College & Workforce Readiness Letter to the Editor

Graduation Rates Aren’t the Whole Story

March 20, 2019 1 min read

To the Editor:

As a follow up to a recent article about public charter high school graduation rates: Preparing students to live happy and productive lives is at the heart of our education system (“In Many Charter High Schools, Graduation Odds Are Slim,” February 26, 2019). However, graduation rates are overly simplified and not always an accurate reflection of these efforts, especially when it comes to many public charter schools’ unique student demographics.

Without a deeper understanding of specific schools, the students they serve, and their data, arguments and comparisons about differences across sectors are premature. The first item to note in all graduation rate discussions is that education is a cumulative process. When we talk about accountability for high schools based on graduation rates, we need to start talking about accountability for the elementary and middle schools these students came from. Early warning systems are an important part of the discussion here because low graduation rates are a common issue for many K-12 school systems.

Second, we need to understand student mobility across sectors. While research has shown that, on average, lower performing students are just as likely to leave charter schools as traditional schools, we know little about differences in the types of schools to which they go. This is particularly important because many charter schools are designed to serve specific groups of students that may meet many early warning signs of not graduating. If these students exit at equal rates across sectors but sort into charter schools at greater rates, then comparisons must account for the mobility of these high-risk students.

I’m not advocating for a lax system of accountability for high schools, rather a better one that recognizes the cumulative process of education and shares responsibility across all schools to serve students better.

Nathan Barrett

Senior Director of Research and Evaluation

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Washington, D.C.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 20, 2019 edition of Education Week as Graduation Rates Aren’t the Whole Story


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