Researchers studying the effectiveness of online credit recovery courses in 18 Milwaukee high schools found high monitor-to-student ratios in classrooms largely filled with those who have behavioral issues, Chalkbeat reports, additionally noting that rather than boosting math and reading scores, the classes seemed to also set them back.
Among researchers' observations were disparities in teachers' engagement in the courses, as well as their attitudes and expectations, large class sizes, and struggles to assist students with disabilities or those who were English learners.
Nationwide, an estimated 15% of students took a credit recovery course in the 2015-2016 school year, and while Chalkbeat notes another study in Milwaukee featuring some of the researchers shows that city's program is helping at-risk students graduate, questions remain regarding the actual learning taking place in credit recovery programs.
As more students enroll in credit recovery programs, scrutiny is growing. The chief criticism is that while these programs help boost graduation rates, the actual learning is lacking. Federal data released last year shows that 10% of schools have at least 20% of students enrolled in credit recovery. In some cases, students have allegedly taken credit recovery courses without taking the actual course.
In theory, credit recovery could be used to enhance the classroom experience the way that the blended learning model does. The option works well, for example, for those students who did take the classroom course but missed a few concepts and didn't end up with the grade they wanted.
A study on credit recovery and the path to on-time high school graduation showed no differences between the rate of on-time graduation between the students who took online classes and those who learned the content in the classroom. However, there is too little information to determine how students who take online courses will fare long-term.
The online course recovery option gives students more pathways to a diploma, and sometimes that is what it's all about. In 2015, 88% of the population had a high school diploma or a GED. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those who didn't have a high school degree or equivalency made an average of $25,636 per year. With a high school diploma, the average wage jumped to $35,256 a year.
The credit recovery option can be improved so students are not sacrificing knowledge to earn a credential. Adding better monitoring or improving the courses may move the needle in the right direction. However, without this option, many at-risk students wouldn’t gain that knowledge anyway. For those on the brink of barely graduating high school, online credit recovery courses that allow them to finish on time could translate into thousands of dollars in additional future income.