The Indiana House Republican caucus earlier this year obtained data from the Indiana Department of Education for all Indiana high schools showing how many students withdrew to enroll in a homeschool in 2017 and 2018, the average number of credits they had accumulated at the time they left, and whether they withdrew during the Fall or Spring semester.
Lawmakers who reviewed the data suggested it provides evidence of a problem they’ve been aware of and trying to get a handle on since at least 2012.
Indiana House Majority Floor Leader Matt Lehman (R) of Berne summed it up this way: “Students in their senior year who are not on track to graduate [are] being moved out to a homeschool so they don’t have a negative impact on the graduation rate.”
An Indiana Education Insight analysis of this data reveals 12 Indiana high schools in 2018 and 10 in 2017 had at least 10% of the students in the graduating cohort exit during their senior year in order to enroll in homeschool.
One school exceeded the 10% threshold in both years: Emmerich Manual High School, the state turnaround academy that received the blessing of the State Board of Education in March to convert into a charter school.
Manual reported that 30 students in the 2018 graduating class withdrew to enroll in a homeschool during their senior year, representing 28.30% of the cohort – the highest rate of any high school in the state. The senior students who transferred to a homeschool were not on track to receive a diploma, as they had earned an average of only 23.75 credits at the time they left. Overall, 56.60% of students in the 2018 cohort left Manual for homeschool at some point in their high school career – again the highest rate in Indiana.
For the 2017 cohort, 12.12% exited to homeschool during their senior year – the sixth-highest rate in the state that year, and these students had earned an average of only 21.38 credits. Across all four years of high school, 35.61% of the 2017 cohort left Manual for homeschool – the third-highest rate in Indiana.
The Problem And How The House GOP Addressed It
The implication here is that students who would otherwise be classified as dropouts are being counseled by school administrators to falsely indicate during state-mandated exit interviews that they’re withdrawing from high school to pursue a homeschool education. Thus, the students do not count as dropouts when calculating the high school graduation rate.
According to conventional wisdom, families are most likely to homeschool their children during the elementary years but as their children age and the curriculum becomes progressively more demanding, some may choose a public or private high school education. The reverse – a high school student deciding that homeschool is the best fit – ought to be exceedingly rare, especially if the withdrawing student has less than a year to go until graduation.
At the initiative of the House Republican caucus, the Legislature in 2019 passed language to crack down on the homeschool loophole. Senate Enrolled Act 567 requires the State Board of Education to conduct an investigation of high schools identified as having the highest rates of homeschool withdrawals. The law establishes separate investigatory triggers for large and small high schools.
If at least 10% of students exit to homeschool from a high school with a cohort of 100 students or less, or at least 5% of students exit to homeschool from a high school with a cohort larger than 100 students – and the applicable students, based on credit completion, are not on track to graduate with their cohort – then the high school must submit additional evidence that substantiates the withdrawals to the State Board of Education. The State Board will review the evidence, and unless the high school can demonstrate good cause, the State Board shall count the students who withdrew to homeschool as dropouts.
An Indiana Education Insight analysis of the data for 2017 and 2018 found that 100 high schools could be entangled in the new law based on meeting the 5%/10% thresholds, although we were unable to determine, based on the data, whether the students who withdrew to a homeschool during their freshmen, sophomore, or junior years were on track to graduate.
Some of the students at issue here might have a plausible reason to feign homeschool enrollment that has nothing to do with artificially inflating the school’s graduation rate. A person under the age of 18 who drops out of high school is prohibited from obtaining a driver’s license, potentially a major economic hardship for someone intending to work full time.
To be clear: the law does not direct the State Board of Education to determine who is actually homeschooling and who is not.
Three More Eyebrow Raising Examples
Muncie Central High School reported that 11.81% of students in the 2018 cohort transferred to a homeschool during their senior year, the seventh-highest rate among high schools in the state. The students who withdrew were not on track to receive a diploma, having earned an average of only 26.21 credits at the time they departed. Moreover, 65% exited after the February count date. For the 2017 cohort, 8.47% left for homeschool during their senior year, the 20th-highest rate among high schools. They had accumulated on average just 25.68 credits, and 55% exited in the second semester.
When considering students who left for homeschool at any point during their high school career, the homeschool withdrawal rate for Muncie Central’s 2018 cohort increases to 37.50% – the third-highest rate in Indiana. In the 2017 cohort, 20.22% withdrew from Muncie Central for homeschool at some point while in high school, the 18th-highest rate among all high schools that year.
At Greensburg Community High School, 11.56% of the 2018 cohort (17 out of 147 students) left for homeschool during their senior year – the eighth-highest rate in the state. At the time they left, they had earned on average only 24.29 credits. About 53% left during the Spring semester. Overall, 23.81% of the 2018 cohort left Greensburg High for homeschool at some point during high school, the ninth-highest rate in the state.
For the 2017 cohort, 9.26% left for homeschool during their senior year, the 15th-highest rate in Indiana, and 21.60% left for homeschool sometime during high school, also ranking 15th. More than two-thirds of the seniors who left for homeschool in 2017 did so after the February count date.
At Anderson High School, 8.55% of the 2018 cohort transferred to homeschool as seniors, the 20th-highest rate among all high schools. They had earned an average of 24.49 credits, and 64% exited after the second count date. For the 2017 cohort, 10.08% left Anderson High School during their senior year to enter homeschool, ranking 10th among all high schools. They left with an average of 25.00 credits, and 59% left after the second count day.
Anderson also ranked among the top 20 high schools for the percentage of students in the 2017 and 2018 graduating cohorts who withdrew to homeschool at any point during their high school career.