Alternative Charter Schools Have Low Grad Rates; Here’s Why Duval Keeps Them Around

Jun 4, 2018

Contracts for two of Duval’s so-called alternative charter schools, Lone Star and Biscayne high schools, are up for renewal this week. The district is recommending their renewal despite having graduation rates far below the district average.

Charter schools are public schools, but privately managed. School boards approve charter contracts, but don’t have control over their teachers or curriculum. Alternative charter schools are for students not on track to graduate within four years of entering high school, said Anita Henry Smith Director of Duval’s charter schools.

“Typically (an alternative charter school’s target audience is going to be that student that is 1.)   overage, and 2.) that may be behind their present cohort,” she said.

About 720 Duval students go to the district’s four alternative charters. More than 1,500 go to other dropout recovery programs.

Biscayne and Lone Star have graduation rates of 26 percent and 34 percent. The district average is 80.8 percent. But Smith said the grad rates of alternative charters and traditional schools aren’t comparable, because the rate only counts students graduating within four years of entering high school. Students taking an extra year or semester aren’t factored in.

Alternative charter school students are normally behind in credits, need to increase their grade point averages and may not have met state assessment requirements.

“They have a lot of factors that… are playing against them,” Smith said. “Which of course ultimately is going to affect the graduation rate for the school because they’re trying to target a lot of different areas for a student that is already behind.”

Smith said that doesn’t mean the district doesn’t expect the graduation rates of alternative charters to increase, as it is a stipulation in their contracts, but it shouldn’t be the only factor considered in examining their performances, she said.

For instance, in Biscayne’s contract renewal, in addition to an increasing graduation rate, it has to demonstrate yearly gains in academic achievement, and at least a quarter of the schools’  graduating seniors have to go to college, a technical program, the military or get a job.

Four years ago Biscayne's graduation rate was 8 percent and Lone Star’s was 9 percent.

But other alternative charters not up for renewal are going in the opposite direction. Sal Tech’s rate has decreased from 30 percent to 2.4 percent over four years. MycroSchool’s also went down.

Alternative charters have proven controversial in the state. A Propublica investigation accused Orlando’s school district of boosting the graduation rates at its schools by forcing low-performing students into alternative charters, many of them never earning diplomas.

Following the report, the state’s education department called for an investigation into if districts were underreporting dropouts by shoveling students into these charters.

Duval Assistant Superintendent for Accountability and Assessment Kelly Coker-Daniel said Duval doesn’t force students into alternative charters, saying it wouldn’t help the district much as alternative charters’ grad rates are factored into the district’s average graduation rate.

“We share every resource we can with them to make sure they’re successful as possible,” Coker-Daniel said.

She said they might be the best option for some students because they have more flexibility in scheduling, as the work is online, and the schools offer night classes.

Although the school board is allowed to approve contract renewals of alternative charter schools with accountability requirements specific to each school, any new alternative charters would have to use a standard, untailored contract, after a state law known as House Bill 7069 passed in 2017.

“We didn’t have to implement the standard contract because these are not new schools,” Smith said.

The school board will vote on the contract renewals Tuesday at its regular monthly board meeting.  

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.