Charter schools’ ‘thorny’ problem: Few students go on to earn college degrees
Like many charter school networks, the Los Angeles-based Alliance College-Ready Public Schools boast eye-popping statistics: 95% of their low-income students graduate from high school and go on to college. Virtually all qualify to attend California state universities.
Its name notwithstanding, the network’s own statistics suggest that few Alliance alumni are actually ready for the realities — academic, social and financial — of college. The vast majority drop out. In all, more than three-fourths of Alliance alumni don’t earn a four-year college degree in the six years after they finish high school.
Publicly funded, but in most cases privately operated, charter schools like Alliance are poised to become a much bigger part of the USA’s K-12 public education system. Yet even as their popularity rises, charters face a harsh reality: Most of the schools boast promising, often jaw-dropping high school graduation rates, but much like Alliance, their college success rates, on average, leave three of four students without a degree.
Statistics for charter schools as a whole are hard to come by, but the best estimate puts charters’ college persistence rates at around 23%. To be fair, the rate overall for low-income students – the kind of students typically served by charters – is even worse: just 9%. For low-income, high-minority urban public schools, most comparable to charters, the rate is 15%.
Charter schools must 'pivot' from original mission
So while many charter schools offer students a more viable path to high school graduation, the low college success rate in many cases is forcing the schools themselves to rethink their offerings.
“It’s time for us to pivot,” admitted Dan Katzir, Alliance’s CEO. Asked to rate the importance of raising the network’s college graduation rate, he said: “This is our work for the next 10 years.”
In many ways, charter schools were designed a quarter-century ago to help close the Charter schools’ ‘thorny’ problem: Few students go on to earn college degrees: