A case of a functioning school marketplace?

Life Skills Centers, a group of fifteen dropout-recovery charter schools operated by White Hat Management, is on the decline. Last year’s enrollment (school year 2012-13) was less than half that of 2006. The erosion of Life Skills Centers’ enrollment bucks the steadily rising trend in Ohio’s overall charter enrollment. And within dropout-recovery charters—a special subset of schools that enroll at-risk high-school students—Life Skills Centers’ enrollment losses have also been atypical. Excluding Life Skills, the state’s sixty or so dropout-recovery schools have experienced flat to increasing enrollment trends from 2006 to 2013 with the exception of 2012.[1]

Chart 1: Life Skills Center student enrollment, 2005-06 to 2012-13

Source: Ohio Department of Education Notes: The number of Life Skills Centers has remained constant—fifteen schools—throughout this period except for 2005-06 when there were fourteen schools. There are three former Life Skills Centers (then operated by White Hat) that changed management companies and school names effective July 2012. These schools are not included in the totals in chart 1 or table 1 for any years.

Perhaps the enrollment decline is no surprise, given the low performance of these schools. Table 1 shows the five-year cohort graduation rates for Life Skills Centers from 2009-10 to 2011-12. The graduation rates for their pupils are sometimes less than ten percent. The Life Skills Center in Dayton performs the highest among the group: 25 percent graduation rate in 2011-12; 22 percent in 2010-11.[2]  For reference, the average five-year graduation rate for all other dropout recovery schools has been approximately 30 percent, rendering Life Skills’ graduation rates anywhere from 5 to 25 percentage points below their peer group’s average.

Table 1: Life Skills Center five-year cohort graduation rates, 2009-10 to 2011-12

What is clear is that the Life Skills dropout-recovery charter schools are losing enrollment. What is less clear is why, though one plausible explanation is that they’re just not meeting the educational needs of teenagers—and those students are voting with their feet. In other words, maybe the school marketplace is functioning as it should, a rare bit of good news for Ohio's charter sector. 




[1] According these schools’ most recent audit reports (2012-13), most Life Skills Centers are operated by a limited-liability company, typically named after the school. For example, Life Skills Center of Youngstown is operated by LS Youngstown, LLC. The Secretary of State’s filings indicate that these LLCs are subsidiaries of White Hat.

[2] Ohio recently changed its graduation-rate calculation to align with federal reporting standards; hence, the cohort graduation rate measure goes back only to 2009-10. Graduation rates are reported with a one-year lag to account for summer graduates.

 

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