Do you believe in miracles? Do you want to believe that a charter chain—unlike public schools— can graduate every student, no matter what their economic status, and send them on to college? We all want to believe in heroic teachers and miracle schools. The reality is often not as impressive in the cold light of day. Incremental change is a stabler, more reliable base for lasting change but it is not so exciting as miracles.

Along comes Jersey Jazzman to debunk the latest miracle charter story promoted by the New York Daily News. 

The story and follow-up editorial cited this statistic about Democracy Prep Charter High Schools:

“According to the network, last year 189 of the 195 seniors in its three high schools that had graduating classes went on to college. And although the sample size is small (the network has graduated fewer than 400 students), the network estimates that 80% of its graduates either are still in college or have graduated.“

Wow! A 97% graduation rate!

The first reason to question the claim is that the article was written by the education policy director of a rightwing think tank, the Manhattan Institute, whose job is to promote privatization.

But Jersey Jazzman had something that the Manhattan Institute didn’t acknowledge and the Daily News didn’t investigate: data on attrition rates from the state education department website. Think of it! Facts! It turns out that 40% of the students enrolled in Democracy Prep in ninth grade left before the end of senior year. Shouldn’t that be included in the story? Why leave it out? In the Democracy Prep School in Camden, “This year’s seniors at Freedom Prep were in a class of 78 freshman. By the fall of their junior year, they were down to 33 students. 58% of the freshmen of the Class of 2018 at Freedom Prep had left by their junior year.” That’s an inconvenient fact for a “miracle” school.

The fault, Jersey Jazzman points out, is not so much with the hired PR flacks nor the thinky tank PR guys as it is with the journalists who swallow these incredible stories without investigating, who forget that miracles should always invite skepticism rather than a dogged will to believe.