Unexceptional success

My book, Our School, is about Downtown College Prep, a San Jose charter high school that enrolls primarily low-income Mexican-American students who will be the first in their families to go to college. (Quite a few are the first to complete high school.) This year, for the first time, a DCP senior is headed for the Ivy League. Julia chose Brown over Princeton, NYU and other colleges, writes Jennifer Andaluz, the school’s co-founder and executive director.

In the college-going space we are fascinated with the “against-all-odds” success story. In truth, Julia’s story is rather predictable: she worked hard, established goals for herself, had the support of her mother, played by the rules, and had a mentor who ensured she made a “right fit” decision when it came to her college choices. Whether a student attends San Jose State or a select university like Brown, DCP aims to make college-going unexceptional.

What is worth noting is why Julia chose Brown. One of Julia’s closest mentors is a DCP teacher who is also a first-generation, Latina graduate of Brown. This teacher passed down the “social capital” gained from her college experience by sharing her journey. In the end, Julia believed she could be successful at Brown her teacher was successful.

And this is why DCP is valuable: every year a new cohort of DCP alumni graduate from college. They go from being the one who was inspired to being the one who inspires.
DCP reports that 96 percent of graduates complete the college-prep sequence required by California’s public universities and 96 percent enroll in a two-year or four-year college. The retention rate is 90 percent and the graduation rate is four times higher than the national average for Hispanic students.
 Our School is now on sale at a bargain price at Amazon.
About Joanne


  1. gahrie says:

    Sounds like a great school and a great program. Browsing their website I came across the key paragraph explaining their success IMHO:

    Although DCP supports and encourages all of our students, we understand that DCP is not for every student. Students may return to another public schools if they are not able to meet DCP’s academic or behavior standards.

    I work with the same exact kids. Many of them are extremely motivated and hardworking. Many more are not however. If you gave me the same ability to weed out the unmotivated and the behavior problems, I dare say I could achieve similar results.

  2. Yeah, more cherrypicking and tossing the rejects back to the public schools.

    I would like to know what Julia’s SAT scores are–I’m assuming she at least beat 600 per section, because that’s a worthy list of schools–and I’d like to know the average SAT score at DCP.

  3. Joanne says:

    DCP is designed to help underachievers catch up academically so they can complete a college-prep curriculum. That mission is explained to prospective students and their parents, which usually screens out high achievers. It’s the opposite of cherry picking.

    Some students find the work too hard and go back to their neighborhood school. A few fail ninth grade twice and aren’t allowed back for a third try. Students may be expelled for serious misbehavior.

    Because DCP specializes in students who’ve done poorly in school, graduates like Julia are rare. Most DCP graduates go to a California State University school. Undocumented students typically start at community college.

  4. Christina Lordeman says:

    This also seems to provide evidence that having teachers who were themselves exceptional students can have a strong impact on what students aspire to achieve.

  5. It’s the opposite of cherry picking.

    Truly high achieving low income kids go to public schools, more often than not. Better sports, better options. You don’t find a lot of academic superstars at either KIPP or Summit. I’ve spent a lot of time at both Sequoia High School and Summit, and most of the really smart kids are at the supposedly horrible public school, Sequoia. Summit has the earnest hard-workers. Which is pretty obvious, or Summit would have much better scores, as opposed to a few points higher than Sequoia in each demographic.

    So when I talk about “cherry picking”, I’m talking about motivation, not ability. They are cherrypicking low to mid ability kids whose parents desperately know how at risk their kids are. Really smart kids usually aren’t at risk.

    • Cal is correct here. It’s self-evident that students who succeed at schools like Downtown College Prep and KIPP schools are motivated and compliant, and likely — especially at KIPP — to have supportive, motivated families.

      Any public school that self-selected for 100% motivated and compliant students would be propelled toward success too. (I always wonder if real leaders are all that compliant by nature, though.)

      • Feel free to demonstrate the mechanism by which charters “self-select”.

        If it’s those desperate parents Cal mentioned then they’re desperate because their kids aren’t doing well in the district schools. Those would be the district schools which, rain or shine, good job of educating kids or lousy, will continue to exist.

        • I would agree that it is as much the parents self-selecting as the Charter schools themselves. And (even as a public school teacher) I totally support them. Parents should have the option to pull their students out of chaotic and ineffectual public schools. That is why I support vouchers and charter schools.

          Now, let public schools get rid of the the behavior problems (put them in some sort of corrective/educational environment) and the unmotivated (put them in a vocational track) and we can discuss whether charters and vouchers are needed.

          • Why would school districts want to get rid of disruptive students?

            You have the funding attached to those kids on the one hand and the problems they cause on the other. Which hand, in the minds of district personnel who *don’t* have to deal with their behavior problems, weighs most heavily?

            There’s much of the problem of public education in a nutshell; the people in authority have no particular need to concern themselves with education and the people who are most concerned with education have no authority.

          • Sorry if my terminology isn’t clear. “Self-selecting” inherently means that it’s the prospective applicants who are doing the self-selecting.

        • Mechanisms by which charters self-select:

          1. For starters, every student there had a family who specifically requested the school. (This eliminates all families who don’t care or are too dysfunctional to get it together.)
          2. Charters impose many admissions hurdles that further self-select.
          a. Long, demanding, labor-intensive enrollment applications (Gateway High in SF, for example).
          b. Tests of any kind (KIPP schools).
          c. Requirements beyond what public schools may require (volunteer hours, etc.)
          d. Signed commitments to punctuality, attendance, uniforms etc.
          e. Intake interviews that emphasize the commitment each family must make.
          f. Open, pro-active efforts to discourage unwanted applicants.
          g. Covert screening of applicants.

          Many charter schools and charter insiders are open about all these practices, though other voices stubbornly insist (despite that) that they don’t exist.

          • Also, Allen, large charter operators like KIPP (whose executives also don’t have to deal with students face to face) clearly find it worth pushing out as many problem-causing students as necessary and sacrificing the funding by not replacing them. I don’t see why district administrators would take a different view, except that they simply can’t do that.

          • 1. So it’s not the charter doing the selecting. Just so long as that’s clear.
            2. No they don’t.
            a. No they’re not.
            b. None.
            c. Feel free to provide support.
            d. As opposed to district schools were parental concern is viewed as an annoyance.
            e. You’re repeating yourself but I suppose when you have little to say that’s a necessity.
            f. Feel free to provide support and you’re repeating yourself. Again.
            g. A third repetition!

            >>Many charter schools and charter insiders are open about all these practices, though other voices stubbornly insist (despite that) that they don’t exist.

            Apparently they’re also open with you about these practices. Being a cynic though I’m just going to have to insist on something a bit more compelling then your unsubstantiated claim.

            And since you chose to breeze by the question, why *would* districts make any substantial effort to expel disruptive students? Taking up space in the district those disruptive students are worth something and if they disrupt the education of kids who might want to learn, so what?

          • And how did I miss this whopper?

            >> large charter operators like KIPP clearly find it worth pushing out as many problem-causing students as necessary and sacrificing the funding by not replacing them.

            Do tell. And your complaint is that KIPP operators aren’t quite as nobly willing to sacrifice the kids who do want to learn in order to torment the kids a little longer, who aren’t willing to learn?

            Oh and, support? It’s not so much that I think you think you’re a liar but that you have a standard for truth that’s dependent on the degree to which the truth serves your purposes.

            There. That was nicely-worded, wasn’t it?

  6. Whoops–hit enter too soon.

    That’s why I was wondering what Julia’s SAT scores were, because I was curious how much of an admission discount was given. That’s what is never mentioned in these stories.

  7. Roger Sweeny says:

    Charters like KIPP and Summit get the “motivated middle.”

    They’re like the triage medics in war. You can only treat so many in the heat of battle, so you leave the ones who will survive anyway, and you leave the ones who don’t have much chance. You work with the ones for whom you can make a big difference.

  8. Please clarify this claim: “The retention rate is 90 percent…”

    That’s not what the numbers show, according to the Cailfornia Department of Education website.

    Here are the figures from the graduating class of 2012. The 9th grade started with 131 students. There were 51 students in the 12th grade as of the beginning of the school year. if my calculations are correct, that’s a loss of 61.07% of the students, or a 38.9

    • Ooops — hit send before I was done.

      That’s a loss of 61.07% of the students, or a 38.93% retention rate, as of the BEGINNING of the school year. To be clear, I’m looking at that same grade cohort, looking back for years at the 9th grade, as of 08-09.

      For the class of 2011:
      The 9th grade started in 07-08 with 139 students.
      The 12th grade in 10-11 had 65 students.
      That’s a loss of 51.08%, or a retention rate of 48.92%.

      For the class of 2010:
      The 9th grade started in 06-07 with 142 students.
      The 12th grade had 68 students.
      That’s a loss of 52.12%, or a retention rate of 47.88.

      Again, those figures are as of the beginning of each school year (the 10-day count). We don’t know how many students actually completed senior year and graduated.

      So, can you please clarify the claim of a “90% retention rate”?

      • That’s the college retention rate.

        The median ninth grader starts DCP with fifth- to sixth-grade reading and math skills and poor work habits. Quite a few need five years to graduate. And quite a few decide it’s too much work and transfer to an easier high school. Those who graduate are the most tenacious.

        • Sorry, in all these threads I missed that you had responded regarding the attrition rate.

          So, if a public school got rid of the majority of its students — the least tenacious — and could afford not to replace them, how do you think it would do in comparison to DCP?

          I do appreciate that you are being honest about the attrition, as the norm in the “reform” sector is to deny it even in the face of the figures (note Allen’s comments).

  9. I got one number wrong; my apologies.

    The 12th grade in 2011 had 67 students, not 65. The same cohort had 139 students in the 9th grade, back in 07-08. That’s a loss of 51.8% and a retention rate of 48.2%.

    Perhaps someone whose math skills are higher than mine can recheck my calculations and correct me if I’m wrong — and explain how these figures could be interpreted as a 90% retention rate.

  10. Roger Sweeny says:

    If 57 of the 137 students (41.6%) who entered in 07-08 graduated a year late, and if 58 of the 139 students (41.7%) who entered in 08-09 graduated a year late, that would mean a 4-year retention and graduation rate of 90%. However, that seems unlikely to me.

    • Caroline, I think they are talking about the college retention? I might be wrong. That’s a pretty bad retention rate for high school, though.

      This is the school whose kids deliberately scored low on the CSTs one year to punish the administration because they fired four teachers.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      That should be “5-year retention and graduation rate,” not 4-year.

  11. Well, perhaps Joanne can explain: Did the 90% retention rate refer to DCP graduates staying in college?

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      Perhaps it refers to the number of students who are held back a grade during their stay.

  12. Cranberry says:
  13. If its such a great school then why does it have a 3 rating at greatschools.org?


    • Joanne says:

      That’s a different school, a middle school that closed after a few years because it couldn’t attract enough students and wasn’t doing well.

      • Ahh, my bad!

      • Here is Joanne’s school:


        Its scores a 5, hardly exceptional but in all fairness this is just one website.

        Interestingly enough, this school spends more per student than the state average for high schools, despite having teachers who average 9 years less teaching experience than the state average.

        So less see? Exceptional as Joanne claims? Not proven

        Better results with less money as the “reformers” claim? BUSTED

        • Roger Sweeny says:


          I went to the link and didn’t see any figures on spending or teacher experience. Where did you find that?

          • Go to the “Test Scores & Stats” tab, click on “Teachers & Students” and you can select “Spending Per Pupil”. There’s also a “Teachers” and a “Students” selection.

            The “Students” selection is where Mike’s feverish desire to throw cold water on DCP fails. 66% of the kids are eligible for free or reduced price lunches versus 54% as a state average and 36% of the kids are English language learners versus a state average of 24%. Just the kind of kids Mike likes to use as an excuse for why district schools can’t but suck.

            So that would make DCP exceptional since

            The difference in per student funding is $169 – $9,262 versus $9,093 for the state.

          • Roger Sweeny says:


  14. Except for that sky-high attrition rate.

    Joanne, can you shed some light on that, please?

  15. Allen, what you point out about the student population is true but hardly makes the school exceptional. The nearest middle school, which presumably is representative of the neighborhood, has 73% of its students on free or reduced lunch.


    As for the $169, charters are supposed to be hotbeds of innovation, doing more with less remember?

    • Your the one who made the original comparison to the state-wide statistics now that comparison’s not to your liking?

      DCP does do more with less; graduating a higher percentage of kids then the district schools from which those kids flee.

      Those would be the sorts of kids you and Caroline view as little more then excuses for the failure of the district schools.

      • After they expel those who can’t keep up, an option the local public schools don’t have.

        As for doing more with less, I think I’ve proved you’re wrong on that one and you’ve yet to prove they are doing more.

  16. Does DCP graduate a higher percentage using the number who start 9th grade as a base?

  17. Some questions hurled at me:

    “Why *would* districts make any substantial effort to expel disruptive students?”

    You mean why would they if they could? Because the collateral damage done by disruptive students is widespread.

    ” your complaint is that KIPP operators aren’t quite as nobly willing to sacrifice the kids who do want to learn in order to torment the kids a little longer, who aren’t willing to learn?”

    That’s not really the complaint; the complaint is that they are dishonest about it. And that’s followed by the question: If public schools could do the same thing, would they also show the same kind of achievement results that KIPP schools do? (In fact, you are both angrily denying and angrily defending the practices in almost the same breath. Also calling me a liar and acknowledging that what I’m saying is true in the same breath.)

    Support: Any examination of KIPP attrition figures. I’m pasting one here that I did within the past two weeks. I compared the two San Francisco KIPP schools’ attrition to the enrollment of two randomly chosen high-poverty SFUSD middle schools, since deniers always retort that public schools also have high attrition. No, they have high turnover (mobility), but they replace the students who leave, and KIPP schools largely don’t, as the figures confirm beyond argument.

    KIPP Bayview
    Grade/Year 2008-09 09-10 10-11 11-12
    6 84 86 85 85
    7 45 58 69 65
    8 40 37 46 58
    Class of 11-12: -32.56%
    Class of 10-11: -45.24%
    KIPP SF Bay
    Grade/Year 2008-09 09-10 10-11 11-12
    6 87 94 93 96
    7 86 75 83 84
    8 60 77 61 74

    Class of 11-12: -21.28%
    Class of 10-11: -29.89%
    James Denman Middle School
    Grade/Year 2008-09 09-10 10-11 11-12
    6 176 175 192 203
    7 203 191 187 204
    8 201 200 197 197
    Both classes of 10-11 and 11-12 increased from grade 6 to grade 8.
    Martin Luther King Middle School
    Grade/Year 2008-09 09-10 10-11 11-12
    6 156 188 171 165
    7 176 169 182 178
    8 168 175 173 174

    The class of 10-11 increased from grade 6 to grade 8
    Class of 11-12: -7.45%

    • >> You mean why would they if they could? Because the collateral damage done by disruptive students is widespread.

      No. I mean what I asked, why would districts make any substantial effort to expel disruptive students.

      They can. If a student can be expelled for drawing a picture of a gun or having a presciption asthma inhaler I’m pretty sure violence, threats of violence and otherwise disrupting the classroom shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. So, how come so many teachers complain of disruptive students that they have to conted with?

      So the question remains unanswered and, in fact, unaddressed.

      No surprise there since you’re trying to have your cake and eat it to – disruptive kids, according to you, are the reason district schools don’t do as well as charters and charters ought to keep disruptive kids in the classroom so they’ll do as poorly as district schools. Nice to see how concerned you are with the kids who want to learn. It’s a refreshing, albeit unintentional, tidbit of honesty.

      >> Support: Any examination of KIPP attrition figures.

      I’m typing this with a smile on my face…

      Hmmm, is that a peer-reviewed study? If not then it’s just a working paper and valueless.

      • No, they are figures directly from the California Department of Education website, which you could reconfirm in 10 minutes if you cared to. Like most of the press and certainly the reform-funded pundits, you won’t, because they bear out what I’m saying and discredit the “it’s a miracle!” magical-thinking BS. Saying you don’t believe the figures while refusing to go look for yourself is not a valid response.

        And, again, you’re both accusing me of lying and confirming my point. You really can’t have it both ways.

        I’m not saying that charters should keep disruptive kids. I’m saying that they and their supporters need to stop lying about it, and that public schools could do just as well as the very few charters that actually ARE successful simply by doing the same thing.

      • Roger Sweeny says:


        Different schools handle expulsions differently. Individual schools handle different offenses in different ways. Some have bright line “no excuses” rules for some offenses, e.g., bringing a “drug” to class, but not for others, e.g., “disruption.” It’s an automatic suspension for the first but not the second.

        In a regular public school, permanent expulsion as opposed to temporary suspension is usually legally difficult. This is partly because most public school systems are required to provide an “education” and they cannot get their brains around the idea that an education doesn’t have to be 12 years of academic classes. Thus, they have no place for chronic disruptors to go but back to class, where the unwilling students screw it up for everybody.