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.

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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.

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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

KIPP AMP: 21

KIPP STAR: 35

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

KIPP AMP: 67

KIPP STAR: 72

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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College Or Die

Chalkbeat Tennessee recently reported that the new director of charter schools in Memphis is the former principal of the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated charter school in Indiana.  I went to the school’s website and found that the school’s motto, which they have painted in large letters on the walls of one of their hallways is, “College Or Die.”

Students are reminded of this motto each time they go to the ‘Student Life’ section of the website, as it is the first item on it.

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They have actually produced a video explaining this.  In the description for the video they say:

Located in one of Indianapolis’s roughest neighborhoods, the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School is promising students not only that they’ll graduate from high school, but that they’ll be accepted into prestigious colleges and universities. The amazing thing is, they’re succeeding with a combination of tough love and academic inspiration.

 

Over the years I’ve heard so many variations, mostly with charter schools implying that 100% of their cohort were admitted to college when, in fact, it was just 100% of the senior class, ignoring the large percent of students who had started as ninth graders three years earlier.  Arne Duncan used Urban Prep’s 100% college rate in a speech at TFA’s 20 year alumni summit.  Michael Johnston used it in claiming that the school he was principal of had a 100% college rate.  YES prep got a million dollars from Oprah based on the 100% college rate.  Now Rahm Emanuel is saying that in Chicago, students should not be permitted to graduate without an acceptance to college or some other kind of post high school education.

Indiana has a pretty good public data site, so I went to check the numbers for this school.  I was not so surprised to see that this school had 93 9th graders in 2013-2014.  Three years later, their graduating class was 40 12th graders.

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This is an attrition rate of 57%.  What happened to these other 53 students?  Well, they likely did not die, but they certainly suffered what I consider to be emotional abuse having been told in giant letters that their lives are worthless.

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Who Needs Reformers When You Have David Kirp?

Miracle school debunking has been my most important contribution to the ed reform debate.  The first miracle school I ever debunked was Urban Prep in Chicago after Arne Duncan touted it at the 2011 Teach For America 20 year alumni summit.  I’ve probably debunked over 100 such schools and districts over the past 6 years.

A miracle school is one that has managed, with no additional resources but just harder working teachers with higher expectations, to beat the odds and get students in a high poverty school to get exceptional standardized test scores, thus proving that lazy teachers who have jobs for life and the unions who represent them, are the cause of the achievement gap.  Debunking a miracle school claim is important since the existence of a miracle school will be used as Exhibit A by reformers as evidence that the other 99.99% of schools must be failing.

Most alleged miracle schools are charter schools.  Since charter schools must have PR to attract students and wealthy donors, it would make sense that they would find ways to make it look like they have some secret to raising test scores.  Usually it turns out that the test scores are not very good, after all, and when the test scores are good it is because of massive attrition of the weaker students.

About four years ago I wrote my most widely criticized blog post ever called ‘The Status Quo Miracle District.’  The post was an analysis I did of a miracle district touted in the New York Times by David Kirp.  He had written about a traditional miracle district in New Jersey called, most ironically, Union City.  Even though many of my public school supporting friends had been enthusiastic about this article because it showed that a traditional district can be a miracle district too without resorting to reforms like charters and TFA, I did my fact-checking to find that the test scores at that district were not impressive.  My post was not well received.  People called me a traitor and an ally of the reformers.

I had to write another post defending my first post, explaining that a district can have low test scores and even low ‘growth’ scores by some cryptic measure and still be a great district making differences in children’s lives.  Likewise there can be a district with good test scores that is a test-prep factory and making, I think, a negative difference in children’s lives.

In the New York Times, the other day, April Fools Day, actually, there was another article by David Kirp called “Who Needs Charters When You Have Public Schools Like These?” touting another traditional miracle district, this one in Oklahoma, and again, ironically, called Union.  Here are some excerpts:

Betsy DeVos, book your plane ticket now.

Ms. DeVos, the new secretary of education, dismisses public schools as too slow-moving and difficult to reform. She’s calling for the expansion of supposedly nimbler charters and vouchers that enable parents to send their children to private or parochial schools. But Union shows what can be achieved when a public school system takes the time to invest in a culture of high expectations, recruit top-flight professionals and develop ties between schools and the community.

Two fifth graders guided me around one of these community schools, Christa McAuliffe Elementary, a sprawling brick building surrounded by acres of athletic fields. It was more than an hour after the school day ended, but the building buzzed, with choir practice, art classes, a soccer club, a student newspaper (the editors interviewed me) and a garden where students were growing corn and radishes. Tony, one of my young guides, performed in a folk dance troupe. The walls were festooned with family photos under a banner that said, “We Are All Family.”

A fourth grader at Rosa Parks Elementary who had trouble reading and writing, for example, felt like a failure and sometimes vented his frustration with his fists. But he’s thriving in the STEM class. When the class designed vehicles to safely transport an egg, he went further than anybody else by giving his car doors that opened upward, turning it into a little Lamborghini. Such small victories have changed the way he behaves in class, his teacher said — he works harder and acts out much less.

Now these two schools sound like they are great schools doing innovative things and I applaud that.  But it didn’t take me more than five minutes to type ‘Oklahoma school report cards’ and get to this public data site.  Another few clicks and I got the A to F report cards for these two schools.  McAuliffe got a D- with an F in student achievement, a D in growth, and an F in growth for growth for students in the bottom quartile.  Parks got an F with Fs in all three categories.

 

Let me say again, I do not think that these grades reflect the quality of these schools.  For me these low ratings merely show how inaccurate these A to F rating scales are that reformers are so enamored with.  And no need to have Betsy DeVos come and see these schools.  She thinks that schools in this country can’t get any worse so she would be very eager to declare these schools failures based on their A to F ratings.

When I do this kind of a debunking for a charter school, I don’t feel bad at all since the charter school was usually the source of the miracle claims.  In this case I seriously doubt that the leadership at these two schools somehow brought this scrutiny on themselves with boasting about their test scores.  But for two public schools like these that did not ask to be touted in the New York Times, I do feel a little bad for calling attention to their flawed ratings.

What I would have liked to have in this article is Kirp writing about all the great things going on at these schools and how anyone visiting these schools would be impressed by them, and then express outrage that the schools have a D- and an F rating thus demonstrating how inaccurate the A to F rating calculations are and how they are likely to be just as inaccurate in all the states throughout the country.  Now that would be a powerful article.

Get mad at me all you want, but I think that when public education advocates start taking plays from the reformer playbook we cheapen ourselves.

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Charter Leaders Take A Weak Stand Against DeVos

An editorial ran in USA Today recently penned by three CEOs of ‘high performing’ Charter Chains, Achievement First, KIPP, and Uncommon Schools.  It ran under the title ‘Mr. Trump, Don’t boost our budget while cutting education: Charter school CEOs.’

In the new budget despite massive cuts to education, the charter school industry will see a $168 million increase.  About this, the charter CEOs wrote:

As public charter school operators, we appreciate the proposed investment in new schools like ours.

But we cannot support the president’s budget as proposed, and we are determined to do everything in our power to work with Congress and the administration to protect the programs that are essential to the broader needs of our students, families and communities.

Budgets are statements of priorities, and this one sends a clear message that public education is not a top priority.

Of course the usual gang of ed reform cheerleaders received it enthusiastically:

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And even some praise from charter school opponents:

Screen Shot 2017-04-01 at 8.39.53 PMI can see why an organization like the UFT might celebrate this piece.  For years there has been bipartisan support for the modern style of education reform which features charter schools as proof that traditional public school education is broken in this country.  Having some splintering among the reformers is, at least, a step in the right direction.

In the 74, Richard Whitmire wrote an analysis of this gesture which included this:

Their charter schools, which enroll nearly a quarter million students around the country, stand to benefit from the Trump budget, which increases charter school investments by $168 million. These charter leaders should be elated — but they’re not.

The leaders write that they “appreciate” the boost. However, the cuts that paved the way for that increase — such as funding for AmeriCorps volunteers, who work in schools, and Pell Grants for low-income students attending college — would inflict too much damage on all students, both charter and traditional, they argue.

I agree with Whitmire here.  Charter schools are looking to distance themselves from Trump / DeVos.  But in that same Whitmire piece, there is this morsel about why it is so noteworthy that this group of charter CEOs wrote this:

Each of those networks operates schools that, on average and over time, add roughly a year and a half of learning for every year a student spends in their classrooms.

Though the CEOs did not make this outrageous claim in their USA today piece, this helped me understand my own skepticism of the supposedly courageous ‘rejection’ of the Trump budget.

Charter leaders, and reformers in general, need to understand their role in promoting a narrative in which funding for public education could be gutted.  It was mainly Democrat reformers who pushed the idea that traditional public schools were not doing their jobs.  There were ‘drop out factories’ and children ‘trapped’ in ‘failing schools’ on the basis of their ‘zip codes.’  Unions, with their LIFO and ‘lock step salary increases with no consideration of effectiveness’ and teacher evaluations that did not take into account ‘student achievement.’  All this rhetoric has built up momentum and has gotten these Charter CEOs very rich.  It didn’t matter that, like the Whitmire year and a half of learning each year quote, it was not true.  But now that it has spiraled out of control, the Democrat reformers don’t want the Republicans to take this to the next logical step.  Instead, the charter schools want things to stabilize right where they are.

Because increasing ‘choice’ is not a good thing for charter schools.  Families who are choosing to leave traditional public schools have only had one feasible choice thus far, charters.  With DeVos those families may have way more choices: private schools, virtual schools, homeschooling, other types of schooling that hasn’t even been invented yet.  This could really make it tough for charters who are already slowing in growth as they already scramble to get the students most likely to get the test scores to make their schools look good.

I’m not impressed with the USA today manifesto because in it the charter school CEOs purposely refrain from saying the one thing that would really make a difference.  Bravery would be the charter school CEOs saying, once and for all, “We lied.  We said that our schools proved that poverty did not matter.  That all that was needed was ‘great teachers.’  The truth is that our schools are not as transformational as our PR materials claim.  We didn’t realize that our lies would lead to this and now that it has, we feel we need to set the record straight.”  I don’t expect them to say anything like this anytime soon.  They will continue to straddle the fence, ready to adapt and survive in whatever new political environment emerges.

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The most powerful way, in my opinion, for these charter CEOs to reject the Trump budget would be to do so literally by refusing to accept the money.

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Charter School With 38% High School Completion Rate Brags About 88% College Completion Rate In USA Today

In yesterday’s USA Today there was an article with the enticing title “Charter schools’ ‘thorny’ problem:  Few students go on to earn college degrees”  This article was shared widely by the pro-teacher, pro-public school crowd.  And though the title does seem to support what many of us have been saying over the years, based on what they say in the article, I see it as something that can easily be quoted by the pro-charter crowd as evidence that charters are, in general, working.

Statistics for charter schools as a whole are hard to come by, but the best estimate puts charters’ college persistence rates at around 23%. To be fair, the rate overall for low-income students – the kind of students typically served by charters – is even worse: just 9%.

So if the rate of college completion for low-income students who attend charter schools is really 23%, that does sound like a big improvement over the non-charter rate of 9%.

The article goes on to highlight two charter chains who claim to have, respectively, a 45% and an 87.5% college completion rate.  The 45% chain was KIPP.  I remember a few years back when they first started saying this and I argued with Richard Barth, a co-CEO of KIPP, that you really can’t compare the rate KIPP publishes with the 9% statistic since the KIPP rate only applies to students who graduated KIPP and ignores the KIPP students who leave the school before reaching 12th grade.  Statistically speaking, the KIPP students are a ‘biased’ sample.

He wasn’t really interested in debating this, here is the exchange:

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The real heroes of the article are the Democracy Prep charter chain.  They claim an amazing 87.5% college completion rate.  (There is not mention in the article about the recent incident where a Democracy Prep student threatened another student at gunpoint over a dispute about a Chicken McNugget.)

Having the KIPP numbers and the Democracy Prep numbers really make this into a pro-charter piece.  It basically says that some charters are struggling to get kids ‘to and through’ college, but the really good charter chains are doing well with this.  So the conclusion isn’t to slow down charter proliferation, but to only expand the really good charters like KIPP and Democracy Prep.

New York State has a pretty good public data system, so I investigated the numbers for Democracy Prep’s first cohort, the ones that 87.5% of their graduates are on track to graduate from college.  What I found was that in 2006-2007, they had 131 6th graders.  According to their testing data from that year where 127 students were tested, there were 63 girls and 64 boys tested.  Also, of the 131 students, 80% were Black while 20% were Latino.

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Six years later they had 50 12th graders.  This represents just 38% of the original 131 students.  Of those 50, 13 were boys and 37 were girls.  So they went from 50% boys to 33% boys.  Also of their 50 students, they went from 80% Black in 2006 to 66% Black in 2013.

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The public New York State data page for Democracy Prep’s 2006-2007 data is here and the 2012-2013 data can be found here.

So Democracy Prep does not deserve to held up as a model for how to get low-income students through college when they can’t even get them through high school.  And USA Today, if they want to write an article about how Charter Schools are not a silver bullet for education, they should not publish misleading statistics that support the argument that they are.

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