Here’s an interesting piece from James Wigderson at the MacIver Institute. The background is that the grading system that the state uses to grade schools measures the drop out rate, and because of the nature of virtual schools, they get hammered hard for it.
Drop outs are held against the last school attended. Some online schools including eAchieve are being labeled “failing schools” even though the students attending the schools are succeeding. Nettesheim said, “It’s a common problem for virtual schools that currently have a high school population.”
Nettesheim explained that there is almost nothing the school can do to screen for truants trying to hide from the state’s school attendance laws. “So we get an awful lot of students who come on board who apply during the regular open enrollment period who are simply trying to hide from truancy. It becomes apparent fairly early on. They’re with us for two months or three months and they’re not doing anything. So we send them back to their resident school.”
Despite sending the students back to their previous school, when the students inevitably drop out they’re often still counted against eAchieve.
“But then what happens the family does not re-enroll at their resident school. And even though we notify the resident district, they don’t go hunt the student down to ensure and compel the student to go to school as is required by law. And nobody is overseeing this. It’s really left up to the districts, and the honor system really, for districts to go and find these students who were already failing in their schools, who were already truant in some cases. And now, because they’re no longer the last school of attendance they’re not very motivated to go after these students anymore.”
As Nettesheim explained, this lack of follow up has an impact on his school’s report card. “This is a big enough problem that eAchieve goes from meeting expectations to failing expectations. We go down two levels purely because of the drop out issue.”
As an overall perspective, I don’t think it makes sense to include drop out rates at all in a grading system. Really tough schools that provide an excellent education, for example, will usually have a higher dropout rate. Does that make them a bad school? If the state implements the grading system for choice schools, will they be penalized when kids drop out because they can’t afford it (even with vouchers)?
Perhaps the drop out rate should be considered in a school’s grade, but only as a tiny piece – if at all.