School district asks more of credit-recovery charter schools

We recent took a look at the rise of dropout-recovery charter schools, a niche that has blossomed under the radar around Florida, at times with the support of school districts.

The Florida Times-Union reports some of these schools are coming under scrutiny from the Duval County School Board. On Tuesday, the board imposed a new ultimatum for three Jacksonville credit-recovery charters to raise their graduation rates.

The paper reports the schools are being asked to boost their graduation rates by 25 percent a year.

That’s a tough challenge, but the schools are willing to take it on, said Angela Whitford-Narine, president of Accelerated Learning Solutions Florida. “We understand the district’s desire to raise the on-time graduation rates … and have agreed to this particular performance measure,” she said.

“It is a stretch for a program such as ours, where most of the students are already past their graduation [age] or are significantly behind, to meet this criteria,” she said. “But we are willing to accept this challenge as part of our collaboration with the district.”

Graduation rates tend to be low in dropout-recovery charter schools, almost by definition. Since they cater to students who are “over age” or otherwise behind on credits, some of their students have no chance of graduating on time.

Two of the schools in question had graduation rates in the single digits last school year, which looks low even compared to charters with similar specialties. The third does not appear in the state’s report on graduation rates.

A half-dozen charter high schools in Jacksonville that list “dropout recovery” among their specialties enroll more than 1,500 students between them, and all have graduation rates lower than 35 percent, state records show.

Duval’s own dropout prevention programs struggle with low graduation rates, too. At this month’s meeting, the school board also approved a similar ultimatum for one of the district’s own programs, run by Catapult Academy. Catapult could lose its contract if its graduation rate doesn’t rise by 25 percent each year, along with other improvements.

Right now, school board documents indicate roughly 2,000 seniors a year don’t graduate with a diploma  a number that doesn’t include those who drop out earlier, and one that Duval is looking to shrink.

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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at)