NYC charters retain more students

Attrition rates are lower at New York City charter schools than at district-run public schools, according to a WNYC analysis of district data.

Citywide, 10.6 percent of charter school students transferred out in 2013-14, compared to 13 percent of traditional public school students, reports Beth Fertig and Jenny Ye.

Only one student left KIPP's Washington Heights Middle School last year, an attrition rate of less than 1 percent.

Only one student left KIPP’s Washington Heights Middle School in 2013-14, an attrition rate of less than 1 percent.

Other studies show “charters lose a smaller share of special-needs students than district schools, she writes.

KIPP’s “no excuses” schools lost students at one-quarter the rate of district schools. The Icahn network, which is more “huggy,” had one-third the attrition rate.

Success Academy, which has very high test scores, has been accused of pushing out unwanted students. The New York Times reported on a “got to go” list of difficult students kept by the principal of a Success school in Brooklyn,

Yet, “most of Success’s 18 schools in the 2013-14 school year had attrition rates that were lower than those of their local districts,” report Fertig and Ye. Only two schools were slightly higher.  Overall, the attrition rate for Success Academy schools was 57 percent of the rate at district schools.

Two stand-alone charters posted high attrition rates, WNYC found. Both have closed.

Alexander Russo wonders why the story has received little attention.

Inside the discipline debate

A video of a Success Academy teacher ripping a student’s math paper has raised a debate about discipline at rigorous, “no excuses” charter schools, writes Elizabeth Green on Chalkbeat.

“No excuses” refers to adults using students’ poverty to explain — and tolerate — poor academic results, Green writes. However, many reformers believed effective schools must adopted the “broken windows” theory that holds tolerating small infractions leads to serious disorder.

At struggling schools, the no-excuses educators argued, learning was regularly undermined by chaos, from physical fights to a refusal to follow even basic directions.

. . . At no-excuses schools, students often walk from one class to another in orderly and perfectly silent single-file lines. Detailed instructions dictate precisely how and when students should pay attention, from nodding to folding their hands and legs just so — poses on display in the Success Academy video. Teachers sometimes ban conversation during breakfast or lunch.

Now, there’s a move to relax rigid rules and make no-excuses schools happier places. Green thinks charter leaders have the desire and ability to improve the model.

But I think this is her most important point:

Looking at test scores, all the highest academic results ever produced for poor students and students of color have come from no-excuses schools. Period.

. . . Success Academy charter schools, which ranked in the top 1 percent of all New York schools in math and the top 3 percent in English.

. . . Other life outcomes are impressive, too. Data collected by the KIPP charter school network in 2013 showed that 44 percent of the schools’ graduates go on to earn a four-year degree, compared to just 8 percent of low-income Americans.

The urban no-excuses charters have significantly improved the reading and math skills — and the odds of high school and college graduation — for students from low-income black and Latino families. No other model has done this consistently, writes Green.

It’s a long piece, but well worth reading in full. Let me know what you think.

‘No excuses’ charters soften discipline

A fourth-grade student does test-prep in his English class at Brownsville Ascend Lower Charter School in Brooklyn.

Fourth-graders study at Brownsville Ascend Lower Charter School in Brooklyn. Photo: Stephanie Snyder

Some high-performing, “no excuses” charters in New York City are rethinking strict rules, reports Monica Disare for Chalkbeat.

A few years ago, if a student arrived at an Ascend elementary school wearing the wrong color socks, she was sent to the dean’s office to stay until a family member brought a new pair. Now, the school office is stocked with extra socks. Students without them can pick up a spare pair before heading to class.

. . . “We’ve moved sharply away from a zero tolerance discipline approach,” (Ascend CEO Steve) Wilson said. “We believe a warm and supportive environment produces the greatest long-term social effects.”

Suspension rates were nearly three times higher at city charter schools in 2011-12, according to a Chalkbeat analysis.

Charter leaders say the rules create an orderly environment where students can learn.

Critics say high-needs students are pushed out.

Achievement First used to make students who’ve misbehaved wear a white shirt signaling they were in “re-orientation.” That policy has changed, said a spokeswoman.

KIPP no longer sends students to a padded “calm-down” room.

Recently, the New York Times published a video of a Success Academy teacher harshly criticizing a student who answered a math question incorrectly.

. . . Success Academy, for its part, has not changed its discipline philosophy and does not plan to, according to a spokesman.

Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of Success Academy said it should serve as a model. “The city could learn from Success’s code of conduct and provide the same safe, engaging learning environments that children need — and parents want,” she said.

Study: KIPP boosts achievement

KIPP charter students make significantly larger gains in reading and math than similar students at traditional public schools, concludes a new Mathematica study. Most KIPP students come from low-income black and Hispanic families.

In Vanessa Chang's Kinder classroom, Jafet Arce pretends to be a health care worker taking blood during a guess the profession game Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, in Houston.  Photo: Steven Gonzalez, Houston Chronicle

At Houston’s KIPP Connect, Vanessa Chang’s kindergarteners played a “guess the profession” game. Photo: Steven Gonzalez, Houston Chronicle

However, KIPP schools didn’t affect motivation, engagement or aspirations, despite the network’s stress on developing “grit,” notes Education Week.

2013 Mathematica study showed KIPP middle school students gained more learning in math, reading, science, and social studies than students in non-KIPP schools.

“Looking at the middle school results based on when the schools opened shows that the impact on students dipped between 2006 and 2010, and then rebounded,” reports Ed Week.

The dip coincided with the network’s rapid expansion. It now includes elementary and high schools, in addition to middle schools.

KIPP students may not seem more motivated, engaged or ambitious because they’re comparing themselves to other KIPP students, said Philip Gleason, a principal investigator.

KIPP students weren’t more likely to have high aspirations for college attendance and completion than their peers. But they were more likely to participate in college-preparation activities, such as having discussions about college, getting assistance in planning college, and applying to at least one school.

Students at no-excuses charters such as KIPP “improve significantly more in math and reading than similar students at traditional public schools, concludes a new meta-analysis. The model was especially effective in middle and high school.

Charters following other models showed smaller gains.

Character matters, but what can schools do?

“Character skills matter at least as much as cognitive skills,” writes James Heckman in the lead essay of Brookings’ new book, Does Character Matter? Policymakers should look for opportunities to shape both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, writes Heckman.

Other essays deal with parenting, conscientiousness, grit, the effects of chronic adversity and creating “schools of character.”

“The journey from good idea to good policy is a minefield,” writes Robert Pondiscio.

. . . Third Way policy analyst Lanae Erickson Hatalsky notes in her essay (that) if Democrats talk about character, “it runs the risk of sounding like apostasy, blaming poor children for their own situation in life and chiding them to simply have more grit and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” (Likewise, the Left dares not invoke the miasma of family structure.)

Character talk may feel more at home in Republican talking points, but it carries the risk of foot-in-mouth disease, “setting the stage for politicians to inadvertently say something that sounds patronizing to the poor, demeaning to single women, or offensive to African Americans (or all three).” Just so.

The book lacks an essay on “school choice as a means of giving educators permission to focus on character development,” writes Pondiscio. KIPP can “worship at the altar of grit” because parents have chosen that model.

Dominic Randolph, headmaster of Riverdale Country School, wants “a comprehensive international effort in institutions and in governments to develop intellectual, character and community standards of growth that can be embedded in the ‘curricula’ of schools, universities, workplaces.”

“Don’t expect Common Core character standards any time soon,” responds Pondiscio.

Charters are ‘new normal’ in New Orleans

KIPP Central City Academy students march in the 2012 Krewe of Pontchartrain parade.  Photo: Sabree Hill, UptownMessenger

Charters are the “new normal” in New Orleans, writes Richard Whitmire on Real Clear Education. Ten years after Katrina transformed the city’s schools, 95 percent of public school students attend charters.

Nationally, 5.8 percent of students attend charters.

Data on attendance, graduation rates or test scores don’t tell the full story, writes Whitmire.

Take KIPP Central City Academy, which replaced a low-performing school that was a football powerhouse. It’s the highest performing middle school in the Recovery School District — and it has a football team,  cheerleaders, a marching band and majorettes.

At Arthur Ashe Charter School, part of the FirstLine charter network, 37 percent of students have “learning challenges.” That’s sustainable because the new school funding system in New Orleans provides more money for students with special needs.

There is no “backfill” controversy over adding students in later grades, he adds. All the schools backfill and all take mid-year transfers. Students coming out of the judicial system are assigned to a school via a “round robin” system run by the RSD.

Charters try not to ‘churn and burn’ teachers

Charter schools are trying to hold on to teachers by cutting work hours and adding perks such as on-site child care and retirement plans, writes Alexandria Neason on Slate.

Often charters hire new teachers, ask them to work long hours and then replace them in a few years.

At YES Prep, a network of 13 charter schools in Houston, the average classroom teacher stays for about 2 ½ years, writes Neason. At the start of the school year, Superintendent Mark DiBella decided to change that.

(He) pored through student test-score data, and found that more experienced, stable teachers were producing noticeably better student results.” He quickly assembled a committee of teachers to devise recommendations for getting more teachers to commit to at least five years in the classroom.

The network announced earlier this month a series of initiatives to improve retention, including across-the-board pay raises. In addition, more seasoned teachers will have a personal budget to spend on professional development, and more input on how their job evaluations will work. The network has also cut back on school hours and mandatory after-school activities.

KIPP, the country’s biggest charter network with 162 schools, changed its training for principals to boost teacher retention. Ninety-two percent of principals now stay beyond four years. Annual teacher retention has risen slightly to 70 percent last school year. The goal is 80 percent.

Nearly a third of KIPP teachers now have access to on-site child care and “some KIPP schools have shortened their school days and eliminated mandatory Saturday sessions,” writes Neason.

By the 2012-13 school year, the most recent data available, turnover at charter schools had decreased to 18.4 percent, she reports. That’s slightly higher than the 15.5 percent rate for teachers at district-run schools.

Teacher turnover — moving schools and quitting the profession — is higher at high-needs schools, notes the Shanker Blog, citing the Teacher Follow-up Survey.

A new federal study of public school teachers’ attrition and mobility rates in the first five years includes both charter and district teachers. “During their second year (in 2008–09), 74 percent of beginning teachers taught in the same school as the previous year (stayers), 16 percent taught in a different school (movers), and 10 percent were not teaching,” according to the report.

At the end of five years, 83 percent were teaching, though some had switched schools. That’s much higher than previous estimates of new teacher turnover.

If kids can’t improve, bad schools are OK

Is intelligence fixed — or can kids get smarter? The importance of a “growth mindset” applies to educators as well as students, writes Robert Maranto, 21st Century Chair in Leadership in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.

“If you think that intelligence is a constant, then there is no point reforming schools because schools don’t matter,” he writes in the Baltimore Sun.

“Good” schools and “good” teachers either cherry picked or lucked into smart students. It’s unfair to compare schools or teachers on academic results because student learning is determined by who teachers teach, not what or how they teach.

When right-wing social scientists argue that genetics determines low academic performance, their views are marginalized, Maranto writes. But many on the left also believe some groups of children can’t learn.

I know prominent education professors who have not read any of the eight high quality scientific evaluations of the high poverty/high achievement Knowledge Is Power Program schools, nor set foot in such schools, but know that KIPP must be cheating in some way. They have no more interest in the research on KIPP than a creationist has in paleontology.

Our unwillingness to learn from success goes beyond ignoring successful charter schools. I do fieldwork in a reasonably good school district that has depressingly little success teaching its Hispanic minority; yet no one there bothers to check out a similar school district 10 miles away that has nearly eliminated its Anglo-Hispanic achievement gap. These educators believe, on the basis of no evidence, that Hispanics in the other school district differ from their Hispanics. They cannot imagine different tactics including parental outreach and after school tutoring yielding better outcomes with the same kids.

Urban superintendents aren’t more likely to keep their jobs when achievement rises, Maranto’s research found.

Yesterday, I visited a San Jose elementary school whose students — more than 80 percent are English Learners from lower-income families — excel at reading and math. It’s called Rocketship Brilliant Minds.

Teachers and students dance each day at Morning Launch.

High schools help alums get through college

Yes Prep students at Rhodes College, in Memphis.
YES Prep graduates at Rhodes College in Memphis support each other.

Only 10 percent of low-income, first-generation college students will earn a bachelor’s degree within six years, writes Erin Einhorn on the Hechinger Report. Some college-prep charters are providing college counseling to their graduates to improve those odds.

These alumni advisors send reminders about scholarship deadlines, connect students with campus resources such as writing centers and help them understand quirks that may not be obvious to kids whose parents never went to college, including the importance of withdrawing from a class before the deadline to avoid a failing grade and a tuition bill.

“More and more high schools are feeling a responsibility beyond high school graduation,” said Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Access Network. They can’t simply hand off their graduates to college and move on, the way runners in a relay race pass the baton, Cook said. “We’ve had some wake-up calls … that make us scratch our heads and think, hmm, maybe the baton pass wasn’t really working.”

YES Prep, a chain of Houston-based charters, sends its low-income, minority graduates to college, but realized that most never earned degrees. Now the chain has hired three full-time counselors to support graduates.

YES Prep also sends groups of alumni to college together to support each other. And the chain uses their feedback about how well-prepared they were to tweak its curriculum for juniors and seniors. Early returns have been promising, with the charter network now reporting that 72 percent of its alumni are still in college or have graduated.

Another large charter chain, KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, hires dozens of staffers around the country for its KIPP Through College campaign. They work with kids starting in the eighth grade and send groups of students to support each other at 60 colleges and universities — programs KIPP credits with boosting its six-year bachelor’s degree rate from 28 percent a few years ago to 45 percent today.

“To and through” is the motto of Downtown College Prep, the charter school I wrote about in Our School. Not only does the high school offer counseling to help graduates succeed in college, it’s added help in finding jobs once they earn their degrees.


Are military academies the answer?

Youth Challenge cadets at the Grizzly Academy in San Luis Obispo, California

Military training can turn Strugglers Into Strivers, writes Hugh Price, the former Urban League chief turned Brookings’ fellow, in a new book. In a speech at Fordham’s Education for Upward Mobility conference in D.C., Price talked about the benefits of JROTC, public military academies and the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe corps, a residential program for dropouts that’s improved the success of participants.

 (Common elements) include an emphasis on belonging, a strong focus on motivation and self-discipline, emphasis on academic preparation, close mentoring and monitoring of how youngsters are doing, accountability and consequences, demanding schedules, teamwork, valuing and believing in the young people, believing that they can succeed, structure and routine, frequent rewards and recognition, and of course, an emphasis on safe and secure environments.

Some urban districts, such as Chicago and Philadelphia, offer military academies. Others are charter schools, such as the New Orleans Military & Maritime Academy and Bataan Military Academy in Albuquerque.

Here’s a 2005 New York Times story on public military schools across the country.

MATCH Education’s Michael Goldstein sees the potential in Price’s approach, but says the zeitgeist is moving the wrong way. Charters are under fire for being too tough on students, he writes.

The darlings of the charter movement, schools like KIPP and so forth, are being (unfairly) attacked for having discipline policies deemed too strict.  Any quasi-military school would probably look at KIPP as hopelessly lax, but compared to many high-poverty schools where “anything goes,” it’s certainly true that KIPP is stricter.

. . . some top charters are reallocating spending to satisfy these critics.  They taking $ from extra-curriculars, school trips, books, advanced classes, art, sports, and just about any sort of item that could be perceived as discretionary — and reallocating for more full-time staff to work with a small group of kids who struggle to adhere to the rules.  The same thing is happening with limited teacher time — reallocation towards time-consuming discipline procedures and therefore away from other core topics like lesson prep, helping strugglers after school, showing up for the basketball game to cheer, and so forth.

I think it’s all about choice. Some students — or their parents — will choose structure, discipline and, perhaps, military cachet. It’s not for everyone.