Chicago’s empty high schools

Although Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is “essentially bankrupt,” the district is operating dozens of half-empty schools, reports Chicago City Wire.

Forty-two of 59 high schools (71 percent) were less than half full, according to City Wire.  Twelve “had enrollments that are less than 10 percent of what they once served.”

Team Englewood is in a building that once housed more than 5,100 students. Only 161 are enrolled now. On an average day 122 students show up for class.

Harper, which once had 4,400 students, now has 172.

Fenger is down from 5,300 to 223.

Hirsch enrolls 147 students; the building has space for 3,280.

In 1966, CPS enrollment was 607,550 and growing. The district had 53 high schools.

In the 2016-17 school year, it will be 60 percent lower– just 381,449– and falling. Yet CPS will operate 95 high schools this year, according to its web site.

A Chicago high school fudged its graduation rate for seven years, the district’s inspector general reports. A former administrator tells WBEZ that dropouts were listed as transfers or homeschooled to boost the graduation rate.

After a WBEZ investigation, district officials recalculated graduation rates: The numbers fell at nearly all high schools.

Memphis closed three low-performing elementary schools and sent the students to a new school, reports Chalkbeat.

Grad rates rise, achievement falls


Anthony Sobowale failed high school chemistry, then passed after three days of “online credit recovery.” Now he’s struggling with organic chem at Georgia State. Photo: Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Online credit recovery courses are raising graduation rates and failing students, writes Jeremy Noonan, a science teacher who runs Citizens for Excellence in Public Schools.

In October, President Obama announced that the national high school graduation rate had reached an all-time high in 2015. Yet that same year, the percentage of high school seniors ready for college-level reading and math declined to 37 percent. In other words, as graduation rates rise, other metrics of student achievement are falling, raising questions about how schools are getting more students to graduate.

In most school districts, students who’ve failed courses can make up the credits quickly via online credit-recover (OCR) courses, writes Noonan. “Passage rates don’t match achievement data.”

In Georgia, 90 percent of OCR students earned credit, but only 10 percent tested as proficient on state exams, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Noonan worked for a Douglas County, Georgia school district that raised its graduation rate — but not student achievement. As an OCR classroom manager, he was told to ensure that students earned at least 80 percent on multiple-choice quizzes and tests by giving them as many tries as they needed. The questions and answer choices were repeated, in the same order.

In addition, teachers provided “answer checks,” writes Noonan.

When students finished the first attempt on a quiz or test, they call upon the teacher for a “check.” He or she pulls up the student’s answers, reviews them, and informs the student which questions are incorrect. The student then changes his or her answers before submitting the assessment for a grade.

Most students didn’t pay attention to the lessons, writes Noonan. They knew they could guess their way to a passing score.

As Douglas County’s graduation rate rose, so did the percentage of graduates who required college remediation.

83% graduate — but are they educated?

The U.S. high school graduation rate has hit 83 percent, rising to a new high for the fifth year in a row. “We’ve made real progress,” said President Barack Obama at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C.

President Obama greets students at Banneker High in Washington, D.C. The District has raised its high school graduation rate, but still ranks last in the nation. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

President Obama greets students at Banneker High in Washington, D.C. The District has raised its high school graduation rate, but still ranks last in the nation. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

While 90.2 percent of Asian-American students and 87.6 percent of whites earn a diploma, that falls to 77.8 percent for Latinos and 74.6 percent for blacks.

Iowa has the highest graduation rate at 90.8 percent. Washington D.C., despite rapid improvement, is at the bottom with a 68.5 percent rate.

While graduation rates are rising steadily, there’s no evidence students are better prepared for college or careers, note Anya Kametez and Cory Turner on NPR.

. . . scores of high school students on the test known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” are essentially flat, and average scores on the ACT and SAT are down.

. . . “For many students, a high school diploma is not a passport to opportunity, it’s a ticket to nowhere,” says Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, a national nonprofit that’s long advocated for higher standards and graduation requirements.

High school graduation exams often require only eighth- or ninth-grade skills. Some states have dropped the exams.

Just last month, in a major school funding ruling, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher excoriated his state for watered down graduation standards that, he says, have already resulted “in unready children being sent to high school, handed degrees, and left, if they can scrape together the money, to buy basic skills at a community college.”

There are lots of ways to raise graduation rate, an excellent NPR series revealed. Monitoring students’ progress and closing “dropout factories” have helped in some places. In others, schools have fudged the numbers or used dubious “credit recovery” schemes.

LA’s 75% grad rate: What do kids know?

A “credit-recovery binge” helped Los Angeles Unified raise its graduation rate to 75 percent — while requiring all students to pass college-prep courses, reports the LA Times. Are credit-recovery graduates prepared for college, jobs or anything else?

“When we see kids completing three years of high school in a year through credit recovery, that should raise alarms,” said Pedro Noguera, director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of School Transformation.

The district can’t track how those students earned diplomas, reports the Times.

In some cases, students were allowed to make up work to change recorded grades. All records of the prior grade then disappeared from the district’s central data system, according to school site administrators, making it difficult to track such remediation in order to be fully accountable.

This year, graduates had to earn D’s or better in a college-prep sequence known as A-G that includes Algebra II, two years of foreign language and a year of a college-preparatory elective such as geography or statistics, reports the Times.

“We know 100% of all kids can graduate fully passing the A to G,” said Steve Zimmer, the school board president. (State universities don’t accept grades lower than C in A-G courses.)

Even before the credit-recovery push, many Los Angeles Unified graduates found themselves in remedial classes in college, Noguera pointed out.

College for all is a mistake, writes Walt Gardner, who taught in Los Angeles Unified for 28 years. Many of his former students “who gained skills through high school vocational courses or through certificate programs in community colleges are steadily making a good living working with their hands,” he writes. “In contrast, some former students with a bachelor’s degree have been underemployed for protracted periods of time, all the while struggling to pay off their student debt.”

New ways to do high school 

At Omaha’s Bryan High, students may plant potatoes, care for chickens, tour Union Pacific headquarters or sort and ship books at a school-based distribution center, reports Education Week.

“Students can choose from 16 career clusters and two pocket academies—one focused on urban agriculture and natural resources and another on transportation, distribution, and logistics—or TDL, for short.”

Katrina Whitford, another junior, holds a chicken in her lap as she works in an animal science class at Bryan.

Katrina Whitford, a junior, holds a chicken as she works in an animal science class. Photo: Ryan Henriksen, Education Week

The story is part of Ed Week‘s Diplomas Count report, which focuses on new ways to do high school.

Another story looks at a new Denver high school that’s struggling to make its model work.

Northfield High was designed to place all students, regardless of past achievement, in rigorous International Baccalaureate classes. Students can pursue “pathways” in the arts, business, biomedical sciences and other subjects of interest.

The school also pledged to base grades on mastery, rather than homework completion or class participation.

Teachers were supposed to help run the school and share counseling responsibilities.

However, the principal was forced out in October after complaints about discipline. A majority of teachers will not return next year. The advisory program has been changed.

The second year’s incoming class will be predominantly Latino with fewer white and black students choosing the program.

The four-year graduation rate is up to 82 percent, notes Ed Week. Neerav Kingsland adds: “Expected to hit 102% with new credit recovery program.”

Rising grad rate is phony statistic

The high school graduation rate is “the phoniest statistic in education,” writes Robert Pondiscio. It’s up to a new high of 82 percent. But student proficiency isn’t up.  Neither is college readiness.

A high school diploma “signals to college admissions staffers, employers, and others that the holder has achieved some reasonable level of academic proficiency,” he writes. “But it’s also a faith-based system. It only works if people believe it stands for something tangible.”

There has been no equally dramatic spike in SAT scores. Don’t look for a parallel uptick on seventeen-year-old NAEP, better performance on AP tests, or the ACT, either. You won’t find it. The only thing that appears to be rising is the number of students in need of remedial math and English in college. And the number of press releases bragging about huge increases in graduation rates.

Rising graduation rates may reflect the drop in teen pregnancy and efforts to identify and help high-risk students, writes Motoko Rich in the New York Times. But schools and districts can pump up the numbers by making it easy for students to “recover” unearned credits.

In Baltimore, five-year graduation rates have risen from 66.7 percent in 2010 to 74.9 percent in 2014, notes Pondiscio.  But 36.5 percent of students graduated via the “High School Bridge for Academic Validation Plan.”

There’s “no way of knowing whether (credit recovery is) academically rigorous or merely a failsafe to paper over failure and drag unprepared kids across the finish line to boost graduation rates,” he writes. “There may yet be a pony at the bottom of this prodigious pile.” Or not.

New York City’s graduation rate has hit 70 percent, reports Chalkbeat. However, the 24 percent rise since 2005 “is sure to elicit questions about the meaning of those numbers, especially following a wave of media reports last year detailing incidents where schools changed students’ grades or awarded them unearned credits in order to help them graduate.”

Graduation rate hits 82.3%

Nationwide, the four-year high school graduation rate rose to 82.3 percent for the class of 2014, the U.S. Education Department reports. That’s up 1 percent from the previous year.

Gains were largest for lower-achieving groups, but gaps remain wide. While 89.4 percent of Asian-American students and 87.2 percent of whites earned a diploma in four years, only 76.3 percent of Hispanics and 72.5 percent of blacks did so.

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Four-year graduation rates topped 90 percent in Iowa and Nebraska with New Jersey and Wisconsin close behind.

In the District of Columbia, only 61 percent of students graduated on time. New Mexico and Nevada also were at the bottom of the list.

Graduation rates can be manipulated, as Anya Kamenetz writes on NPR. “The rising graduation rate reflects both genuine progress and some questionable strategies.” States are trying “early warning systems and increased support, to multiple diploma tracks, second chances, and in some cases apparent manipulation of statistics.

I’m very dubious about the use of credit-recovery programs to help students make up classes they’ve failed — often with little effort or learning.

U.S. lags in preschool, college graduation

The U.S. is falling behind the world in college-educated workers, concludes a OECD report on education in 46 countries. “The U.S. hasn’t backslid, but other countries have made big gains,”  OECD Education Director Andreas Schleicher said.

In the past, the U.S. ranked second in the world in the percentage of adults with postsecondary vocational or academic education. Today, the U.S. has slipped to fifth position.

South Korea leads the world: nearly 70 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds are college educated. Only 46 percent of young U.S. workers have earned a certificate or degree.

The U.S. is not on track to meet President Obama’s goal of leading the world in college-educated workers by 2020. College graduation rates are falling. according to a new report. Among students who started college in 2009, the year Obama launched his college campaign, only 53 percent had graduated in six years.

College enrollment rates have fallen since 2008, especially for low-income students. In 2013, just 46 percent of low-income high school graduates enrolled in two-year and four-year institutions, according to Census data.

More than 70 percent of young children attend preschool in OECD countries, compared to 41 percent of U.S. 3-year-olds and 66 percent of 4-year-olds. “It’s an area where the U.S. trails quite a bit behind,” said Schleicher.

Early college for all — in the Rio Grande valley


Krystal Balleza earned her associate’s degree two weeks before her high school graduation. Photo: Pharr-San Juan Alamo Independent School District

In a high-poverty district on the Texas-Mexico border, all high school students take “early college” classes, reports Hechinger’s Sarah Butrymowicz in the Washington Monthly‘s College Guide.

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District (PSJA) Superintendent Daniel King pioneered early college for all at nearby Hidalgo. His goal is to persuade low-income, minority students — not just the motivated achievers — to raise their aspirations.

Nationwide, 90 percent of early college students graduate from high school, 10 percentage points above the national average, and 30 percent of students get either an associate’s degree or a certificate, according to Jobs for the Future, the Boston-based nonprofit that runs the national Early College Designs program.

Research has shown that students selected for early college schools by a random lottery have higher high school graduation rates and college attainment levels than those who lose the lottery and attend a traditional high school.

Incoming ninth-graders in all of PSJA’s high schools will take a college entrance exam used to show who’s ready for college-level work. They’ll take prep courses until they pass the exam, then move on to community college courses — usually taught at the high schools — and summer courses at University of Texas- Pan American.

Once enrolled in college courses, PSJA students average Bs, according to data provided by the district. Out of PSJA’s roughly 1,900 graduates this May, 60 percent took at least one college course. About 215 students graduated with an associate’s degree and 270 got a certificate.

By 2019, district officials hope that at least 90 percent of graduates will earn at least some college credit, with 1,000 students earning an associate’s degree or certificate, a one-year credential given out in fields like welding, IT and medical technology.

The district helps students make college plans and fill out financial aid applications. District staff advise first-year students on local campuses.

With an average ACT score is only 17.3, college degrees for all — or even most — is unlikely. But I’d bet these kids go farther than the PSJA students of the past.

I wrote about Hidalgo Early College High School and talked to King for my chapter on high-achieving high schools for disadvantaged students, part of Fordham’s Education for Social Mobility (soon to be a book!). It’s a very gutsy idea.

Will college pay? Check the Scorecard

President Obama’s plan to rate colleges on affordability and success rates collapsed. But the Education Department’s new College Scorecard provides useful information for families wondering what a particular college costs by family income and what percentage of students earn a degree and begin paying off their student debts within three years.

Most intriguing, the Scorecard uses IRS data to show enrollees’ median annual earnings 10 years after enrollment and the percentage who earn more than the average high school graduate, about $25,000 a year, six years after entering college. The information includes dropouts and graduates.
PHOTO: In an undated photo, The College Board offers data and information about colleges to prospective students.

At a quarter of American colleges, the majority of students who got federal financial aid end up earning less than $25,000 per year a full decade after they first enrolled,” reports Libby Nelson on Vox.

The Scorecard can track only students who received federal aid, but that’s 70 percent of the total.

Earnings aren’t reported by program or major, masking the variations between different degrees at the same school.

The Scorecard makes it “easier to figure out which schools are a waste of money,”  writes Jordan Weissmann on Slate.

PayScale is using the federal data to calculate the 20-year return on investment at different colleges for students in various family income quintiles.

I’m sure students and parents will find the Scorecard useful. But it has its limits. The highly selective colleges have strong graduation rates and graduates who do well in the workplace, though earnings are lower at liberal arts colleges, higher at technical schools. The less selective schools have much lower graduation rates. Their former students and graduates earn less and have more trouble repaying their debts.

Does an A+ student become a high earner because he chose Georgia Tech over Duke? Does the B- student become a low-earning dropout because she chose the not-very-selective state university over the not-very-selective private college?

I’m not sure C- students will use the Scorecard. If they do, they’ll see that the sort of college they can get into has very low graduation rates and low earnings payoffs. They’ll see two-year vocational degrees, but won’t see vocational certificates.