This is second in Mark Weber’s two-part series about an amazing charter school in Philadelphia.

He reveals its secrets: it gets more funding than public schools. It chooses its students with care. It loses students who can’t make the grade. A sure-fire formula for student success!

He writes:

“A follow-up to yesterday’s post:

“As I noted, NBC’s Sunday Night with Megan Kelly broadcast a story earlier this month about Boys Latin Charter School, a “successful” charter school in Philadelphia which claims to have ten times the college completion rate of its neighboring high schools.

“To his credit, reporter Craig Melvin didn’t swallow the claims of the school whole, and pushed back on the idea that Boys Latin serves an equivalent student population to those surrounding high schools. But he did miss two important points:

“First, and as I documented in the last post, Boys Latin raises funds outside of the monies it collects from public sources. The amounts add up to thousands of dollars per pupil per year.

“As Bruce Baker notes in this (somewhat snarky) post, you really can’t make a comparison between two schools and call one “successful” without taking into account the differences in resources available to both. Philadelphia’s public school district has been chronically underfunded for years. It’s hardly fair for Boys Latin to collect millions in extra revenue, then brag about their college persistence rate compared to schools that don’t have enough funding to provide an adequate education.

“But there’s another issue Melvin missed — an issue that Boys Latin’s founder, David Hardy, has been refreshingly candid about in the past:

Hypothetically speaking, say a charter school is authorized to serve up to 500 students, but, for whatever reason, 50 students leave through the course of a school year. A charter that “backfills” will enroll the next 50 kids on its wait list as space becomes available.

Other schools will replace those empty spots at the beginning of the next school year, including filling seats in the upper grades.

Charters that don’t do this will watch their total enrollment in a grade dwindle year by year — retaining only the students tenacious enough to persist.

In contrast, district-run neighborhood schools and renaissance charters must enroll all students living within a prescribed catchment zone, no matter what time of year or grade, when they show up asking for a seat.

At first glance this difference may seem a subtle nuance, but Philadelphia educators say the policy difference tremendously affects school culture and performance.


David Hardy, CEO of Boys’ Latin, subscribes to the same theory. He oversees a rigorous admissions process that begins well before the school year.

Boys’ Latin asks prospective ninth-graders to submit letters of intent in November, nearly a year before they would enroll. Staff then interview students and parents to ensure that they understand the school’s rigor — classes run until 5 p.m., students must learn Latin, wear a uniform, and adhere to a strict code of conduct.

Those who commit attend a month-long freshman academy in July before the school-year-proper begins.
By September, he said, the kids are all on the same page.

“You introduce new people into that, and it can kind of mess up the environment,” said Hardy.

“This is an issue that comes up over and over again in charter school research: student cohort attrition. As a cohort of students (Class of “x”) moves from freshman to sophomore to junior to senior year, it may lose students. Sometimes students drop out; sometimes they move. If a charter school “backfills,” they then replace the students who left with new students who come into the school in later years.

“Many charters have high student cohort attrition rates, meaning students leave the school before graduation — often returning to the public, district schools, which must take them no matter when they arrive at the schoolhouse door. These same charters don’t backfill, so their cohort sizes shrink as they move toward their senior years.”

You too can create a miracle school. Pick your students carefully; create a few hurdles to winnow out the slackers; bid farewell to those who can’t keep up; get some deep-pocketed funders.

Simple. A miracle!