What happens to charter school graduates?

The number of high school graduates from Ohio’s charter schools has risen sharply in the past decade. In spring 2002, only 580 students graduated from a charter; in spring 2011 (the last year of available graduation data), 6,301 students graduated from a charter, only slightly below of graduates of Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus school districts combined. 

Where do charter school grads go upon graduation? Not likely to college. Only around 1 in 10 charter school graduates head directly into an Ohio public university or college (two- or four-year), according to the Ohio Board of Regents. Note: The Regents’ data do not account for high school graduates who attend an out-of-state, private, or for-profit college—thus, underreporting the number of college-bound grads.

For graduates of e-school charters, a measly 9 percent made the plunge into college, while for graduates of brick-and-mortar charters, it’s 11 percent. There is, however, considerable variation across the charters. As might be expected, Ohio’s few high-performing high school charters had a higher percentage of grads go off to college. For example, 48 percent of Dayton Early College Academy’s (DECA) and 50 percent of Toledo School for the Arts’ graduates enrolled directly into an Ohio college. On the flip side, only 8 percent of ECOT (the state’s largest e-school) graduates went to an Ohio college immediately after graduation, and 50 out of 115 charters had zero students.

The chart below shows that, compared to traditional districts, charter schools lag considerably behind in sending graduates directly into college. On average, 39 percent of district graduates head directly into an Ohio college. Even the meagerly Cleveland Municipal School District had 39 percent of its grads enter college, while the high-performing suburban district Olentangy had 45 percent. For illustration purposes, data on Dayton Public Schools and Portsmouth, a rural district in Southern Ohio, are also shown. The full listing of spring 2011 graduation and fall 2011 entering freshman counts of all traditional districts and charter schools is here.

Chart: Percentage of spring-summer 2011 high school graduates entering a public Ohio college or university in fall 2011.

Source: Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Board of Regents Note: The Regents’ data do not account for graduates who attend an out-of-state, private, or for-profit college. 

It’s a fact that a fair number of Ohio’s high school charters are so-called “dropout recovery” schools. These schools serve primarily students who have either dropped out or are at-risk of dropping out of school. And, for “dropout recovery” schools, their students may possess neither the aptitude nor aspiration to enroll and succeed in college. Hence, some charters may have justification for their very low college matriculation rates. 

Nevertheless, the low percentage of college-bound students (especially for charter schools—and for that matter, some district high schools also) begs the question: What happens to graduates who aren’t college-bound? Are they finding gainful employment? Serving in the military? Starting a family? Or, more skeptically, are they bumming around or worse? 

It would be nice to know—indeed, nice for parents and students who are selecting a high school to know—the outcomes, even the short-term ones, for the students whom any given high school graduates. With data that link Ohio college freshman back to their high school, the Regents and ODE have given us part of the story on high schools and the whereabouts of their graduates. Should Ohioans demand the rest of the story? 

More By Author

Related Articles