Can online credit recovery recover?

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Michael Horn

A series of articles in Slate has upped the ante on the mounting evidence that online credit recovery has a rigor problem, even as such programs have become nearly ubiquitous across the country. As the reporter wrote, the practice of offering online credit recovery seems to be “falsely boosting graduation rates” at the expense of rigorous learning experiences for students.

What’s sad, and often unmentioned, is that we shouldn’t be surprised. People are rationally following their incentives—to boost graduation rates and make sure students have a high school diploma in hand. Because few states tie external, objective assessments for required high school courses to graduation, there is accordingly little attention paid to the underlying quality of online credit recovery courses.

This means, though, that this is a system-wide problem that goes well beyond credit recovery courses. Credit recovery is just where the incentives are most urgent to make sure students get credits as quickly and cheaply as possible—regardless of what they have learned.

Our system’s lack of attention to individual student outcomes, and a preoccupation with input-based measures, such as the amount of time students spend learning and easily manipulated metrics such as graduation rates, have led to the current situation.

Although we might not be getting what we want, we are certainly getting what we deserve.

The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the author and not necessarily the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.