California charter schools, including several that intentionally target those at risk of dropping out, account for a disproportionate share of students who fail to graduate high school, according to a report released this week.

“Building a Grad Nation,” which tracks graduation rates among public schools nationally, found that 24 percent of California students in all public schools who failed to graduate in 2014 attended charter schools, even though the state’s charter schools enrolled only 9 percent of all high school students that year.

The report has been produced annually since 2010 by Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education, as part of an effort to track states’ progress toward reaching a national graduation rate of 90 percent by 2020.

In California, 94 percent of traditional high schools in 2014 had a graduation rate of 67 percent or higher, the threshold used to identify a low-graduation-rate school. Sixty-three percent of all charter schools had a graduation rate of 67 percent or higher.


The California Charter Schools Association challenged the report’s findings, saying it inconsistently classified under the same umbrella regular charter schools and many alternative charters that specifically cater to potential dropouts and other at-risk students.

According to the report, there was some overlap when counting non-graduates from the different types of charter schools. Alternative charters were included in both the general “charter” category and the “alternative” school category, which includes all alternative, special education and vocational schools.

“We find a very large number of (alternative charters) on this list that we think the report’s authors would instead applaud for their programs and for tackling some of the most difficult challenges in education and serving some of the most underserved students in the state,” said Emily Bertelli, a spokeswoman for the California Charter Schools Association.

Bertelli listed as examples Five Keys Charter School in San Francisco, a non-traditional charter school serving county jail inmates that provides an opportunity for students to restart their education; and John Muir Charter Schools, which provide students at campuses statewide the opportunity to earn a high school diploma while working with the California Conservation Corps and other similar programs.

“We find a very large number of schools on this list that we think the report’s authors would instead applaud for their programs and for tackling some of the most difficult challenges in education and serving some of the most underserved students in the state,” said Emily Bertelli, California Charter Schools Association.

California ranked fourth nationally, behind Ohio, Arizona and Idaho, for the highest percentage of non-graduates who came from charter schools. Across other states, charter schools also had a disproportionate share of students who did not graduate in 2014, according to the report.

This is the first year the report examined graduation rates of three separate groups of high schools – charter, virtual and alternative, which have continued to grow since the early 2000s. The report found that alternative high schools, which generally enroll high concentrations of at-risk students, and virtual high schools, where instruction is carried out almost entirely online, also had significantly higher rates of students who failed to graduate, compared with traditional high schools.

Nationally, charter, virtual and alternative high schools made up 14 percent of all high schools. However, they made up 52 percent of all schools with graduation rates lower than 67 percent, according to the report.

“Many of these schools exist to serve a vulnerable student population, and therefore deal with significant challenges,” said Robert Balfanz, a research scientist and the report’s co-author. “That’s why it’s so important that educators identify struggling students at the beginning of their high school careers and provide the things all students need to be successful.”

The nation’s overall gradation rate climbed to a record 82.3 percent in 2014. In California, the state’s graduation rate reached 81 percent. California’s graduation rate has steadily increased each year since 2010, when it was at 74.7 percent. Only Iowa has reached a statewide graduation rate of 90 percent or higher.

The report also found that schools with graduation rates lower than 67 percent generally had high concentrations of Hispanic, African-American or low-income students, a sign states haven’t done enough to provide the needed support for these student populations.

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  1. Spencer Joplin 6 years ago6 years ago

    Misleading article title. Less than a third of the report (29/94 pages) pertains to charter schools. There was no control for demographics. The only recommendation was to ensure that charter schools are included in accountability measures, which is already the case in California. Also, California was mentioned as an outlier for its high alternative school graduation rates (Page 31).