Archives for category: KIPP Charter Schools

Julian Vasquez Heilig explains that he first started researching charter schools because of his encounter with KIPP Austin.

He planned to work with KIPP Austin on their problems with attrition of black male students. Then Oprah celebrated KIPP as just the right place for black students, and the collaboration and research project were dead.

Now he reviews Jim Horn’s book about KIPP from his perspective as a knowledgeable researcher. The new book is called “Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys Through “No Excuses” Teaching.”

KIPP is the most celebrated charter chain in the nation. It has received hundreds of millions of dollars in gifts and grants from foundations, individuals, and government.

Horn and his collaborators write about the perspectives of some 30 disillusioned former KIPP teachers.

Heilig writes that screaming at students is common practice in KIPP charter schools:

Why does KIPP encourage and/or allow these practices? Horn writes, school leaders relayed that “because of cultural differences, black students are accustomed to being screamed at…because that’s how their parents speak to them.” A KIPP teacher characterized the worst offender at her school as a “screamer, swearer and humiliator…..”


KIPP might also argue that they are the beneficiaries of widespread support in communities across the nation. It is very clear that KIPP benefits from powerful influential and wealthy supporters in government, the media, and foundations. Their no excuses approach to educating poor children has resonated with the elites in society and they have showered the corporate charter chain with resources for decades. So it may be surprising to some to read the counternarrative from KIPP teachers that is quite different than what you typically read in the newspapers, see in documentaries like Waiting for Superman, and generally experience in the public discourse. I proffer that the KIPP teachers’ counternarratives in Journeys should be required reading for all of KIPPs influential supporters. Why? Mutua (2008) explained the importance of counternarratives in society:

In their broadest formulation, counternarratives are stories/narratives that splinter widely accepted truths about people, cultures, and institutions as well as the value of those institutions and the knowledge produced by and within those cultural institutions. The term counternarrative itself clearly highlights its essence in expressing skepticism of narratives that claim the authority of knowledge of human experience or narratives that make grand claims about what is to be taken as truth.

So what is the counternarrative that the current and former KIPP teachers? There is a saying that I often heard in Austin that if you visit a KIPP school you would become KIPPnotized— essentially very impressed by their approach. One of the KIPP teachers spoke to being initially impressed during her recruitment and then later discovering that KIPP was “hell.”

[A former teacher wrote:] There was so much about it that was so good and promising in the beginning, and I got hooked into that from the minute I saw the news piece on them… but the dirty little secrets are what you don’t know until you are in their trenches.

The KIPP teachers in Journeys detail a variety of working condition issues that created high levels of turnover specific to the KIPP model in their schools— too many to discuss here. One teacher compared her experience teaching in KIPP and a public school. She said she wouldn’t recommend teaching in KIPP and stated “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone who wanted to be a teacher for the long-term…It’s exhausting. It’s demoralizing.” You might be wondering: If the working conditions are as bad as the current and former KIPP teachers say they were, how could the charter chain campuses stay open? Journeys explains,

Without a constant infusion of new teachers to replace all those who burn out… KIPP would have to shut its doors… The role of Teach For America and programs based on Teach For America’s hyper-abbreviated preparation are crucial, then, for the continued survival of… KIPP….

In summary, Journeys is shocking— but expected considering what is known about KIPP’s “no excuses” culture. What makes this piece unique is the unprecedented interviews with current and former KIPP teachers across many schools and years in the charter chain. While many claim that KIPP is beyond reproach and is the shining star of charter schools, I submit that we should instead be asking whether KIPP can actually reform their reform based on the counternarratives provided by the KIPP teachers, or whether their approach is simply a pathological and abusive approach that the elites would never prescribe or allow for their own kids— except of course if they sent them away to military school.

The Walton Family Foundation gave away $375 million last year. It gave away $202 million to educational groups.

The foundation’s money is generated by the vast earnings of Walmart. The foundation was established in 1987 by Sam Walton. At least six of the Walton family members are billionaires, maybe more. As they die off, the foundation will grow larger.

The leader of the education part of the Walton Foundation is Marc Sternberg, who worked for Joel Klein in the Néw York City Department of Education. From 2010 to 2013, Sternberg was in charge of school closures and charter co-locations inside public schools.

The foundation is not only very wealthy, it has an ideology. It is rightwing. It is reactionary. It does not like public schools. It favors privatization and deregulation, which is what you might expect of a powerful corporation that hates government telling it what to do (like paying its employees a living wage). It hates unions. It loves charters and vouchers.

You might ask, how can billionaires sleep at night when they know their employees are surviving on meager earnings? I don’t know. Maybe they don’t think about it. Maybe they say, “Tough. That’s life. Life is unfair. Where’s my Bentley?”

I think you will find it enlightening to see where its money went in the 2014 year.

The biggest chunks went to Teach for America and KIPP.

Here are some of the many beneficiaries of the Walton family’s largesse:


50CAN, INC. ($2.5 MILLION);
MIND TRUST ($500,000); Indianapolis
TEACH PLUS ($250,000);
THE NEW YORK TIMES ($150,000);

In addition,


An earlier post today described No Nonsense Nurturing as training teachers to be robots.

Here is a video by its developers. It is indeed interesting, especially the product endorsement by Dave Levin, co-founder of KIPP. Probably the product reflects the KIPP style.

Mila Jasey, a member of the New Jersey Assembly, proposed a three-year moratorium on opening new charter schools. She said it was time to pause and take stock of the charter law. Meanwhile, Governor Chris Christie is opening as many charters as possible in the state’s poorest, most segregated districts, with an occasional effort to place them in suburbs (which usually provokes intense parent resistance).

Now that parents and the Newark Students Union, as well as Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, oppose Cami Anderson’s efforts to eliminate their neighborhood schools, the usual corporate reform narrative has gotten scrambled because students and parents in Newark are fighting to stop privatization.

So KIPP-NJ organized a rally of 100 parents in front of Assemblymember Jasey’s office to protest the moratorium. Note that the legislation would not close their schools, although the statements of demonstrators assume that it would.

The rally was called “Hands Off Our Future.” Again, the moratorium would have no bearing on any of the existing charter schools or their students. Note in the press release that questions should be directed to KIPP’s marketing and communications specialist.

I have been impressed by the clever and appealing slogans–the branding–of the charter chains. Last year, when Mayor Bill de Blasio in NYC threatened to reject some of Eva Moskowitz’s charter proposals, her supporters (“Families for Excellent Schools”) quickly produced $5 million for slick TV ads called “Don’t Steal Possible.” (You may safely conclude that the “families” who came up with $5 million overnight don’t enroll their children in public schools or charter schools.) That, plus $1 million or so of campaign contributions to Governor Cuomo from hedge-fund managers, turned the tide. Cuomo became a charter cheerleader, and he pushed through a bill protecting Eva’s expansion plans and guaranteeing free space in public schools and requiring the public schools in NYC to pay the charters’ rent in private space.

Clearly, public schools must have their own branding strategy. How about this:

“”Wall Street: Hands Off Our Public Schools”

“Don’t Steal Democracy”

“Our Children Are Not for Sale”

“Public Schools Belong to the Public, Not Corporate Raiders”

Do you have better ideas? The charter sector is rich and ambitious. They start with the schools in urban areas, but they have already begun to push into the suburbs and even small towns.

The end result will be a dual system: one for the motivated students and families, free to exclude those students it doesn’t want; the other–our public schools–for the kids who were rejected by the charters. I thought the Brown decision of 1954 settled the issue of a publicly-funded dual system. But it is back again, not based on race, but on something else, maybe grit, ability to succeed, motivation. One system for strivers, another for the rest. When I was in graduate school many years ago, an economist who studied international education told me that systems may be shaken up but they tend to revert to long-established patterns. Like a dual school system.

I was in Oklahoma a few days ago, I talked to a principal who shares a building with KIPP. He told me that the charter sends him students they don’t want, usually right before the state tests. That’s how the new system works.

When Julie O’Connor of the Star-Ledger called to ask me about a Newark KIPP charter school that got amazing results, I told her I had no information or knowledge about the school. I suggested she should consider three possibilities: 1) it is indeed a wonderful school; 2) it is not enrolling the same proportion of students with disabilities and English language learners as the public schools; 3) check the attrition rate over time. I directed her to Bruce Baker and Mark Weber, who have studied charter school performance in Néw Jersey (I have not). I published O’Connor’s comment and Baker’s response in the previous post. What follows is Mark Weber’s response.

Jersey Jazzman (aka Mark Weber) is a teacher in Néw Jersey and a graduate student at Rutgers, working with Bruce Baker. He posted two other responses to O’Connor and “the KIPP Propaganda Machine,” referenced below in his first paragraph.

Here is the opening of Weber’s analysis:

“I really don’t want to keep debunking this past Sunday’s big, fat, wet kiss from the Star-Ledger’s Julie O’Connor to the TEAM/KIPP charter school in Newark — see here and here. But O’Connor has given us such a perfect example of reformy propaganda that it really does merit further deconstruction.

“O’Connor’s love letter to TEAM/KIPP is based on a collection of received truths:

“Urban public schools suck (and suburban schools aren’t that great, either).

“We’ve spent too much already on district schools.

“Charter schools are awesome because they “prove” that poverty can be overcome in our schools; they are also “doing more with less.”

“To make her case, O’Connor gives us several talking points, clearly pre-digested by TEAM/KIPP for her easy consumption. Among them:

“One KIPP elementary school even outscored Montclair kids in 2013, a much higher income group.”

“In a city where almost half the students don’t graduate, nearly all its kids finish, and a remarkable 95 percent of them go on to college.”

“At last count, nearly 10,000 families were on a waiting list to get their children in.”

“There are others, and I’ll get to them in due course. But let’s take these three for right now. Are these points of data factually correct? Yes, absolutely.

“But are they true? That’s an entirely different question.”

“The master propagandist never puts a piece of data before the public that isn’t factually correct. Why would she? Facts are not malleable in and of themselves, but their application certainly is. And what O’Connor has managed to do here is tell a story that is certainly “factual,” but leaves out so much critical information that it can hardly be called “true.”

In the remainder of his post, he explains how facts can be used to misrepresent the truth.

Here is my take, for what it’s worth. The charter school in question seems to have good results, even after the exaggerations are stripped away. What we don’t know is whether the school excludes the students with the most severe disabilities, whom the public schools are obliged to accept. We don’t know if it “counsels out” the students who are trouble-makers, whom the public schools are obliged to accept. We can assume that KIPP spends more per pupil than the district public schools (KIPP often receives multi-million dollar gifts from foundations, corporations, and the U.S. Department of Education.

For these reasons, I long ago issued what I called “The KIPP Challenge.” The challenge was for KIPP to take over an entire impoverished district and show what it could do if it were tasked with the same expectation that public schools must meet: educate all children. Educate the children with the full range of abilities. Educate the children who don’t speak English. Educate the children just released from the juvenile justice system. Educate the gifted. Educate the kids who are turned off by school. Educate them all. No exceptions. No excuses.

The last time I wrote about The KIPP Challenge, a number of KIPP advocates reacted angrily, said this was not its purpose. But if KIPP wants to be considered a model for urban education, then it should indeed take on an entire district and prove that its good results are not enhanced by cherry-picking, skimming, or attrition.

Until it does accept the Challenge, it should not boast about its outcomes or claim to be superior to public schools that do accept all children. I am willing to be convinced. But, first, meet the Challenge.

I posted about the Néw Jersey Star-Ledger’s coverage of a KIPP charter school in Newark on May 10. I wrote that the newspaper seemed (to me) to be determined to write a positive report about the school. I referred the writer to Bruce Baker and Jersey Jazzman, both of whom have studied and written about charter schools in Néw Jersey.

The story did indeed treat the school as a miracle school that had closed the achievement gaps. Called Newark Collegiate Academy, the school is a KIPP school, formerly known as TEAM schools.

The writer, Julie O’Connor, commented on my post. She wrote:

“Hi Professor Ravitch. Just saw this post. Want to make sure you know that we have repeatedly invited Professor Baker to come in for an editorial board meeting to discuss and clarify his arguments, and he has refused. If he thinks we are misinformed, it’s certainly not willful. After his blog post – which seems unfair, given all those invitations — we’ve invited him again, and I hope he takes us up on the offer.

“I would be happy to talk to you about it, too. We’ve spoken in the past, although you may not remember, and you were a big help on my story back at Columbia, about New York City’s pregnancy schools (when those still existed!) When you say you “sensed nothing I said would make her stop and question her presumptions,” it took me aback, because that’s actually why I reached out to you.

“You deferred to Baker on this issue, and he refused to discuss it with me. I don’t think that does anybody good. I have found you to be quite adept at crystallizing your arguments. When I asked you if you view KIPP as an exception, or more of the same, you replied in your email that there are three possibilities: 1) KIPP students have high scores and go to college, 2) KIPP students are not representative of their district or 3) High attrition rates eliminate the students most likely to succeed [sic]. You said you didn’t know which it is, and that I should talk to Baker. But if you leave it to him to explain his research, and then he forces everyone to rely exclusively on his writings – which, frankly, are pretty obtuse – I don’t think you can dismiss me as a “propaganda machine.”

“The Mathematica study said KIPP’s success isn’t explained by demographics or attrition.
If you believe Baker’s research is better than Mathematica’s, I hope one of you will take the time to come in for a meeting with the editorial board and explain why.”

I sent O’Connor’s comment to Bruce Baker and Mark Weber (Jersey Jazzman), and I invited them to respond.

Bruce Baker left the following comment on the blog.

“As I wrote to Diane,


“This is just bizarre. first of all, I have spoken with them several times on the phone in the past – at length – her boss Tom Moran in particular. And each time, I’ve been totally ignored or misrepresented. that’s why I took to e-mail and blogging this time.

“That aside, the last statement here is just plain stupid. This isn’t about “baker’s research is better than mathematica’s.” I point out that mathematica’s research is irrelevant to her argument in many ways.

“1) mathematica does not prove that TEAM is a miracle school as she argues, in terms of graduation. Mathematica studied/aggregated KIPP results nationally. Didn’t study TEAM specifically, or the outcomes she mentions.

“2) I provided her with critiques of the limitations of interpretation of mathematica’s study. I didn’t ever say it was bad. Just that she was totally misrepresenting it.

“3) I provided an analysis of the relative growth of all NJ schools to show where TEAM fit in that mix. Mathematica doesn’t do this. It’s a totally different (not better or worse) analysis, intended to put test score growth at TEAM into perspective, among all schools, statewide.

“This is just plain dumb!


“Anyone reading this, please refer to my original post linked above to see where I refer to the Mathematica study, and how I refer to it.

“Mark Weber in follow up posts further elaborates on the misrepresentation of the Mathematica national KIPP (excluding NJ) study.

“Note that I spoke to Tom Moran for, oh, about an hour on the phone before he wrote this rah rah Hoboken charter piece:

“Sadly, I don’t have a transcript of my comments that day, which went entirely ignored.

related post:”

Mark Weber wrote in an email to me that KIPP Team Academy, the subject of the Star-Ledger inquiry, was not included in the Mathematica study of KIPP schools. Not all KIPP schools get the same results.

He then wrote a post about the Star-Ledger’s use of data to “prove” the success of the KIPP Team Academy. It is an instructive analysis. He called it a case study in charter school propaganda. I will examine his critique in greater detail in the next post.

Some while ago, a reporter contacted me and asked if I would comment on the stellar, incredible, miraculous results achieved by KIPP in Newark. I referred her to Bruce Baker and Jersey Jazxman, who have studied charter schools in Néw Jersey. I sensed that she wanted to write a positive story and nothing I said would cause her to stop and question her presumptions

  • ;
  • It turned out that nothing said by BB or JJ would dissuade her from finding a miracle at KIPP.

    Read Jersey Jazzman here:

    Read Bruce Baker here:

    A high school principal sent the Grit Scale that is used in KIPP charter schools and possibly in other schools as well to measure whether students have “grit” and how much of it they have. The idea of “grit” was popularized by Paul Tough in his best-selling book “How Children Succeed.” The commonsense idea that is summarized as a four-letter word is that character, perseverance, and determination enable children even in the most difficult of circumstances to overcome obstacles and succeed. Who would disagree? But the question I have after reading this scale is whether it actually measures the qualities it says it measures, and whether those qualities can be taught in school. Is saying that one has perseverance the same as persevering? I don’t know. What do you think? I am reminded of the self-esteem craze of about 20 years ago, when California actually created a task force to study how to teach self-esteem; the bubble was burst (I think) by scholars who said that the typical measures of self-esteem might identify a bully, whose ego was so inflated that he became aggressive when anyone challenged him. I am not saying that character cannot be taught, but that in my experience it is taught best by a combination of modeling, expectations, and behavioral guidelines of family, school, religious institutions, and other environments in which children live. What do the adults do? What do they admire? What do they expect?



    Grit Scale


    Directions for taking the Grit Scale: Please respond to the following 17 items. Be honest – there are no right or wrong answers!

    1. I aim to be the best in the world at what I do.

    • 􏰀 Very much like me
    • 􏰀 Mostly like me
    • 􏰀 Somewhat like me
    • 􏰀 Not much like me
    • 􏰀 Not like me at all

    2. I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge.

    • 􏰀 Very much like me
    • 􏰀 Mostly like me
    • 􏰀 Somewhat like me
    • 􏰀 Not much like me
    • 􏰀 Not like me at all

    3. New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.

    • 􏰀 Very much like me
    • 􏰀 Mostly like me
    • 􏰀 Somewhat like me
    • 􏰀 Not much like me
    • 􏰀 Not like me at all

    4. I am ambitious.

    • 􏰀 Very much like me
    • 􏰀 Mostly like me
    • 􏰀 Somewhat like me
    • 􏰀 Not much like me
    • 􏰀 Not like me at all

    5. My interests change from year to year.

    • 􏰀 Very much like me
    • 􏰀 Mostly like me
    • 􏰀 Somewhat like me
    • 􏰀 Not much like me
    • 􏰀 Not like me at all

    6. Setbacks don’t discourage me.

    • 􏰀 Very much like me
    • 􏰀 Mostly like me
    • 􏰀 Somewhat like me
    • 􏰀 Not much like me
    • 􏰀 Not like me at all

    7. I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest.

    • 􏰀 Very much like me
    • 􏰀 Mostly like me
    • 􏰀 Somewhat like me
    • 􏰀 Not much like me
    • 􏰀 Not like me at all

    8. I am a hard worker.

    • 􏰀 Very much like me
    • 􏰀 Mostly like me
    • 􏰀 Somewhat like me
    • 􏰀 Not much like me
    • 􏰀 Not like me at all

    9. I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one.

    • 􏰀 Very much like me
    • 􏰀 Mostly like me
    • 􏰀 Somewhat like me
    • 􏰀 Not much like me
    • 􏰀 Not like me at all

    10. I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to

    • 􏰀 Very much like me
    • 􏰀 Mostly like me
    • 􏰀 Somewhat like me
    • 􏰀 Not much like me
    • 􏰀 Not like me at all

    11. I finish whatever I begin.

    • 􏰀 Very much like me
    • 􏰀 Mostly like me
    • 􏰀 Somewhat like me
    • 􏰀 Not much like me
    • 􏰀 Not like me at all

    12. Achieving something of lasting importance is the highest goal in life.

    • 􏰀 Very much like me
    • 􏰀 Mostly like me
    • 􏰀 Somewhat like me
    • 􏰀 Not much like me
    • 􏰀 Not like me at all

    13. I think achievement is overrated.

    • 􏰀 Very much like me
    • 􏰀 Mostly like me
    • 􏰀 Somewhat like me
    • 􏰀 Not much like me
    • 􏰀 Not like me at all

    14. I have achieved a goal that took years of work.

    • 􏰀 Very much like me
    • 􏰀 Mostly like me
    • 􏰀 Somewhat like me
    • 􏰀 Not much like me
    • 􏰀 Not like me at all

    15. I am driven to succeed.

    • 􏰀 Very much like me
    • 􏰀 Mostly like me
    • 􏰀 Somewhat like me
    • 􏰀 Not much like me
    • 􏰀 Not like me at all

    16. I become interested in new pursuits every few months.

    • 􏰀 Very much like me
    • 􏰀 Mostly like me
    • 􏰀 Somewhat like me
    • 􏰀 Not much like me
    • 􏰀 Not like me at all

    17. I am diligent.

    • 􏰀 Very much like me
    • 􏰀 Mostly like me
    • 􏰀 Somewhat like me
    • 􏰀 Not much like me
    • 􏰀 Not like me at all

    Directions for scoring the Grit Scale

    For questions 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 11, 12, 14, 15, and 17, assign the following points: 5 = Very much like me

    4 = Mostly like me
    3 = Somewhat like me
    2 = Not much at all like me 1 = Not like me at all

    For questions 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 13, and 16, assign the following points: 1 = Very much like me

    2 = Mostly like me
    3 = Somewhat like me
    4 = Not much at all like me 5 = Not like me at all

    Grit is calculated as the average score for items 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 16, and 17. The Consistency of Interest subscale is calculated as the average score for items 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, and 16. The Perseverance of Effort subscale is calculated as the average score for items 2, 6, 8, 11, 14, and 17.

    The Brief Grit Scale score is calculated as the average score for items 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 17. Ambition is calculated as the average score for items 1, 4, 12, 13, and 15.

    Grit Scale citation

    Duckworth, A.L, & Quinn, P.D. (2009). Development and validation of the Short Grit Scale (Grit- S). Journal of Personality Assessment, 91, 166-174.

    Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D., & Kelly, D.R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9, 1087-1101.

    Chris left this comment on the blog so I hope he won’t mind if I post it:

    “Florida’s a mess. Here is a story I am working on for Education Matters.

    “Gary Chartrand is the chair of the state board of education

    “The State Board of Education over sees the Department of Education and hired commissioner Pam Stewart.

    “The Department of Education is handing out grants, 3.3 million dollars’ worth to only three winners, to foster partnerships between districts and charter schools.

    “Gary Chartrand is on the board of the KIPP charter school in Jacksonville.

    “Superintendent Vitti and the Duval County School board (Jacksonville) have applied for the grant. Vitti said, “KIPP is here to stay, and the KIPP expansion will occur with or without the grant,” Vitti said. “If there’s an opportunity to write a grant that benefits KIPP but also the school district, then I think it would be rather foolish financially to walk away from that.”

    “Gary Chartrand and the board of KIPP have given thousands and thousands of dollars to six member of the school board and thousands more to have the seventh Paula Wright defeated.

    “WJCT Jacksonville’s public radio station did what I consider a puff piece on the district applying for the charter grant that left out a lot of important information. They didn’t mention that last year KIPP was protected by the states rule saying schools could only drop one letter grade, a rule that Chartrand had a hand in developing. KIPP’s real school grades are F, B, C(D) B. They also didn’t mention how KIPP spends about a third more per pupil, has longer days, smaller classes, requires its parents to at least be marginally involved and may or may not be counseling out under performers, only 64 of its first class of 88 finished. The piece made it sound like that KIPP is just better.

    “The Chartrand foundation at least partially funds WJCT’s education coverage.”

    The media loves the story of miracle schools. Imagine that! A school where 90% or more pass the state tests! Where 100% graduate. Where 100% are accepted into four-year colleges. Michael Klonsky once said to me, miracles happen only in the Bible. When the subject is schools, miracle claims should be carefully investigated.

    With that caution and skepticism in mind, we turn again to a post by a researcher who works for the New York City Department of Education and must remain anonymous. This is the same researcher who chastised the media for ignoring attrition rates at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy schools. In posting that article, I failed to capture the links to documentation (a terrible oversight, I admit). I include his/her links at the bottom of this article.

    Ed Reformers Are Most Like (a) Pinocchio (b) Beavis:
    Getting to the Bottom of the Reformer Distaste for Honest Analysis

    My short essay examining some of the dishonest claims about Success Academy’s data led to interesting debate on this blog.[1] Some of that discussion illuminated the dishonesty with which education reformers approach data and facts. I’ll limit this essay to the dishonesty reformers display in the charter school debate.

    Reformers tend to make two very different arguments about charter schools. Argument #1 is that charter schools serve the same students as public schools and manage to put public schools to shame by producing amazingly better results on standardized exams. Therefore, reformers claim, if only public schools did what charter schools do (or better yet, if all public schools were closed and charter schools took over), student learning would dramatically increase and America might even beat South Korea or Finland on international standardized tests. When it is pointed out that, as a whole, charters do no better than public schools on standardized tests [2], reformers will quickly turn their attention to specific charter chains that, they claim, do indeed produce much better standardized test results. So what’s the deal with these chains? Well, in every case that has been subjected to scrutiny their results are extremely suspicious. Here is a short list of examples:

    1. Achievement First in New Haven had a freshman class of 64 students (2 students enrolled later), and only 25 graduated- a 38% graduation rate- yet the school claimed a 100% graduation rate by ignoring the 62% attrition rate. [3]

    2. Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) had a freshman class of 144 students and only 89 12th graders- a 62% graduation rate- yet the school (and Arne Duncan) claimed a 100% graduation rate by ignoring the 38% attrition rate. [4] As a 6-12 charter chain, DSST also manages to attrite vast numbers of their middle school students before they even enter the high school.

    3. Uncommon Schools in Newark disappears 38% of its general test takers from 6th to 8th grade.[5] Another analysis found that through high school the attrition rate was, alarmingly, much higher “Uncommon loses 62 to 69% of all males and up to 74% of Black males.”[6]

    4. BASIS in Arizona- “At…BASIS charter school in Tucson, the class of 2012 had 97 students when they were 6th graders. By the time those students were seniors, their numbers had dwindled to 33, a drop of 66%. At BASIS Scottsdale…its class of 2012 fell from 53 in the 6th grade to 19 in its senior year, a drop of 64%.” [7]

    5. The Noble Network in Chicago- “Every year, the graduating class of Noble Charter schools matriculates with around 30 percent fewer students than they started with in their freshman year.” [8]

    6. Harmony Charters in Texas- “Strikingly, Harmony lost more than 40% of 6th grade students over a two-year time.” [9]

    7. KIPP in San Francisco- “A 2008 study of the (then-existing) Bay Area KIPP schools by SRI International showed a 60% attrition rate…the students who left were overwhelmingly the lower achievers.” [10]

    8. KIPP in Tennessee had 18% attrition in a single year! “In fact, the only schools that have net losses of 10 to 33 percent are charter schools.” [11]

    In every case these charter chains accepted students that were significantly more advantaged than the typical student in the district, and then the charters attrited a significant chunk of those students.

    Success Academy in New York City plays the same game. It accepts many fewer high needs special education students, English Language Learners, and poor students. [12] It attrites up to 1/3 of its students before they even get to testing grades and then loses students at an even faster pace. It selectively attrites those students most likely to get low scores on standardized tests. [13] It is legally permitted to mark its own exams (as are all New York City charter schools) while public schools cannot. It loses 74% of its teachers in a single year at some of its schools. [14] The author of the Daily News editorial that sparked the initial blog commented “even in the aggregate that wouldn’t seem to account for” the results. It is entirely unclear what he means by “in the aggregate.” But it is clear that he has his arithmetic wrong. A charter chain that starts with an entering class that is likely to score well on standardized tests, then selectively prunes 50% or more of the students who don’t score well on standardized tests and refuses to replace the disappeared students with others, can easily show good standardized test results with the remaining students. Any school could do this. It’s really not rocket science.

    Charter advocates usually first give argument #1 a try. When called on the data that clearly show high-flying charters engage in creaming and in pruning, which can account for most of their “success,” they quickly switch to argument #2. Argument #2 claims that charter schools play a different role than public schools. What exactly their role is can vary from “serving high-potential low-income students [14]” to serving as laboratories of innovation. The problem with argument #2 is that we don’t need charters to cream students (public schools could do that too…if it were legal), and charters as a sector are not doing anything innovative. Kicking out half of your class is no innovation, nor is it hard to create an environment that will encourage the half least likely to succeed to quit. The Navy SEALs have been doing that for years.

    At the policy level these two different arguments have led to much confusion. It is often unclear what charter advocates are defending as they switch back and forth between the two arguments. This makes it difficult to have sensible public discussion about charters and leads many to accuse charter advocates of hiding their true motivations (from privatizing education for profit to breaking unions).

    It is time that education policy makers demanded an honest accounting of charter practices. Metrics must be produced by every district clearly showing the demographics of charter school students, the attrition rate, and general data on which students are attrited. It is critical that the demographic data be as detailed as possible (e.g. specifying level of special education need, distinguishing between free and reduced price lunch, specifying level of English Language Learner status) since the charter sector and its advocates have in the past used broad categories to cover up important differences (e.g. claiming to serve the same numbers of English Language Learners as public schools while only serving advanced ELLs, claiming to serve the same number of poor students as public schools while serving much higher proportions of reduced as opposed to free lunch students, claiming to serve the same number of special needs students as public schools while serving only students with minimal needs).[15] With honest data in hand, the more important conversation about good teaching practices, engaging curricula, and effective students support services can begin. It is this conversation that will truly improve education for students. It is also the conversation that professional educators want to have.[16]

    [5] /
    [13] The high attrition rate before testing in 3rd grade may explain the data pattern noted in this analysis.
    [16] I leave it as an open challenge to Ms. Moskowitz to voluntarily share this date (scrubbed of identifying student information of course) so that independent researchers can examine the Success Academy results. If she declines to do so we can only wonder what she is hiding.
    [17] I wanted to end on a positive note so I add this comment as a footnote. We can expect that reformers will resist allowing the national conversation to go in this direction since they have so little to contribute to it. So many have so little classroom experience and so little time in schools that they will do all they can to make sure the conversation does not turn in this direction. If it did, they’d be out of a job. So we can expect that, as long as reformers maintain their power base, the national conversation about education will be limited to accountability, choice, standards, VAMs… anything but discussion of actual classroom and school-level practices.


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