Harmony Charter School Graduation Rates: Fact or Fiction?

Posted on June 6, 2011

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Evidently, the CEO of Harmony Charter Schools will testify today that Harmony Science Cademy Schools in Texas have a 100% graduation rate. We often hear charter school operators make this claim. Are charters schools really that great? Should we open more charter schools to increase the graduation rate? And what, exactly, are these schools doing to have such extraordinary graduation rates.

When the state calculates graduation rates, it uses the number of students in the 9th grade cohort as the denominator (see http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/aeis/2010/glossary.html from TEA and look under completion rates for the complete definition). This makes complete sense. To calculate a graduate rate, you start with the number of 9th grade students and then follow them over time. Except that students are removed from the denominator if they transfer to another school or leave public schools for a variety of reasons.

As shown in Table 1 below, we see that there were 192 students enrolled in Harmony charter schools in the 9th grade as indicated by TAKS answer documents submitted by Harmony charter schools in the spring of 2008. Of these 192 students, almost 92% were enrolled in the 11th grade in the spring of 2010. But, only 67% were enrolled in the 11th grade and still in a Harmony charter school. Thus, almost one-quarter of the 9th grade cohort transferred OUT of Harmony charter schools and into other Texas public schools. Now, Harmony management will likely argue that these students simply moved away from the Harmony school locations. But, of those who did transfer schools, 82% stayed in the same county. Thus, physically moving away from a Harmony charter school is unlikely to be the reason for so many transfers out of Harmony charter schools.

Now, could the graduation rate really be 100%? Only under the following conditions. The transfers out were not counted in the denominator. The students who left the Texas public schools used one of the following leaver codes:

1) The student graduated outside Texas;

2) The student obtained a GED outside of Texas;

3) The student entered college;

4) The student entered a home school situation;

5) Student was removed by Child Protective Services;

6) Students entered a private school;

7) Student enrolled in a school outside of Texas;

8) The student was expelled;

9) The student died;

10) Student returned to her/his home country;

Thus, 16 students from the 9th grade cohort would have had to fall under the above leaver codes to not be counted as a dropout. Possible? Yes. Likely? No.

So,if one excludes all the students who transferred out of Harmony schools and stayed in the same county (which is strange since the CEO claims that parents love the school as evidenced by a long waiting list) and accept that 16 students met one of the aforementioned leaver codes, then I guess they might have a 100% graduation rate.

But, the evidence suggests that the Harmony Charter School graduation rate is NOT 100%.

Further, policymakers don’t know that 25% of the students transferred out of the schools. The Harmony CEO never mentions this, so the graduation rate is provided without the full context. This is a lie of omission. So, beware when you hear statistics that seem too good to be true–from a a charter school or ANY school (urban superintendents often use the same tactic).

Most importantly, a large percentage of students become disenchanted with Harmony charter schools and leave the schools to enroll in a public school in the same county. This means Harmony charter schools have a difficult time holding onto their students. Students who intentionally CHOSE to enroll in the school.

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