Early analyses suggest that low-income students at the largest American charter school networks are graduating from college at up to four times the national average rate, reports The 74. Currently, 11 percent of low-income students nationwide complete college within six years, according to The Pell Institute.
The 74 attributes the outcomes in part to charter networks’ efforts to pioneer new strategies for college success. “Combining [those interventions] with entrepreneurial programs to spread data-driven college advising to high school students who lack it and with a growing commitment from colleges and universities to embrace low-income, first-generation students and ensure they walk away with degrees despite their vulnerabilities,” The 74 writes, has enabled “a breakthrough” in bachelor’s degree attainment.
Noting that these sorts of analyses only recently became possible, The 74 says that it may be early to assess “college success among these networks, but not premature.” Moreover, lessons learned by charter school networks may help inform best practices at large, traditional school districts. Currently, few traditional public school districts track student outcomes through college, although New York, Miami, and Newark districts are preparing to do so.
Data-driven strategies for improving student outcomes
The 74 shares a number of six-year graduation rates calculated by major charter school networks, acknowledging the challenge of collecting complete data sets and the complexities of making comparisons between school networks that have varying approaches to data collection.
It also takes a closer look at the tracking approach used by the charter network Uncommon Schools—and the actionable insights surfaced by that data.
“Our mission is to get students to graduate from college, and that has influenced everything we do while we have students in elementary, middle, and high school,” said Uncommon CEO Brett Peiser. Ken Herrera, Uncommon’s senior director of data analytics, added, “When we cut the data, getting above a 3.0 GPA [in high school] was very significantly correlated with future college success.” As a result, the network has strengthened its curriculum and now requires every student with a GPA below 2.5 to participate in a program, called Target 3.0, designed to help them reach that key threshold.
Fifty-four percent of Uncommon’s alumni attain a bachelor’s degree within six years, and the network expects that rate will rise to 70 percent within six years. Uncommon tracks alumni by cohorts and carefully monitors changes in dropout rates at certain points in students’ college careers.