Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Credit Crunch: Does combating high drop out rates through credit recovery mean devaluing traditional course work?

James Dawson
Fordham University

After a 2008 article in the New York Times detailed what it found to be abuses in the New York City Departments of Education’s credit recovery program (Gootman and Coutts), in which students who have not attended the minimum hours can earn promotion to the next grade by completing special assignments, locally based blogs were quick to join the calls for an end to the program, going so a far as to criticize Chancellor Joel Klein’s perceived role in the lowering of standard (Bloomfield, 2009), (Casey 2008.)
The chancellor responded that the credit recovery, while a valuable asset for fighting high drop out rates, was in no way intended to allow for an easier path to promotion (Gootman and Coutts, 2008).
As many debates over New York City micro policy invariably lead to heated, even acrimonious, debate regarding the larger question of who should control the city’s sprawling education system, an empirical examination of the effectiveness of credit recovery programs takes a back seat to charges of lowering the bar or number massaging. As this is an issue of no small importance to educators, especially those educators seeking to take full advantage of the full range of opportunities presented by online classes, a sober and objective review is imperative.
While it would seem that credit recovery is a policy in opposition to much of the “hidden curriculum” that American Education embeds in process and assessment (the unique value of classroom interaction; dedication, commitment, and diligence; the steady and graduated accumulation of knowledge over the course of a semester or year), a review of the literature to dates suggests that it need not be viewed as inimical to traditional classroom learning, especially if the alternative is rising drop-out and/or lowered four year graduation rates.
Hoyle and Collier found that digital schooling was one of the more effective alternative schooling methods aimed at dropout prevention (2006). What was initially designed as means of allowing dropouts to earn credit while working, became popular with students who were still in school yet facing credit deficits that would delay their graduation (2006); presumably those students who were seeking to return to their graduation schedule would need to complete their digital courses in addition to their regular schooling, thus reducing the stigma of such credit recovery programs cited in the Times article, which take place at the end of the year, in lieu of the classes they didn’t attend that semester.
This is the basis of three new programs in Texas, Florida, and Colorado: students can recovery credit through an online program, but the programs emphasize that all the original course work must be completed before the students can receive credit (O’Hanlon 2009.) In addition, as soon as students are on pace with their cohort, they are returned to the classroom as long as there are no family or social issues that would favor continuing in the online program (2009.) While the programs cited in O’Hanlon (Denver, CO, Volusia, FL, and McKinney, TX) have not been operating long enough to generate measurable data regarding their direct impact on graduation rates, it is worth noting that Volusia had the states third-highest graduation rate, while McKinney reported that 75% of its students with credit deficit were able to return to their graduation schedule (2009.)
While the debate while continue, it would seem that, preliminary results seem encouraging. In addition, these examples seem to indicate that credit recovery programs, particularly those offered online, need not lack rigor or accountability to be successful. Criticism of such programs that centers on “what message” they may send say more about entrenched beliefs regarding the role of hidden curriculum than the defense of academic standards. However, it is worth noting that any credit recovery program used solely to bump the bottom line of graduation numbers risks devaluing not just such programs, but the idea of public secondary education as well.


Bloomfield, D. (2009) Credit Recovery - Joel Klein’s Race to the Bottom. Gotham
Accessed July 14, 2009 from

Casey, L. (2008) Credit Recovery Abuse Exposed. Edwize. Accessed July 14, 2009 from

Gootman, E. and Coutts, S. (2008) Lacking Credits, Some Students Learn a Shortcuts.
New York Times. Accessed
July 14, 2009 from

Hoyle, J.R. and Collier, V. (2006) Urban CEO Superintendents' Alternative
Strategies in Reducing School Dropouts.
Education & Urban Society. Vol. 39

O’Hanlon, C. (2009) Credit recovery software: the new summer school. T H E Journal.
Vol. 36 p16-19.

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