple college acceptances, a high school diploma; an official transcript indicating they had passed the MCAS test and had met all graduation requirements; several glowing letters of recommendation from teachers and guidance counselors; and one compelling personal statement, their college essay.

Yearwood started as a 12th-grade English teacher in 1977 in Roxbury. Over the years, she saw the advent on tests, such as the MCAS.

Teachers, instructors, and administrators made the test the curriculum, taught to the test, drilled for the test, coached for the test, taught strategies to take the test, and gave generous rewards (pizza parties) for passing the test. Students practiced, studied for, and passed the test — but remained illiterate.

Students were given A’s and B’s “for passing in assignments (quality not a factor), for behaving well in class, for regular attendance, for completing homework assignments that were given a check mark but never read,” Yearwood writes.

Teachers were pressured to pass undeserving students so they could walk across the state at graduation. If necessary to produce a graduate, administrators found MCAS waivers, transferred students to a “special needs” category or put students in online “credit recovery.”

Last June, she attended graduation for the first time ” at the urgings of my students — the ones whose desire to learn, to become better readers and writers, and whose unrelenting hard work earned them a spot on the graduation list — and the admonition of a close friend who warned that my refusal to attend was an act of selfishness, of not thinking about my students who deserved the honor and respect signified by my presence.”

Yearwood appears in a 2008 Globe story about attempts to turn around English High in Jamaica Plain, where she taught for most of her career.  She gives a D- to a student who makes up missing work on the last day in hopes of walking across the stage to pick up a diploma.