Special report: Indiana’s hidden dropouts

How Indiana schools can write off struggling students as home-schoolers

It takes an astonishing spreadsheet to stop me in my tracks. But when I leaned over my colleague’s shoulder several months ago to examine a list of Indiana high schools and the number of students who left to home-school, I was stunned.

At the top, with one of the highest totals in the state, was Emmerich Manual High School. The 700-student southside campus has been at the center of Indiana education politics for nearly a decade, after low test scores led to state takeover. Now, it stood out for a different reason: In the class of 2018, Manual had 83 graduates, six dropouts — and 60 students who left to home-school.

While dropouts drive down grad rates, I soon learned, students who leave to home-school simply disappear from the tally. A lawmaker who was pushing for a bill to try to reduce potential abuse of the designation had requested the data and shared it with Chalkbeat.

Across the country, graduation rates have been on the rise for years. But many students are still being left behind. They are enrolling at alternative and online schools where grad rates are staggeringly low. They are dropping out.

Our latest investigation reveals another seldom-discussed way that students are wiped off schools’ books: They are leaving to home-school and potentially ending their education.

This story was built on the generosity of parents and students, who gave us their time and trust. I hope you will take time to read and share it.

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— Dylan Peers McCoy, reporter