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Who Are the Students Attending Charter Schools With Low Graduation Rates?

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By Arianna Prothero and Alex Harwin. 

In nearly 1,000 public high schools, less than half of all students graduate on time, according to a recent Education Week analysis of federal data.

And more than half of those high schools are charters.

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So, who are the students attending these schools with 4-year graduation rates below 50 percent?

It may not come as a surprise that these schools educate larger proportions of black, Latino, and low-income students compared to public high schools overall. The yawning gaps in graduation rates between black and Latino students and their white peers has been well documented.

See also: In Many Charter High Schools, Graduation Odds Are Slim

The chasm between white students' grad rates and those of students of color and low-income kids is clear when looking at the public high schools that are not charter schools. As you can see in the chart below, non-charter high schools with graduation rates below 50 percent educate a significantly larger share of black and Latino students, and a far smaller share of white students, than non-charter high schools where more than 50 percent of students earn a diploma within four years.

But the differences in the student makeup between charters with graduation rates under and over that 50 percent threshold are much less stark. Charters that graduate at least half of their students enroll similar proportions of black, Latino, and white students as their charter school peers that graduate less than half of their students.

Charter high schools enroll smaller shares of white students and higher proportions of students of color compared to public high schools overall.

However, notable differences between charter schools with high and low graduation rates do appear when looking at how many economically disadvantaged students they enroll.

Charter schools where fewer than half their students earn a diploma do serve a higher percentage of low-income students—70 percent compared to 60 percent in charter schools with graduation rates above 50 percent.

There's an even larger discrepancy among non-charter schools, as you can see in the chart above.

In non-charter schools with graduation rates above 50 percent, 46 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. In non-charters graduating less than half of their students, 71 percent are low-income.

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