Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charter chain has won national plaudits for its extraordinarily high test scores. SA is a fundraising dynamo, attracting the support of leading figures on Wall Street and the financial sector. She and her chain were the subject of a hagiographic film called “The Lottery,” made by Madeline Sackler of the infamous opioid Sackler family,who are big supporters of the charter industry. The implication was that all students were chosen at random and were exactly the same as those in local public schools.

Over the years, critics have noted the high attrition rate of kids who start at SA schools, as well as an extraordinarily high teacher attrition rate.

Gary Rubinstein, high school math teacher and blogger, has followed the progress of SA in many posts on his blog.

In this post, he explores the effects of SA’s “backfill” policy, meaning that the schools seldom accept new students after fourth grade.

Using public data, Rubinstein explores the chain’s admissions and placement policies.

He writes:

I’ve learned through a lot of first hand stories that one of the biggest factors in the ‘success’ of Success Academy is the way they weaponize the school’s ability to force students to repeat grades or to voluntarily leave the school to avoid having to repeat a grade. When they have a student who they think is not fitting into their system enough, even if that student is on grade level and passing the state test, they sometimes arbitrarily tell the family at the end of the school year that if the student returns to Success Academy the next year they will have either repeat the grade they just completed or they can transfer to a different school and then they won’t have to repeat the grade.

So one way that holding a student back can improve the school’s test scores is that the weaker students leave the school ‘voluntarily.’ But maybe the family will decide that they want to keep their child at Success Academy and then the student will be more likely to do well on the state test when they have just repeated the year in that grade. But there is another way that Success Academy wields the power to arbitrarily make a student repeat a grade. Each year there are many students who leave the school for all kinds of reasons. While most schools give students on a waiting list a chance to be ‘backfilled’ and transfer from another school, it is known that Success Academy only allows backfilling in grades 1 through 4. So students from the waiting list are offered a slot at the school, but sometimes Success Academy will tell these families who just got a position off the waitlist that because Success Academy is so rigorous, the student will have to repeat the grade they just completed at their other school. They say this to the families whose children, Success Academy thinks, will struggle at the school. So these families who are told this will either take the deal and have their children repeat the grade or they will choose to go to a different school. Either way, Success Academy improves their test scores this way either by denying the student a chance to go to Success or by having them retake the same grade where they will likely do better on the state test the second time around than they would if they were in their proper grade.

I have heard about families having to grapple with this choice after getting into the school as a ‘backfill’ student, but I had no idea how common of a thing this was. So I did a freedom of information request to the NYC Department Of Education. Much to my surprise, the data was just emailed to me today and what it reveals is shocking, even by Success Academy abuse of families standards.

Read what he learned.