Bruce Baker here tells the story of New Jersey’s most awesome charter school. This is the one that beats the odds. This is the one where everyone passes the tests. This school is driven by data, and the teachers teach like champions. This is the one with a 100% graduation rate.

The school–North Star Academy–is so awesome that it will soon open its own teacher training institution, to create more awesome teachers.

He writes:

Built on the foundation of awesomeness established by THE North Star Academy, since teachers are the undisputed most important in school factor determining student outcomes, the awesomeness of North Star could be attributed primarily to the quality of the teachers and innovative practices they used in their data driven classrooms!

Thus, by extension, we must establish new institutions of teacher preparation whereby these truly exceptional teachers (of 3 to 5 years experience) not only are provided the opportunity to share their expertise on a personal collaborative level with their own colleagues, but rather, we should let these teachers be the instructors in a new graduate school of education (regardless of academic qualifications) and we should actually let them grant graduate degrees in education to their own colleagues.

This new approach of letting teachers in a school grant graduate degrees to their own work colleagues (and those in other network schools) could lead to rapid diffusion of excellence and would most certainly negate the corrupt perverse incentives pervasive throughout the current, adult oriented self-interested American higher education system! Disruptive innovation indeed!

This is happening in other states as well, where Match Academy and Relay Graduate School of Education are creating teacher training institutions to replicate their excellence without involving scholars or others with advanced degrees who have any knowledge of cognition or pedagogy. If the scores are there, what else is needed!

But Baker finds the underside of the miracle story. North Star has few children with disabilities, and almost none with serious disabilities. More important, North Star has a staggeringly large attrition rate: Year after year, only about half the fifth graders made it to the end of senior year.

He writes:

Could a school really be awesome  if only the fewer than half who remain (or 20% of black boys who remain) pass the test? Might it matter at least equally as much what happened to the the other half who left?

Was it perhaps possible that the “no excuses” strategies endorsed as best practices both in their school andin their training of each other really weren’t working so well…and weren’t the strategies of true teaching champions… but rather created a hostile and oppressive environment causing their high attrition rate? Well… one really can say this one way or the other…

Regardless of the cause, what possibly could such a school share with those traditional supposedly failing public schools who lacked similar ability to send the majority of their children packing? Further, what possibly could the rather novice teachers in this school charged with granting their own co-workers graduate credentials share with experienced researchers and university faculty training the larger public school teacher workforce?

So is this the secret of success? Suspend the difficult kids, kick out those who have low scores, and claim credit for those who survive the regimen? Some miracle.