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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

High Schools as “Dropout Factories”: Fact or Fiction?

There’s been some increased focus as of late on “dropout factories,” a term that refers to high schools that do not graduate a significant portion of their students. U.S. Secretary for Education Arne S. Duncan appeared last month with Alma Powell and America’s Promise, which is working on the issue of high school completion.

Then comes a recent Washington Examiner article on “Dropout Factories” that cites a report by the Alliance for Excellent Education saying, “The number of ‘dropout factory’ high schools in the District has shot up in the past decade, defying state trends nationwide.”

The piece went on to state that DC had 13 “dropout factories” in 2011 and in 2010, of which five were DC charter schools.  

Here’s the problem: Dropout factory is defined as a school with a graduating class less than 60% the size of the freshman class. So if students transfer from the school, and graduate from somewhere else, they are still counted as a “dropout” under this crude measure -- unless the school fills that transferring student’s seat with another student.

This measure has long been supplanted by a more sophisticated way of measuring dropouts, known as the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate.  Under ACGR, which is now the national standard for measuring graduation rates, a student who transfers out is not counted as a dropout if there is documentation that the student enrolled in another high school

According to the outdated way of measuring high school graduation rates, which five charter schools in 2010 qualified as “dropout factories?” Kamit PCS; William E Doar, Jr. PCS;  IDEA PCS; Cesar Chavez Capitol Hill PCS and Thurgood Marshall PCS.

Let’s take a moment to review the record on each of those:

  • Kamit was closed by PCSB for poor academic performance.
  • William E. Doar, Jr. voluntarily closed their high school for poor academic performance.
  • IDEA PCS is executing a turnaround plan after a threatened closure by PCSB.  The school’s graduation rate in 2012 was 78 percent  using ACGR  - 17 percentage points higher than the DC average.
  • Cesar Chavez Capitol Hill had a 2012 graduation rate of 64 percent - far too low, but higher than the DC average.
  • Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS has a 2012 graduation rate of 78 percent - again, 17 percentage points higher than the DC average.

In sum, the article uses outdated data and methodology to claim that there are five charter school “dropout factories” in DC.    Indeed a review of 2012 graduation rates for all DC high schools shows that there are just two charter schools with graduation rates below the state average of 61 percent. Meanwhile, charter school graduation rates in DC are 77 percent.  Far from being “dropout factories”, DC charter high schools are raising graduation rates across the city.

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