What TFA Tells The New Recruits About ‘The System’

The Teach For America mission statement does not mention the word teacher.  It reads “Our mission is to enlist, develop, and mobilize as many as possible of our nation’s most promising future leaders to grow and strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence.”  I don’t remember exactly what year this happened, but at some point in the past 10 years they made a big deal about how they are a ‘leadership’ organization.  Certainly this wasn’t what they were saying back in 1991 when I started as a TFA corps member.

Each year TFA recruits a new cohort of these leaders, around four to five thousand a year in recent years.  When I think of what some of the qualities that a 22 year old leader would possess, I think that many, if not most, would be somewhat outspoken.  Yes, I know that you don’t have to be outspoken to be a leader, but I’d expect there to be some very vocal ones.  There would be at least a few who are writing blogs, who are mixing it up on Twitter, things like that.  One of the mysteries of TFA is how it is possible that none of the 4,000 leaders has any sort of public presence on social media.

I believe that TFA strongly discourages the new recruits from engaging on social media.  It would be just too much of a coincidence for 4,000 people enthusiastic about becoming teachers, even if they don’t possess great leadership qualities, to be so quiet.

For sure, TFA likes to control the exposure of the new corps members.  Sometimes they will on Twitter link to something they wrote about a new corps member.  Or they retweet a new corps member who just got his or her acceptance letter.  But we almost never get to hear from an actual corps member first hand.

In Houston for the past three years, TFA has chosen some new corps members and made a series of videos documenting their summer experience.  In 2015 I critiqued the videos and was eventually contacted by one of the subjects of the videos and we actually had some conversations by phone over the years.  Another one emailed me and said he wanted to keep in touch with me, but when I tried to contact him later on, he never got back to me.

With the beginning of the 2017 Houston Institute, there is a new set corps members.  Based on something I heard two of them say in this video, I get the sense that TFA is feeding the new corps members a strange message.  Watch the video for yourself if you want and see if you pick up on anything strange.


So the thing I found strange was said by both Savanah and Madisenne .  Savanah said that one of the things she has learned in her three days is “Just because outside sources are putting a value on them doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to learn.”  Madisenne said “What I really learned about KC (Kansas City) is that it’s not a lack of funding.  It has been conscious decisions that has made this educational inequity.”

It’s pretty clear that these are messages that TFA is transmitting, though I’m not sure what it accomplishes.  The first comment about ‘outside sources putting a value on them’ seems like something that TFA CEO Elisa Villanueva-Beard says a lot, basically that too many teachers have low expectations and these low expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies.  The reality is much more complicated than that and this oversimplified reading of it, I think, is a form of teacher bashing.  And for TFA to teach the new recruits that there is not a funding problem, particularly in Kansas City, really serves no good purpose.  Instead, they teach them, there is some conspiracy hatched by who, it’s not really clear.  But someone, is it politicians?, teacher’s unions?, teachers?, has made this conscious decision to make ‘educational inequity’ and that as a teacher she will reverse it by consciously battling those other decisions.

To me these messages are not the sorts of things that are productive for new TFA corps members to be told to believe in their first days of institute.  I don’t think they should start with the premise that the system is broken and a-la-Betsy Devos, it can’t get much worse, and then that the TFA teacher’s role is to somehow single handedly undo the deliberate decisions that have led to this.  Instead I’d rather they were told that teaching is very hard and that teachers all over the country are working very hard despite limited resources and that TFA teachers are going to fight alongside these other teachers and try to learn from them and hope that they can quickly become like those experienced teachers so they won’t increase educational inequity for their own students.

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TFA Trains Teachers At ‘Failing’ School Led By TFA Alum

‘Failing’ schools are the oxygen of the modern education reform movement.  Up until about 10 years ago with the rise of Democratic education reformers like Arne Duncan, Joel Klein, and TFA alum Michelle Rhee, I hadn’t heard the term much.  There were schools with low test scores, of course, but everyone understood that low test scores did not mean you had a school staffed by self-serving ‘adults’ who were the sole cause of these low test scores.  Accountability became defined as identifying and punishing ‘failing’ schools and identifying and punishing ‘ineffective’ teachers.

This ‘failing schools / ineffective teacher’ narrative peaked, I think, around 2010 with Obama’s Race To The Top program which required states to invent metrics to better identify the ‘failing’ schools that need to be turned into ‘high performing’ charters and the ‘ineffective’ teachers that need to be fired.  The movie ‘Waiting For Superman’ helped make this narrative ingrained in the public consciousness.

I’ve worked at four schools in my career and three of those schools would be deemed ‘failing’ by most education reformers.  Yet I was impressed by the majority of the teachers at these so-called ‘failing’ schools so I know that most schools that states are labelling ‘failing’ are actually not to anyone who really gets to know the school.

Teach For America actually has many corps members and alumni working and even leading schools that have low state report card grades.  They have also had many corps members and alumni in public and also charter schools that have been closed down because they were considered beyond help.  Surely Teach For America knows that most methods of rating schools in this way are not accurate.

But Teach For America has not come to defense of these schools, it would be too risky to do so.  You see, TFA has benefitted much from the ‘failing schools’ narrative.  Politicians who love to talk about ‘failing’ schools also are big fans of TFA.  What could prove how awful the schools and teachers are in this country more than to show how beginning teachers and upstart charter schools constantly outperform them?  Without the belief that our country is infested with ‘failing’ schools and ‘ineffective’ teachers, TFA would not be an organization with a $300 million a year budget, some of that coming from governmental grants.

There are a bunch of TFA institutes going on right now around the country.  In Houston, where I taught for four years, the corps members train at several schools that they partner with for their summer school.  I found it interesting when I looked into the data for one of those schools, J.W. Robinson, Jr. Elementary School.

TFA must think the school is pretty good.  It is run by a TFA alum, Paige Fernandez-Hohos.  The teachers at the host school often serve as mentors to the new TFA corps members so TFA must think that the teachers there are at least somewhat effective.  And based on the enthusiasm that the corps members are expressing on Twitter after their first day there, the corps members probably would agree that Robinson Elementary is a pretty good place.

There’s just one problem.  By the school rating system in Texas, Robinson Elementary is a ‘failing’ school.  It doesn’t have an ‘F’ but with a ‘D’ and a Houston rank of 720th school out of about 1000 total, this is a school that, by this rating system, is very below average.


I’m not writing about this to trash this school.  I want the corps members who are working there and who are admiring this school to understand, though, that the bogus rating system that makes Robinson ‘failing’ is the same kind of rating system that is being used by all the supporters of TFA who want to declare a large percent of schools, like Robinson, failing.  It’s lies like this that have fueled the growth of TFA.  Without this growth, most TFA CMs wouldn’t even be in the program right now as it would be a much smaller program than it is.

I think this would make for a good discussion topic for the TFA corps member groups who work at this failing school.  If you are one of those corps members, bring this up at one of the daily meetings and report back how the TFA staffers respond.

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The TFA Top-10 Listers, Where Are They Now?

A frequent criticism of TFA is that their teachers usually don’t stay beyond the two-year commitment.

Over the years, TFA has had different responses to this.  For a long time the statistic they touted was that 60% of corps members who complete the two years also teach a third year.  Though this statistic doesn’t include those who don’t make it though the two years (which is around 12%) it still is more than most people would figure.  Though they don’t publish these statistics so much anymore, it used to be generally accepted that only about 25% stay for a fourth year.

Nowadays, TFA has found a sneaky way to inflate their retention numbers by using their annual survey.  According to TFA, 80% of people who answered the survey say that they are either still ‘in education’ or somehow ‘serves low-income communities.’  This number is inflated for two reasons:  1) The self-selection of the survey takers, and 2) The way they collect this information by having alumni answer these ambiguous questions:

Without having access to the data of all 50,000 alumni, it is hard to know, anymore, what percent of TFAers become career teachers.

Four years ago, TFA got some national attention as ten of their new 2013 CMs got the opportunity to read a David Letterman Top 10 List ‘The Top 10 Reasons I Decided To Become A Teacher.’  This offended many people who really decided to become teachers since most of the TFAers were likely not going to become teachers for more than two years.

Now I know that ten people is a very small sample, but I thought it would be interesting to follow up on these ten people, four years later.  Even though it is just ten people, we can presume that these ten people were not just randomly chosen by TFA to be on David Letterman.  Surely these were some of the more dynamic corps members.  Also I would think that after going on national TV and saying that you decided to become a teacher, maybe deep in their subconscious, that would make them think twice before quitting after two years.

So using my search engine skills, I did my best to learn the whereabouts of the TFA Letterman 10.  Here’s what I found out.

Of the 10, I was only able to get information about 9 of them.

Two of the 9 people, to the best of my knowledge, did not complete their initial two year commitment.  one, it seems, never made it to the classroom at all while another seems to have taught for part of a year in a KIPP and then part of a year in another school.  Now she has a company that helps students with college essays so I guess she would count in the 80% who is still ‘in education.’

Three of the 9 people,  taught for 2 years.  One now seems to be in graduate school, one is a filmmaker, and one now works for TFA.

Two of the 9 people taught for 3 years, and are now in graduate school.

Two of the 9 people are still teaching after four years.

These numbers are actually pretty representative of the retention numbers for corps members over the years, about 15% quitting, about 15% teaching beyond 3 years, and 70% teaching either 2 or 3 years.  If you were thinking back, four years ago when this was on TV, “I wonder how many of them will actually become teachers?” now you have at least an approximate idea.


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My review of ‘letters to a young education reformer’

I was eager to receive Rick Hess’s latest book ‘letters to a young education reformer.’  Hess is the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank.  Hess is one of the few defenders of the reform movement whom I respect.  His writings, like his column in Education Week, always have the nuance that most reform writers at places like The 74 and Education Post lack.


With states opting out of the Common Core, parents opting out of state tests, and prominent reformers even opting out of ed reform, the reform movement is currently experiencing a slump.  This book explains what is behind some of the failures of the reform movement.

Though the book is written in an informal tone with plenty of very interesting anecdotes, it is a very scathing critique of the reform movement, the style of reform that really became big with people like Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, and, of course, President Obama.

Hess knows what missteps reformers committed along the way to lead to this.  By writing about these mistakes in a series of letters to an unnamed ‘young education reformer,’ Hess hopes that the next generation of ed reformers will avoid those mistakes.

Many of these mistakes are things that Hess warned reformers about as they were making them.  They didn’t heed many of his warnings back then, but maybe now that they seem to be losing momentum, this book could be used not just by young education reformers, but by old education reformers who could maybe use his advice to get the movement back on track.

Hess still believes in the basic pillars of the reform movement, which he summarizes nicely in one of his letters:

“I think that those making decisions should be responsible for making them work; that schools and educators should be accountable for whether kids are learning; that people who are good at their jobs should get more money and recognition than those who aren’t; and that bureaucratic routine is a lousy way to cultivate great schools.”

But he laments that reformers have been too sloppy in their implementation:  they have misused data and research, they have misused the court system, they have ignored concerns from teachers and from parents, and they have chased one education fad after another.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

From the first letter:

“Washington-centric, dogmatic big R Reform has too often neglected this reality, with reformers exhausting themselves to win policy fights and then winding up too bloodied and battered to make those wins matter.  It’s left me to wonder whether all the fuss and furor of recent years has done more harm than good.”

In the fourth letter he writes:

“Calling something an implementation problem is how we reformers let ourselves off the hook.  It’s a fancy way to avoid saying that we didn’t realize how a new policy would affect real people … and that it turned out worse than promised.”

In the eighth letter:

“They’ve given students more reading and math instruction, and less science and history.  All of this means that test results can improve even if students aren’t actually learning more.”

“If ignoring data and metrics was ‘the old stupid,’ the slapdash embrace of half-baked data is ‘the new stupid.’”

“While helpful, these data [Value Added Metrics] are primitive, limited, and often misleading.”

“Using these scores as a proxy for overall quality is especially awkward because there’s remarkably little evidence that they tell us much about other things we care about, like college-going, employment, citizenship, or creativity.”

“Used carelessly, research can impair good judgement, lead reformers to imagine that ‘research based’ reforms guarantee much more than they do, and cause reformers to focus on whether reforms are adopted while shortchanging how they are adopted.  And that’s not good for anyone.”

One letter that resonated with me was called “The Value in Talking with Those Who Disagree.”  Even though it is uncomfortable getting challenged on your ideas, these challenges are vital.  Otherwise if you stay in an echo chamber, there is no chance that the problems with your plans will get uncovered until a lot of time and resources have been expended.  I can speak from experience that I’ve been ignored, criticized, mocked, been called names, and even been the target of a blog-post called ‘The Misanthropy of Gary Rubinstein’ just because I’ve fact-checked reform claims with data that was publicly available.  I was also barred from participating in panel discussions at the TFA 25th anniversary alumni summit despite being way more qualified than the majority of the participants.  So the idea of reformers being more open to discussion, even public debate, is something that I would like to see more of.

Hess makes a distinction in his first letter between what he calls ‘Big R’ Reformers and, what he considers himself to be, a ‘little r’ reformer.  Though he doesn’t name names, a ‘Big R’ Reformer would be someone like a Campbell Brown who knows all the talking points — tenure gives teachers jobs for life, the union protects sexual predators, the system values ‘adult interests’ rather than putting ‘students first’, students are trapped in failing schools by virtue of their zip code, and things like that.  Hess is a ‘little r’ reformer, he believes in the premises of ed reform, but he has a more nuanced view of it and isn’t going to follow blindly every new idea.  Maybe one of his hopes is to get some of these ‘Big R’ Reformers to reduce the size of their ‘R’ a bit, be a little more humble about what they think will work, and be more inclusive of differing opinions from players including ‘adults’ like teachers and parents.

In this 1 minute video, Hess summarizes the idea of ‘Big R’ Reform and what the problem with it is.



For sure, the percent of ‘Big R’ Reformers in 2009 was quite high.  With the rise of Michelle Rhee, ‘Big R’ reformers were unapologetic about their zeal.  But now, eight years later, I wonder how many of the prominent players would read this book and think that they are now ‘little r’ reformers?  Most of those them, I see, have taken on a kinder and gentler persona already, but are they actually ‘little r’ reformers, or are they just pretending to be?  I’d say that about 90% of reformers present themselves as the ‘little r’ variety.  And the other ones, the ones that seem like throwbacks to 2009, someone like a Campbell Brown or a Steve Perry or even some of those bit players who work for 50CAN and harass me from time to time on Twitter, those people are not going to tone down their personas.  Every movement has to have their share of fanatics.  The fanatics make the more moderate ones seem that much more reasonable.  It’s like ‘Good Reformer / Bad Reformer.’  If I were advising the reform movement, I’d say that they would want to maintain some percent of ‘Big R’ Reformers, maybe 10 to 15 percent, which seems to be what they are at right now anyway.

If you take a random moment from these panel discussions, the first from 2011 and the second from a few days ago, and compare the tones of these Reformers you will see what I mean.

2011 Teach For America 20th Anniversary Panel

2017 AEI Panel about Rick’s Book


In one of the letters ‘The False Promise of Court-Driven Reform,’ Hess writes that he does not support the recent trend that started with the Vergara case in California with copycat cases in New York, Minnesota, and New Jersey.  Reformers are trying to argue that things like LIFO violate students’ constitutional rights to an education.  He says that he does not trust judges to make such decisions.  I wasn’t so thrilled when I heard that reform groups were going to fund lawsuits like this, but now that in case after case these lawsuits are getting thrown out, I’m beginning to think that a better reason for reformers to not try to get their way through court cases is that the more that they have to reveal their evidence under testimony, the more it goes into the public record that they have almost no evidence.  There have been some lawsuits recently in New York and in Texas challenging the value-added calculations.  In both cases, judges ruled that the value-added measures, basically the keystone of the reform strategy, was garbage.  Whether or not legislating through the court is the right thing to do, it turns out to be an awful strategy for reformers.

There are two main theses of Hess’s letters that I disagree with:

One is that I think that Hess has overestimated the potential of the Reformers.  I see his central argument as:  it’s time for us to start playing more fair, to stop misusing data and to stop ignoring, and otherwise showing contempt, for Reform critics.  He seems to think that the Reform movement has made some progress, but to get to the next level, to win, they will need to be more open to discussion with critics and be more open about potential problems when things like the Common Core are implemented.

I think the opposite is true.  I think the Reformers have actually overachieved to get the victories they have.  Getting more humble and honest and letting critics participate in the discussion will not get them to the next level at all.  In a fair matchup, Reformers will get clobbered.  I think they are going to lose the education reform war either way, but really the only chance they have is to ramp up the slick messaging and the lying.  With the dishonest route, I think they have about a ten percent chance of ultimately winning.  With the honest route, I think they have a zero percent chance of winning.

I also think Hess is overly optimistic if he thinks the Reformers will take his advice to heart.  Some of them will surely read this book and think, “I get it.  We need to start pretending that we really care what teachers think.”  Though Hess warned against just trying to improve messaging in one of his letters “Beware the Media Glare,” what he should realize is that the same thing that prevented Reformers from listening to criticism, even from him, the first time around, will prevent them from listening to him now too.  The best that most Reformers can do is pretend to care because most Reformers are — how should I put this tactfully?  Most ‘Big R’ Reformers I’ve encountered are also ‘Big J’ Jerks.  And they can try all they want to act like they aren’t, but they won’t be able to do it convincingly.  I really think that this is the Achilles’ Heel of the Reformers.  Maybe the young education reformers Hess is recruiting will be better than the old reformers in that way.  It would help their cause a lot.

Peter Cunningham, the head of Education Post, wrote a reflection about this book and about the panel discussion I posted above.  As evidence that he was not moved to drop some of the hostile rhetoric that so characterizes ‘Big R’ Reformers, his final line was “when the politics gets confusing, and it always does, remember that our job is not to please adults but to fight for kids.”

Michael Petrilli from the Fordham Institute wrote that he agreed with 98% of this book, but had problems with the other 2%.  He made this odd suggestion at the end of his reflection “If you work in an education advocacy organization and have a legislative agenda to push, set this book aside until the session is over. Pick it up again this summer, give it a “close read,” and think hard about what a smarter, more teacher-friendly, more humble legislative agenda would look like next year. In the meantime, go team win!”

Maybe you can’t teach an old reformer new tricks.

Even with these kind of strange defensive reflections, the reception of the book, despite its clear message of “You guys messed up and I tried to warn you about it, but you wouldn’t listen.” has, ironically, been generally well received by the reform community.  My sense is that they want to act like they are in on it, have been aware of these issues all along, even though Hess’s same arguments when made by critics over the years have been ignored, dismissed, and even ridiculed by these same people.  I also think that Reformers like to have a Hess on their side since he is a thoughtful guy who thinks things through and Reformers like to imply that they all do that but just that Hess is better at communicating it.

Hess’ book is well worth the read, regardless of which side of the education wars you consider yourself, whether you are a Big R Reformer, a little r reformer, an anti-Big R Reformer, an anti-little r reformer, or somewhere else on the spectrum.  Whatever side you are on, it probably won’t convert you either way, but it will make you think, which I think is the goal.

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4th Best High School In New York Is A KIPP School That Doesn’t Exist

Yesterday I wrote about the U.S. News and World Report 2017 high school rankings.  I found some suspicious numbers when I noticed that the 29th best high school, and the 4th best in New York, was a KIPP school called KIPP Academy Charter School.  Their rating was based on the fact that out of the 58 12th graders at that school, 58 took an AP test and 57 of those 58 passed an AP test for a ‘College Ready Index’ of 98 out of 100.

I noticed that the other three KIPP High Schools in New York had ‘College Ready Indexes’ of 0 and I found that very odd, maybe some kind of manipulation by KIPP to put all their best students into one of their high schools so they could get one school a good rating by the U.S. News metric.

Someone left a comment on that post which resulted in some deeper digging on my part.  Based on what I’ve found, and it is pretty confusing actually, I believe I’ve uncovered a pretty big scandal.

The reader informed me that there are not four KIPP high schools in New York City, but just one, KIPP NYC College Prep High School.  This was puzzling to me since the school that was ranked 29th in the country and 4th in New York was not called KIPP NYC College Prep High School, but called KIPP Academy Charter School.

When I went to look at the data at the public data site for school report cards, there was no report card for a KIPP NYC College Prep High School, however.  But there were report cards for the four MIDDLE schools, KIPP Academy, KIPP AMP, KIPP Infinity, and KIPP STAR.  On these report cards, it shows that 5-8 middle schools also have students in 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade, in small numbers.

One of those four middle schools is the KIPP Academy with its 58 12th graders, and this is the ‘school’ that was rated so highly on the U.S. News ranking.

But the reality is that there is just one high school and it does not have just 58 students, but around 150 students, basically the four 12th grade classes from the four middle schools are actually not attending that middle school but all attending the KIPP high school.

Why the students are still ‘officially’ in their middle schools is a mystery to me and why there is not report card for the KIPP high school is also pretty baffling.

The non-existent KIPP Academy Charter High School that was ranked 29th in the country and 4th in New York claimed to have 58 students with a 100% AP participation rate and a 98% passing rate.  We now know that these 58 students are only a subset, around a fourth, of an existing school KIPP NYC College Prep.  Though there is no state report card for KIPP NYC College Prep, the school has one on their website for the 2014-2015 school year on which the U.S. News ratings were based.

Conveniently, at the bottom of that report card are the true numbers for their AP participation and AP passing rate.

Screen Shot 2017-04-28 at 8.00.27 PM

So as opposed to the fictional 29th best high school in the country KIPP Academy Charter school with it’s 98 ‘College Ready Index’ based on their AP participation and passing, the one and only, and real, KIPP NYC High School has a ‘College Ready Index’ of around 40.

Now someone could say that maybe KIPP had nothing to do with this, that the New York City Department of Education supplies the data to The College Board and since that data makes it seem like the four middle schools also house high schools, the AP would treat them as four different high schools rather than one school, so there may not be any attempt to mislead by KIPP.

But, there remains one giant mystery then.  If this wasn’t an attempt by KIPP to somehow get all their passing AP students into one fictitious school, how is it possible that every AP taker and passer somehow came from the KIPP Academy school and none of them from the other three KIPP middle schools?  If the KIPP Academy 12th graders just happened to be the ones that went to KIPP Academy for 8th grade and the KIPP AMP 12th graders just happened to be the ones that went to KIPP AMP for 8th grade and the KIPP Infinity 12th graders just happened to be the ones that went to KIPP Infinity for 8th grade and the KIPP STAR 12th graders just happened to be the ones that went to KIPP STAR for 8th grade, and now they are all mixed together into one high school, though still ‘officially’ part of small high schools within their old middle schools, then what are the chances that the 58 students who took the AP and, of them, the 57 who passed an AP, just randomly happened to be the same ones that went to that one middle school and that no students from the other middle schools took or passed an AP?  It’s not possible.

No, it is more likely that KIPP, knowing that they have the ability to separate their high school students into four groups, and knowing how important AP participation and passing rates are for the U.S. News rankings which they will surely use in their fund raising, deliberately sorted their AP takers and passers into the one fictional KIPP Academy school.  I can’t prove this, and even if I could I’m not sure it is illegal to do this, but if it’s true it is certainly dishonest.  At a minimum, someone should contact U.S. News and have them correct this error.

This has actually been going on for at least two years.  Last year the imaginary KIPP Academy high school was rated 2nd best in New York.  And KIPP staffers, not just the higher ups, but all the teachers at the KIPP high school, were aware of this mistake and didn’t do anything to correct it last year or to stop it from happening again this year.  No, they just hoped that nobody would ever look into it.


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Did KIPP game the U.S. News And World Report rankings?

Each year, U.S. News And World Report generates a report of the ‘best’ high schools in the country.  This year, the charter world has been celebrating because out of the top 100 schools, by the U.S. News rating system, 34 of them are charter schools.

There are a lot of ways to measure the quality of a high school.  The way that U.S. News does it is as follows:  75% of the score is the percent of 12th graders who get at least a 3 on at least one AP test.  25% of the score is the percent of 12th graders who took at least one AP test.  They call this weighted average the ‘College Ready Index.’  By including the participation rate, a school can’t inflate their scores by only allowing students to take the AP who are most likely to pass.

The school at which I teach, Stuyvesant High School, ranked 71th in the country by this rating, and 13th in New York state.  We had 805 seniors for that year and though nearly all the students who took APs passed them, most getting 4s and 5s on them, we have a grade cutoff for getting into the AP tests so our percent of seniors passing at least one AP was only 88% which is still a lot of students approximately 708 of them.  I’m not trying to make excuses, but just for reference, in another rating system last year, Stuyvesant was rated 4th in the country and 1st in the state.  Depending on what metrics are used, a school can get a completely different rating which means that some of the ratings (if not all) are invalid.

In looking at the list of New York high schools, a school that caught my eye was the KIPP Academy Charter school which was rated 29th in the country and 4th in New York state.  So I did a ‘deep dive’ into their numbers to see if I could find anything interesting in them.

Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 10.14.09 PM

So KIPP Academy Charter school, it said, had only 58 seniors in 2014-2015 when this data was collected.  All 58 took at least one AP so that is 100% of them while 57 out of 58 got a 3 on at least one test, which was 98.3% of them which led to the ‘College Ready Index’ of 98.7, the 29th best score in the country and the 4th best in New York.

My first thought is that 58 students is not very much.  KIPP has something like 15 schools in New York.  Some are middle schools, some are elementary.  With all these schools feeding into their four high schools, I’d expect the graduating class at them to be more than 58.

The size of the senior classes for the four KIPP high schools in New York in 2014-2015 are as follows:

KIPP Academy: 58

KIPP Infinity: 49



So the other schools had even smaller senior classes, most notably the 21 at KIPP AMP.  In total, the KIPP network had 163 seniors in 2014-2015.  Looking at their enrollment from the New York State public data, I found that in the 2007-2008 school year these four schools had many more 5th graders than they had 12th graders seven years later

KIPP Academy: 74

KIPP Infinity: 78



So they had 291 5th graders back then but just 163 12th graders who completed KIPP schools for a rate of just 56%.

Checking the U.S. News and World Report data for the other three schools, I found the most intriguing piece of data yet.  What I learned is that the other three schools did not get a ranking because they don’t have a ‘College Ready Index’ since the 12th graders in those other three schools, evidently, didn’t take any AP tests.

So what we have is four KIPP high schools where one of them has nearly 100% of their seniors taking and passing an AP test and the other three where none of their seniors even take an AP.

So out of 291 5th graders in KIPP schools in 2007-2008, only the 57 students at KIPP Academy passed one AP test by senior year.  57 out of 291 is about 20%.  And 58 test takers out of 291 is also about 20% so their true ‘College Ready Index’ for the entire KIPP district is about 20, a far cry from the 98.7 that KIPP Academy got in the recent U.S. News and World Report ratings.

Is KIPP using KIPP Infinity, KIPP AMP, and KIPP STAR schools as dumping grounds for the students who are least likely to pass an AP and stacking the deck on the KIPP Academy school so it will have all the students most likely to pass an AP?  I don’t know, you’ll have to ask them.

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Update On Colorado District That Gates Praised in 2013

In October of 2012, Bill and Melinda Gates visited a school in the Eagle County, Colorado, school district called Eagle Valley High School.  This school implemented many Gates funded experiments, including merit pay, and Gates praised the school in his 2013 annual letter.   I analyzed their test scores a few years ago and wrote about them.

Colorado is a state that rates schools based on ‘growth’ measures.  These are the metrics that supposedly enable us to compare schools where students have different proficiency rates by focusing instead (as Al Franken famously grilled DeVos about) on ‘growth.’  And while I agree that a school that is getting actual growth in student learning is a good thing, I don’t think that the measures right now, whether they are for teachers or for schools, are very accurate.  Still, since that never stops reformers like Bill Gates from arguing that schools or teachers that don’t perform well on these measures need to be closed or fired, I do like to point out when some of the schools they praise do poorly on these metrics.

I checked the most recent ‘growth’ numbers from Colorado.  A ‘growth’ score of 50% means that a school is getting average ‘growth’ compared to the other schools in Colorado.  Something in the 40s is not so good while something in the 30s is really bad.  So it is ironic that the school that Gates visited and wrote about, Eagle Valley High School has the lowest ‘growth’ score in their district with a 36.5% in ELA and a 34% in Math.  The whole district has below average ‘growth’ with the exception of the middle schools which have average ‘growth.’

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I know that Gates hasn’t addressed education in his most recent annual letter.  Reformers love to tout their invented metrics when they support the policies they just know must work, but I would really love to see, one day, a reformer look at numbers like we see here in Eagle County and say either that the district is underperforming or that the metrics are flawed.

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