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Questions recently emerged around one of the written responses from Betsy DeVos related to online schools and graduation rates.  Upon review, we realized part of the answer came from a section of K12’s 2016 Academic Report titled, “Understanding Student Progress toward Graduation in K12 Public School Programs.” Our Academic Report is a public document that is released annually.

That particular section of the Academic Report provides an analysis of graduation and online schools: the history of graduation rates, how federal four-year cohort graduation rates are calculated, the effect of mobility and its impact on online schools and other schools.  It looks at research and data on the high number of under-credited high school students who enter online schools, along with other important evidence. It also includes data from a subset of schools examining the graduation rate of continuously enrolled high school students – those who enrolled in ninth grade and remained enrolled until twelfth grade.  This is not the federal graduation rate and our report makes that clear.  Here is the full excerpt:

High school students in K12 public school programs can earn their diplomas if the school has sufficient time with the student or the student is enrolled in the same school for all four years, as presumed in the assumptions underlying federal regulations about four-year graduation cohort rates. Among K12 public school programs, for students who enrolled in ninth grade and remained enrolled until twelfth grade, the following virtual academies have four-year cohort graduation rates of at least 90 percent:

DeVos’s written answer did not include the full wording above, which led to some understandable confusion.  However, as our Academic Report clearly indicates, the figures in this specific section were included to provide a closer look at continuously enrolled students as part of a broader analysis on graduation; they were not schools’ federal graduation rates.

There is a serious conversation among educators and policymakers about how to effectively measure graduation.  This analysis was included in K12’s latest Academic Report to provide an understanding of graduation rates, and to offer important context on how it impacts online schools.  It also offers ideas for states to consider how to measure individual student progress toward graduation for each of the high school years, rather than just the fourth year.

Unfortunately, in this current politically-charged climate, there is not a lot of room for thoughtful and nuanced policy conversations.  Nevertheless, rather than relying on headlines or tweets, I encourage you to read the analysis, “Understanding Student Progress toward Graduation in K12 Public School Programs,” in K12’s 2016 Academic Report, which can be accessed here: http://www.k12.com/sites/default/files/pdf/K12-Academic-Report-2016-111516.pdf  (pages 154-158).

You can also read more of our commentary on graduation rates here:

America’s Graduation Rate Dilemma (Nate Davis)

Let’s Get Some Context and Real Reform Around Graduation Rates (Mary Gifford)

About The Author

Jeff Kwitowski

Jeff Kwitowski is Senior Vice President of Public Affairs & Policy Communications at K12 Inc. Since 2003, he has been a central part of K12’s public affairs team with a special focus on public policy and advocacy. Additionally, he has supported K12’s state and federal government affairs efforts, working with policymakers and education leaders to develop and advocate for policy frameworks that expand school options, digital learning, and parent choice in education. He served as a member of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning’s Issues and Advocacy Committee, and participated in the national Digital Learning Now Initiative in developing policy frameworks and goals for advancement of digital learning. Prior to K12, he served as communications director and advisor to former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett and former U.S. Congressman and HUD Secretary Jack Kemp at Empower America, a Washington, DC-based public policy organization. He graduated with a B.A. in Political Science and History from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY.

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