Even when excluding dropout-recovery schools, the four-year graduation rates of charter schools in Ohio are half that of traditional schools, and 28 points lower than the largest urban districts.
Charter schools not classified as dropout recovery have a four-year graduation rate of just under 45 percent, compared with 73 percent in Ohio’s six biggest urban districts — Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, Akron and Toledo.
“Having it be that low is surprising. Very surprising,” said Howard Fleeter, chief analyst for the Ohio Education Policy Institute, who produced the data.
Given that Ohio charter schools draw most of their students from urban districts, and those urban districts have a higher concentration of poverty than the non-dropout charter schools, the graduation numbers should be closer, Fleeter said.
“The (charter) school numbers look really bad. The question then is to figure out why,” Fleeter said, stressing that some charters are showing high graduation rates, so it’s not an indictment of the whole system. “The next step is, let’s look behind the averages and see what’s going on. There are places where they’re not doing nearly as good a job as others. Why is that?”
For years, Fleeter has analyzed Ohio’s correlation between concentrations of poverty and educational achievement. Now, he is giving policymakers and school officials new graduation data to consider, based on an analysis of the most-recent graduation data for the 2015-16 school year,
As the final goal of 13 years of education, graduation rates can be a bottom line of the state’s education-system success, Fleeter said.
Aaron Churchill, Ohio research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a school-choice and education accountability advocate, said discussion of graduation data is timely as state officials continue to consider changes to graduation requirements.
But he cautions that if a charter school picks up new students during their high school careers who already are behind, the school could receive unfair blame for not graduating them on time.
“You have to be careful in using the graduation rate as an indicator of whether a school is improving student learning,” Churchill said.
He likes that Fleeter separated out the dropout-recovery schools in the analysis, but Churchill questions how e-schools like ECOT are affecting the numbers. ECOT is becoming a dropout-recovery school.
“It’s concerning that we don’t have that many college-oriented charter schools,” Churchill said. “It is a little more expensive to have a top-notch charter high school. There is a bit of a disadvantage in how the state funds them.”
Ron Adler, executive director of the pro-charter Ohio Coalition for Quality Education, said he hadn’t seen the new data, but he argued that Ohio’s report-card system needs serious reform.
“That includes a true apples-to-apples way to assess the impact of issues like poverty and student mobility on standardized test results and school performance, which no one has yet done,” he said.
Not all of the numbers were concerning, Fleeter said, pointing to the 92 percent graduation rate in poor, rural districts, where the gap between low-income and other students was 6.5 percentage points.
“The surprise is not that the urban numbers are as low as they are, but it’s that the rural numbers are higher than I would have expected based on previous work I’ve done,” Fleeter said.
Additional graduation data of note:
Ohio graduates nine of 10 students within four years. White students are highest at nearly 93 percent, while black students have the lowest rate at about 78 percent.
The racial disparity is significantly smaller in Ohio’s six largest urban districts — 77 percent for white students versus 73 percent for black students.
Statewide, Asian students have an 88 percent four-year graduation rate, but it’s just 56 percent in the six big urban districts.
The gap between white and black students in Ohio charter schools is 15.6 percentage points, slightly higher than in traditional schools.
The graduation rate for low-income students in traditional schools is nearly 83 percent, about 12 points lower than those not classified as economically disadvantaged.
When broken down by district type, suburban districts have the largest graduation gap between low-income and other students, at 9 percent, while the gap is just 2 percent in the six big urban districts.