Due to the practice of archiving (and effectively burying) articles published online, I archived various articles of importance, in the event that they can not be found at the original source. This is a “copy/paste” job and of course, all rights still belong to the author and the publisher. The original Post can be found at: http://www.thestarpress.com/
Are MCS graduation rates too good to be true?
11:09 PM, May. 21, 2011
Written by Michelle Kinsey
MUNCIE — Over the last four years, Muncie Community Schools has seen a significant increase in its graduation rates — from 68 percent in 2006 to 85 percent in 2009.
Too good to be true? Well, it’s complicated.
To get to the reasons behind the growth, you have to look at the ways the district is trying to keep kids in school, as well as the ways in which those who are leaving are being documented.
There’s no doubt the district has created legitimate and successful means of keeping students on track to graduate. But the recent improvement in graduation rates across the state is also misleading, thanks to a change in the law that allows parents to simply indicate their child is home-schooled to avoid the “drop-out” label.
So graduation rates are better than they’ve been in many years, but are the needs of at-risk students really being served? Well, that depends on the district and how far they’re willing to go to meet the needs of troubled students.
Credit where credit is due
The efforts to keep students in the classroom until they get that diploma are centered on the credit recovery program, which began four years ago.
“We have seen a significant improvement in graduation rates since it began,” according to MCS Director of Secondary Education Jo Ann McCowan.
This semester, 26 seniors are on track to graduate next month with their class after earning credits through the program.
DaTiana Jolly, 18, is one of them.
On Tuesday, Jolly was five questions into her chemistry final, the last credit needed for her diploma.
“I like it here,” she said of the lab, which is lined with 25 computers at the Muncie Area Career. “It gives you a chance to teach yourself; to find a way that’s easiest for you.”
After last semester at the lab, Jolly decided to return to finish out the remainder of her credits here.
“No, I don’t think I would be graduating without this program,” she said. “No way.”
One size does not fit all
The key part of this credit recovery program is its flexibility.
“We really work with the student to find the best fit,” McCowan said.
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While the first year of the program’s existence offered a limited amount of labs, students now have the option to recover their credits in one-hour increments during labs at their school; attend half- or full-day labs at the Muncie Area Career Center during the school day, or go into the MACC a few nights a week. They can even do the lab work during summer school.
Students get to move at their own pace thanks to an online program (PLATO) that allows students to test out of sections they already know and spend more time in sections requiring more effort.
Surrounding Jolly were more than a dozen other students working on a variety of subjects, from algebra to world history. Forty credits in all are offered through the recovery program.
For many students — not all, mind you — the program is just what they need to keep them on track until they get that cap and gown.
“Some kids do much better in the MACC labs because they are away from all the distractions at their home school,” McCowan said.
Students here will do the credit recovery work as well as their normal class work.
“It’s like a one-room schoolhouse,” McCowan said.
The one-room teacher is Angie Johnson.
She has seen students walk through the door with F’s and walk out on the honor roll. But she said success in the program requires constant “tracking” by her and school counselors.
“I have them all on speed dial,” she said.
Muncie’s success with the program, she said, has led to the creation of similar programs at Cowan, Daleville, Delta and Wapahani high schools.
She added that the local credit recovery program has made such an impact that she has seen enrollment numbers drop for basic adult education classes, which are taken by students who drop out and then return via the MACC.
“Would we have more drop outs without this program?” she said. “Yes. Without a doubt.”
Home schooling, really?
Credit recovery is certainly one reason why the drop out numbers are declining and grad rates are improving.
But there might be other factors involved.
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Take home schooling.
As drop-out numbers have decreased, the numbers of parents opting to home-school their children have increased — an increase that began when the minimum age for legally dropping out of school changed in 2006 from 16 to 18.
The MCS graduating class of 2006 had 11 home school transfers and a graduation rate of 68.1 percent; the class of 2009 had 146 home school transfers and a grad rate of 84.5 percent. Are all of the 146 newly students actually being home-schooled? Very doubtful, say state officials and true home school advocates.
Muncie is not alone. You’ll find the recent jumps in home school numbers at other districts as well, including Delaware, Richmond and Anderson.
It turns out you do not have to do much to transfer your kids to home school.
You are required to inform the school of your decision, then asked to fill out an online form for the state.
After that, the district — and the state — have no way of knowing how much home schooling is actually going on.
“Indiana does have a home school registration database,” said Stephanie Sample, communications director of the Indiana Department of Education. “However, since home schooling is not really regulated by Indiana law, it’s a bit difficult to say the numbers we compile are accurate.”
According to the IDOE, home-schooling parents are supposed to keep track of attendance, but this does not have to be submitted unless requested.
“As with any other transfer, the public school’s responsibility ends when the administration of the child’s new school (in this case, the parent) verifies enrollment, either verbally or in writing,” according to the IDOE website.
Ben Bennett, who started the Indiana Home Educators Network in 2000, said the number of people contacting him about home schooling has definitely increased over the last few years.
Many of those parents, he said, are what he calls “knee-jerk home schoolers” who are pulling their kids out in desperation because they are fed up with one or a number of issues at the school.
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But does he believe that all of the students who are reportedly transferring to home school are actually be educated by their parents?
He said that for some it’s a win-win for the school and the parent. The parent no longer has to deal with the child’s difficulties at school — an attendance problem or behavioral issues, perhaps — and the school “gets the kid out of the system and raises its graduation rate.”
McCowan denied that any student or parent would be persuaded by, say, a school counselor to choose a home school transfer as an alternative to dropping out.
“Our administrators do a good job of counseling students to stay in school,” she said.
But the decision, ultimately, is the parent’s.
McCowan did say that it’s the school’s responsibility to stress the importance of getting a high school diploma.
It’s now considered the “baseline” of education. You have to have at least a high school diploma today, she said.
According to a 2010 Gallup poll, 92 percent of students nationwide think they will graduate high school. But the nation’s overall graduation rate is just 70 percent.
Those who land in the credit recovery program in an effort to get them to graduation day, Johnson said, often wish they could go back and talk to freshmen.
“They want to warn them, tell them what not to do so they don’t make the same mistakes,” she said, looking out over the students clicking toward graduation.
One credit at a time.
Contact Michelle Kinsey at 213-5822.