Virtual School Meanderings

November 25, 2019

New Report – Practice Outpacing Policy? Credit Recovery In American School Districts

A fair amount of coverage given to online forms of credit recovery in this report.


Practice outpacing policy? Credit recovery in American school districts

American Enterprise Institute

Key Points

  • Although many reports have raised concerns about the quality of credit recovery programs, little is known about the policies governing these programs.
  • Our research team surveyed 200 school districts across the country about the policies governing their credit recovery programs, including when credit recovery is offered, whether it is administered online, and whether the credit recovery grade students earn replaces their original failing grade.
  • This data collection revealed many districts’ policies allow lots of flexibility for student access and assessment with relatively little constraint. Taken individually, these policies could be justifiable, but taken together, they leave credit recovery programs ripe for abuse.
  • To prevent credit recovery from doing more harm than good, districts need to establish clear policies specifically aimed at ensuring these programs provide quality instruction, not just an easy ticket to graduation.

Read the PDF.

Executive Summary

In recent years, many journalistic exposés and research reports have raised concerns about the quality of credit recovery programs, which are avail­able in about 75 percent of US high schools and serve about 6 percent of students. Stories relay how schools from Los Angeles to Washington, DC, have used the system of makeup courses to boost graduation rates, and some have even reported having separate require­ments for student-athletes seeking National Colle­giate Athletic Association scholarships. Among these reports, however, are often lapses in details about the actual district policies governing credit recovery. While a handful of studies have examined the qual­ity of specific programs, it is hard to tell whether they broadly represent credit recovery programs or are instead merely examples of the worst of them.

The purpose of this report is to take a closer look at credit recovery policies in American public school dis­tricts across the country. Our research team contacted a nationally representative sample of 200 districts that had high participation rates of credit recovery in the spring and summer of 2019 and asked questions about the policies governing their credit recovery pro­grams—including when credit recovery is offered, whether it is administered online, and whether the credit recovery grade students earn replaces their original failing grade.

This data collection, which yielded an 84 percent response rate, found that 95 percent of responding districts offer credit recovery online and 87 percent offer it year-round. Over half (54 percent) do not require failing grades to participate, and 51 percent replace the original grade with the credit recovery grade. Moreover, 68 percent of responding districts do not have seat-time requirements, and 61 percent allow students to skip lessons by taking pretests, thus allowing students to complete credit recovery courses at their own pace.

Taken individually, these policies could be justifi­able for certain districts’ circumstances and needs. Taken together, however, the pattern of highly expan­sive and flexible district policies offers little comfort about the rigor of credit recovery. To prevent credit recovery from doing more harm than good, districts need to establish clear policies focused on increasing rigor rather than just flexibility. By taking a stronger stand on rigorous credit recovery policies, districts have a better chance of ensuring these programs provide quality instruction, not just an easy ticket to graduation.


After a decade of education policy heavily focused on college and career readiness and boosting postsecondary enrollment, the primary approaches to gauging high school quality remain narrowly focused on two available measures: test scores and high school graduation rates. Test scores have become increasingly unpopular due to a sense that high-stakes tests drive unhealthy competition and detract from other valuable school programs and for their stubborn resistance to change. But graduation rates are easy to love because they do not have such obvious negative consequences on schooling—and because they keep going up.

Between 2011 and 2017, US graduation rates rose from 79 to 84 percent, an all-time high and the fifth record in a row since the federal government redefined how graduation rates are calculated and reported.1 Those record numbers have naturally drawn a lot of attention and praise—and deservedly so when they reflect that school systems are reducing dropouts and increasing numbers of students who leave ready for college or a career. However, like high-stakes tests, pressure to improve graduation rates can create per­verse incentives for schools. This makes knowing how schools are making them rise as important as know­ing that they are rising.

As graduation rates have been on the rise, so have credit recovery programs. These programs provide makeup courses, often involving online instruction, that allow students who have fallen behind or failed a high school class to earn credits and get back on track to graduate without having to retake the origi­nal course. Of course, makeup courses are not new, as summer school and repeating courses are long-existing options most adults remember from high school. But efforts to build quicker and more flexi­ble programs to get lagging students back on track to graduate have gained momentum in recent years—so has the market for online services that facilitate them. The growth of credit recovery programs over time is difficult to assess with available data, but the pro­grams have spread far and wide. In 2016, about three in four US high schools offered some kind of credit recovery program, and about 6 percent of high school students participated in one.2

The rise of credit recovery programs has brought more attention, and scrutiny, around their execution and effectiveness. As David Loewenberg notes in Edu­cation Next, increased government and private invest­ments to expand tech in schools has catalyzed the boom of a “vast and lucrative education-technology market,” which includes an array of online credit recovery providers for districts to choose from.3 Such programs do help more students graduate; Loe­wenberg gives the example of Newburgh, New York, which saw its graduation rate rise from 66 to 78 in just five years after implementing online credit recovery.

But dramatic jumps like this are not necessarily something to celebrate. In Newburgh’s case, a dis­trict attorney investigation revealed that faculty were using the program to fudge the numbers, including artificially changing grades and awarding credit to absent students.

Alarming accounts are increasingly common, with headlines such as “‘Fail Me’ School’s Kids Can Take Year’s Worth of Classes in 6 Weeks,” “School Saves 150 Failing Students with Quickie Online Courses,” and “CMS Launches Investigation into Credit Recov­ery Center Allegations.”4 Article series from Slate and the New York Post have highlighted countless other examples.5 In some cases, credit recovery has been part of major scandals, such as in 2017, when 15 per­cent of graduates in the District of Columbia received necessary credit through credit recovery despite never taking the original classes.6

Despite alarming anecdotes, the fact remains that little is known about the inner workings of credit recovery programs or their effectiveness. What are the actual policies governing these programs, and who is responsible for enforcing them? The limited informa­tion we have suggests that the answers vary widely across states and school districts. After all, these policy decisions generally fall to school districts, which typ­ically establish credit recovery programs and ink con­tracts with online vendors. And different districts have different student populations, schedules, state require­ments, budgets, and online programs to choose from. These factors allow for a wide range of credit recovery programs, as Loewenberg concisely lays out.

There is also tremendous variation in what district and state credit-recovery policies, standards, and reg­ulations look like—if they exist at all. . . . Some pro­grams are condensed face-to-face classes, others are completely online, and still others are “blended,” in which students work in a computer lab with support from a certified teacher. In some districts, courses are graded on a pass/fail basis, while in others students can earn scores up to 100 percent. Some districts cap the number of credit-recovery courses a student can time at one time, while others don’t. Some districts require students take paper-and-pencil assessments proctored by a teacher, while others allow testing to be completed at home on a computer. Some online classes are used to make up parts of a course, while others are designed as a wholesale replacement.7

Despite the good reasons to establish credit recov­ery programs and the strong reactions to programs that make the papers, it remains difficult to paint a clear picture of the credit recovery landscape in America. That difficulty stems from districts’ strong incentives to improve graduation rates and push credit recovery far ahead of not only research but also the policy guiding these programs. The purpose of this report is to survey districts about the actual credit recovery policies in place in American public school districts.

Read the full report.


1. National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data, “Table 1. Public High School 4-Year Adjusted Cohort Gradua­tion Rate (ACGR), by Race/Ethnicity and Selected Demographic Characteristics for the United States, the 50 States, and the District of Columbia: School Year 2015–16,” October 25, 2017,

2. The US Department of Education’s National Survey on High School Strategies Designed to Help At-Risk Students Graduate shows significantly higher numbers: 89 percent of US high schools reported offering a credit recovery program, and school principals estimated that an average of 15 percent of high school students participated. However, because principals’ responses were recorded on a 100-point online slider, which is poorly suited to gauging small percentages, the participation rate estimates are likely overstated. See US Department of Education, “National Survey on High School Strategies Designed to Help At-Risk Students Graduate,” https:// I rely instead on the descriptive statistics from the Civil Rights Data Collection in this report and my previous report due to its more conservative estimates, size, currency, and administrative (rather than survey) data.

3. David Loewenberg, “A Digital Path to a Diploma,” Education Next 20, no. 1 (Winter 2020), digital-path-to-diploma-online-credit-recovery-classes/.

4. Susan Edelman, Lorena Mongelli, and Bruce Golding, “‘Fail Me’ School’s Kids Can Take Year’s Worth of Classes in 6 Weeks,” New York Post, August 5, 2015,; Susan Edelman, “School Saves 150 Failing Students with Quickie Online Courses,” New York Post, July 19, 2015, school-saves-150-failing-students-with-quickie-online-courses/; and Dedrick Russell, “CMS Launches Investigation into Credit Recov­ery Center Allegations,”, August 2, 2017,

5. Zoe Kirsch, “The New Diploma Mills,” Slate, May 23, 2017,; and Susan Edelman and Bruce Golding, “DOE Official Was Informed of Effort to Graduate Failing Students,” New York Post, August 10, 2015,

6. Alvarez & Marsal, “Final Report District of Columbia Public Schools Audit and Investigation,” Office of the State Superintendent of Education, January 26, 2018, 20DCPS%20Graduation%20and%20Attendance%20Outcomes%20-%20Alvarez%26Marsal.pdf.

7. Loewenberg, “A Digital Path to a Diploma.”

October 3, 2019

Report Notice – Course Choice: A Review Of Policy And Practice

Not an ideal time to be posting about this, but it has been a full blogging week thus far (with no real relief in sight).  This report was released by the Digital Learning Collaborative last week and I wanted to alert folks about it (as I haven’t seen a formal announcement of it yet.

Course Choice: A Review Of Policy And Practice

Executive summary

Course choice (also commonly referred to as “course access”) describes a set of state-level policies and
programs that allow students to choose an online course from one or more providers, and have their public
education funds flow to the online course provider to provide payment. The key element of the policy, as the
term suggests, is that students and parents have the right to choose a course, with relatively few restrictions
on their options imposed by the state or the student’s district of enrollment.

Course choice is one policy strategy to fill a critical need for students who do not have access to a wide
range of courses—or access to a specific course they are seeking—within their school. Another common
policy strategy to meet shortcomings in available courses is supporting a state virtual school or other
programs to provide online courses at below-market rates. In other states, no significant state-level policy
exists to address a lack of course availability.

The key elements of course choice are:

  • The student chooses one or more online courses from one or more providers.
  • The student retains control over the choice with limited restrictions. In much the same way that open
    enrollment laws allow students to choose schools other than those in their districts of residence,
    course choice allows students to choose a single academically appropriate course from outside their
    district of enrollment.
  • A significant portion of the student’s public education funding (pro-rated to the per-course amount of
    funding) flows to the provider of the online course.

Key characteristics of specific course choice policies and programs that vary by state include:

  • Whether students choose courses through a statewide source such as a common online course
    catalog, or alternatively find the course and enroll in it via the course provider or another source.
  • The reasons that a district can deny a student’s choice.
  • The recourse that a student has if the district denies the online course.
  • Whether students can choose from a single provider or from multiple providers.
  • The ways in which course providers are vetted by the state prior to offering courses, if at all.
  • How the cost of the course is determined, and in particular whether the state sets a cost per course, or
    the cost is set by the provider.
  • The tracking and reporting that the state does of providers, online course enrollments, and outcomes.

As of school year 2019–20, 15 states have or are developing some mechanism by which students can
choose online courses, but the states vary in significant ways.

The wide variety of experiences in states that have some sort of course choice policy in place suggests
that any findings across states must be generalized and will have exceptions. Still, a few observations
appear to hold true.

  • Course choice policies supported by a state program attract higher levels of enrollments
  • Often a single entity, or a small number of organizations, has an outsize effect on supplemental course
    enrollments in a state
  • Course enrollment data availability varies widely between states but is mostly lacking.

September 27, 2019

New Report Looks at School Choice in the United States

A couple of days ago, notice of this report arrived in my inbox.

Institute of Education Sciences - Newsflash Find IES Research on Facebook Connect with IES Research on Twitter IES Newsflash

New Report Looks at School Choice in the United States.

2019106Over time, enrollment in traditional public schools and public charter schools increased, as did the number of homeschooled students, while enrollment in private schools decreased.

School Choice in the United States: 2019 uses recent data from multiple National Center for Education Statistics surveys to describe the landscape of school choice in the United States. The report discusses the changes over time in enrollment in elementary and secondary traditional public, public charter, and private schools, as well as changes in the number of students who were homeschooled. It includes information on the characteristics and achievement of students enrolled in public and private schools, as well as characteristics of students who were homeschooled. It also includes information on public and private school students’ reports of incidents related to school crime and safety, as well as parental choices and satisfaction.

  • Although total enrollment in traditional public schools was 1 percent higher in 2016 (47.3 million) than in 2000 (46.6 million), public charter school enrollment increased much more rapidly, growing by more than 5 times from 0.4 million students in fall 2000 to 3.0 million students in fall 2016. The number of homeschooled students ages 5 to 17 with a grade equivalent of kindergarten through grade 12 in 2016 (1.7 million) was almost double the number in 1999 (0.9 million).
  • Compared with traditional public school students, a higher percentage of public charter school students in fall 2016 were enrolled in high-poverty schools (34 vs. 24 percent) and a lower percentage were enrolled in low-poverty schools (20 vs. 21 percent).
  • In 2016, the percentage of students who were homeschooled was higher for White (3.8 percent) and Hispanic (3.5 percent) students than for Black (1.9 percent) and Asian (1.4 percent) students.
  • A higher percentage of students enrolled in grades 1 through 12 who lived in cities (53 percent) than of students in the same grade range who lived in suburban areas (37 percent), towns (36 percent), and rural areas (32 percent) had parents who reported that public school choice was available.

To view the full report, please visit

The Institute of Education Sciences, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, is the nation’s leading source for rigorous, independent education research, evaluation and statistics.
By visiting Newsflash you may also sign up to receive information from IES and its four Centers NCESNCERNCEE, & NCSERto stay abreast of all activities within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

To obtain hard copy of many IES products as well as hard copy and electronic versions of hundreds of other U.S. Department of Education products please visit or call 1-877-433-7827 (877-4-EDPUBS).

This report does reference virtual schooling.

This report does not provide detailed breakouts on other school choice options within these broader categories, such as magnet schools,6 virtual schools,7 or the usage of open enrollment within or across districts.

6 A magnet school is a school designed to attract students of different racial/ethnic backgrounds or to provide an academic or social focus on a particular theme (Wang, Schweig, and Herman 2014). A magnet school can offer an entire schoolwide program or a magnet program within a school.

7 A virtual school, or cyber school, is a school that delivers academic instruction via the Internet or a computer network to students in locations other than a classroom supervised by a teacher who is physically present. Children can be enrolled in online courses to supplement their regular curriculum, or they can be enrolled as full-time virtual school students. As of the 2017–18 school year, 37 states allow full-time virtual charter schools; for more information, see State Education Reforms (SER) Table 4.3:

The table in question has been re-produced below (cutting out the middle portion that did not focus on virtual schools).

Click on the image to enlarge

In case it is difficult to review this, I have edited it to cut out all of the stuff in the middle.

Click on the image to enlarge

Report Notice – Commonsense Cyber Charter School Funding Reform Will Eliminate Wasteful Spending And Save $290 Million In Taxpayer Money

This report came to my attention in the past couple of days.

Commonsense Cyber Charter School Funding Reform Will
Eliminate Wasteful Spending and Save $290 Million in Taxpayer Money

Education Voters of PA

Executive Summary

$ Charter schools are primarily funded by local tax dollars paid to them as tuition by school districts.

$ Tuition rates are not based on what it costs a charter school to educate its students, but on the per student expenditure of the school district from which the students come. Charter school tuition for regular (non-special) education ranges from about $7,800 per student to over $18,500 per student. Charter school tuition for special education ranges from about $15,000 to over $40,000 per student.

$ In cyber charter schools – where the costs are less than $5,000 per student, far less than the cost in traditional public schools or brick and mortar charter schools – this wastes over $290 million in tax money each year, statewide.

$ When a student and his or her tuition go to a cyber charter school, not all the student’s cost leaves the public school. This has an adverse fiscal impact on school districts, often causing them to cut services and/or to raise tax rates.

$ Both problems – wasteful spending and adverse impact on remaining students – are being exacerbated by the rapid growth of cyber charter schools.

$ This wasteful spending could be curbed by setting a single, statewide tuition for both regular and special education students in cyber charter schools that is tied to the actual costs of cyber education.

$ By adopting this common sense funding reform, Pennsylvania school districts (and thus Pennsylvania taxpayers) can save more than $290 million each year.

Available online at

September 11, 2019

OSTA-AECO Releases Highly Anticipated eLearning Survey Results

On Monday, the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association/Association des Élèves Conseillers/ères de l’Ontario released the following statement.

OSTA-AECO releases highly anticipated e-learning survey results press release

The full report can be accessed at:

I would strongly urge readers to review the Canadian eLearning Network’s resource site on the Ontario e-learning proposal in conjunction with this report.

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