The Unsinkable ASD

The Tennessee Achievement School District started in August 2012 with six schools.  With an initial budget of $20 million a year, they started their mission to take schools from the bottom 5% and, in their words, ‘catapult’ them into the top 25% in five years.  After four years they had grown to about 30 schools, and have leveled off there.  The majority of these schools have been converted to charter schools.

Two years after they launched, an optimistic Chris Barbic, the first superintendent of the ASD, had a ‘mission accomplished’ moment when he declared that three of the original six schools were on track to meet the goal on or before the five year deadline.  But the projected gains did not pan out and now, six years later, five out of six of the original schools are still in the bottom 5% with one of them not faring much better.  Chris Barbic resigned in 2015 and his successor Malika Anderson resigned in 2017.

The ASD was, at one time, an experiment that Reformers were very excited about.  In 2015, just before Barbic resigned, Mike Petrilli hosted a panel discussion at the Fordham Institute celebrating the lofty goals of the ASD, the RSD, and Michigan’s turnaround district.

Year after year, all the research on the Tennessee ASD has been negative (except for research that they, themselves, produced).  In 2015, a Vanderbilt study found the district to be ineffective.  In 2016, a George Washington study agreed.  And now, as if we need any more proof, a new 2018 Vanderbilt study found that schools in the ASD have done no better than schools in the bottom 5% that had not been taken over by the ASD.

Like a cat, the Tennessee ASD seems to have nine lives.  Reformers could learn something from the $100 million blunder.  Instead, the first two superintendents were inducted into the Reformer Hall of Fame, known as Jeb Bush’s Chiefs For Change.


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Success Academy left back (at least) 1/6 of their first cohort

Out of 73 students who began Success Academy in 2006, the first group of graduates crossed the stage a few weeks ago.  The fact that there were only 16 graduates was something that even the pro-Success New York Daily News felt inclined to write an editorial entitled ‘Student success*: In praise of a charter school’s graduates, with one caveat’ which at least draws attention to this issue, though they do try to minimize it.

Success Academy recently responded to these concerns on their own blog in a post called ‘Doing the Math on Success Academy’s First Graduating Class’  While defending themselves they, ironically, revealed some information that is even more controversial.

The Success Academy blog post is supposed to make two main points:

1) That over a period of 12 years it is not that bad to lose 80% of the students since it is only, on average, about 10% a year (they use some very sketchy math to say 9% a year, but it isn’t far off from the actual yearly attrition rate.)  They even get it down to 6% by excluding certain years where students might more easily transfer like between 8th and 9th grade.  They say that this is better than district averages which, they say, are as high as 18% per year for schools in central Harlem.  Of course the issue here, and other charter schools as well as some charter cheerleaders have mentioned this, is the fact that Success Academy does not backfill.  So if a local school loses 18% of their students but then replaces them with other students (which includes, of course, students who were booted from Success Academy and other charters) then it doesn’t inflate their test scores.  But if you don’t backfill and the students you lose are your weaker students then of course your test scores will benefit from this.

2) That the 16 students who just graduated did not include the 7 other students from that cohort who are still in the school but who were left back at least one time.  So, according to them, these extra 7 students would mean that instead of losing 57 out of 73 or 78% of their students they only lost 50 out of 73 or 68% of their students.  This also means that 7 out of the 23 students who remain from the initial cohort had to repeat at least one grade.  So 30% of the original cohort who were still there at the end of this school year (or who had just graduated) were left back at least once.

The chart they provided enabled me to make some more precise conclusions.  Up until now using publicly available data I could only see the dwindling size of the cohorts.  But this new information from Success Academy sheds new light on something I’d heard about for years but never had data to analyze.  One of the ways that Success Academy gets students to leave their school is to tell them that they are going to be left back if they stay at Success Academy.  Then the students are given the option of transferring to a different school and not being left back.  I’ve known for a while that this happens since I’ve heard first hand accounts of this, but I didn’t know how common it is.

But if you take this new Success Academy data where they give the true numbers for their first cohort and put it side by side with the enrollment numbers from the state data, it looks like this:

year grade starting cohort Number who were on target to graduate in 2018 difference
2006-07 1 72 73 -1
2007-08 2 69 73 -4
2008-09 3 65 62 3
2009-10 4 55 59 4
2010-11 5 54 47 7
2011-12 6 47 40 7
2012-13 7 44 36 8
2013-14 8 39 32 7
2014-15 9 38 26 12
2015-16 10 29 20 9
2016-17 11 29 20 9
2017-18 12 25 17 8
Now Now 23 16 7

So what does this all mean?  Well look at the 2014-15 line.  The initial cohort had 38 students still in the school, but only 26 in 9th grade.  This means that 12 of the initial 73 students still in the school had been left back at least one grade.  This is a stunning one sixth of all the original students.  But even worse is that these are only the 12 that we know about.  Surely there were some students, maybe more than some, who chose to leave the school rather than get left back.  Really the only way to know would be to track down the 35 students that had left prior to 9th grade and see if any of them had chosen to leave the school in order to avoid getting left back.

Threatening to leave kids back can boost test scores as it gets some of the lowest performing students to leave the school.  Even for students who don’t leave the school, getting left back will boost test scores since the students will get higher test scores after getting an extra year to prepare for the tests.

I always knew that Success Academy left a lot of kids back.  I just never thought that it was, at minimum, one out of six.


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Is NYC KIPP’s Graduation Rate 96% or 56%?

One of the dirtiest tricks played by charter schools is when they claim to have a 100% graduation rate and a 100% college acceptance rate.  The first use of this, to my knowledge, was when YES Prep used it to help secure $1 million from Oprah.  Over the years, it is very common to see some charter school tout a similar statistic.

When I hear about one of these 100% schools, the first thing I ask is “Is this 100% of the starting cohort, or just the senior class?”  It is always just the senior class.  Then I ask “How many students are in the senior class?”  When the number of graduating seniors is in the 30s, 20s, or even most recently in the case of Success Academy, 16, I ask “How big was the initial cohort?”

In The New York Post the other day, there was an article titled “Bronx charter school sending 96 percent of grads to college.”  The school was the one KIPP high school in New York City.  According to the article, there were 225 graduating seniors, which, at least, is much bigger than the graduating class of many of these 100% (or 96% in this case) stories.

But 96% of the graduating seniors is not 96% of the original cohort and The Post addresses this by saying  “The network said 86 percent of the original freshman class stayed on through their senior year.”

The problem with this statistic is that KIPP is a 5th to 12th grade program, not a 9th to 12th grade program.  So I went to the New York State Education Data Portal and here’s what I learned:

In the 2010 to 2011 school year there were 404 5th graders.

In the 2011 to 2012 school year there were 394 6th graders.

In the 2012 to 2013 school year there were 381 7th graders.

In the 2013 to 2014 school year there were 354 8th graders.

In the 2014 to 2015 school year there were 289 9th graders.

In the 2015 to 2016 school year there were 268 10th graders.

In the 2016 to 2017 school year there were 224 11th graders.

In the 2017 to 2018 school year there were 228 12th graders.

So while the percent of 9th graders that eventually graduated was 78% (Not the 86% claimed in the article), the percent of 5th graders that eventually graduated was just 56%.

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The Case of the Missing Scholar

Success Academy began 11 years ago with a group of 83 kindergarteners and 73 first graders.

This past December, Success Academy published a blog post about their first graduating seniors in this post, principal Andrew Malone wrote “I’m proud to report that 14 of the 17 seniors have already earned an admissions offer, with 23 acceptances overall! ”

I had been following the attrition of the 73 first grades as they had shrunk to 59 fourth graders then, a few years later, 26 9th graders.  By December they were down to 17 12th graders — a 77% attrition rate.

Just 10 weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal did a piece called “How Success Academy Got Its First Seniors to College” with the subtitle: All 17 seniors at the New York City network’s first charter school have been accepted to four-year colleges.

Well, the graduation ceremony happened today and I noticed something unusual:

16, not 17.  Somehow in the past 10 weeks, Success Academy lost another student.

I know that this is just one student, but I find it pretty strange that a student should go through 11 3/4 years of the pressures of Success Academy and not get to the opportunity to graduate.  There must be an interesting story behind this missing scholar.

Either way, with one fewer, the official tally is 16 which is 22% of the original 73.


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Success Academy Finally Takes — And Bombs — The Algebra II Regents

Success Academy is the most well known and controversial charter chain in the country.  They are also the most secretive.

In New York state, high school students are required to pass end of the year finals, called The Regents, in order to graduate.  In 2006 Success Academy started with their first two cohorts so two years ago I checked to see how their first 9th graders fared on The Regents.  I found that they did not post any scores, which was pretty surprising since Success is so well known for their standardized test scores.  I then learned that when that first cohort made it to 11th grade, they did have those students take some Regents exams after all.  Those results are now on the New York State public data system.

I see various results from the English, Algebra II, Global History, and Chemistry.  They did fine on English and Global History, but very poorly on Algebra II.

Unlike the state tests where students are graded on a scale of 1 to 4, the Regents are graded out of 100.  Since the common core Regents have been made, the number from 0 to 100 is not a percentage, but a scaled score where a passing score of 65 can be achieved on Algebra II, at least, by getting about 30% of the possible points on the test.

On this public data site, though they have the scores broken down as level 1 to 5.   According to New York State, level 4 qualifies as ‘meets standards’ while level 5 is ‘exceeds standards.’  On the June 2017 exam with the generous curve, students needed to get at least 52% of the possible points (45 out of 86 points which scaled, last year, to between a 78 and an 84 on the test) to meet the standards to qualify as a level 4.

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Of the 16 students at Success Academy who took the Algebra II Regents, none of them were able to achieve the level 5 which though it was called an 85 it is actually just 72% of the possible points (62 out of 86).  Only two students scored a level 4 (which you get by getting 52% of the points for  scaled score of at least a 78), officially meeting the standards.  Eleven partially met the standards with a level 3.  The other three of the 16 students (about 20% of them) failed outright.  This is a pretty poor showing for a school that prides themselves on their math standardized test scores for the state 3-8 tests.  As a math teacher who has spent a lot of time examining the different math Regents over the years, believe me on this.

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As I wrote about in a post called ‘Who Survives Success’ the original two cohorts of Success Academy when they were Kindergarteners and 1st graders were 72% free lunch.  These 16 students who took the Algebra II Regents, I think it is a fair assumption that these are from the 17 students who are about to become the first graduating seniors.  7 out of 16 qualify as economically disadvantaged, which is just 44%.

Also notice that the two students who got the level 4s were from the 9 students who did not qualify as economically disadvantaged.  Back in 2006 this was a group of 72 first graders of which around 56 were economically disadvantaged.  After 11 years, Success Academy was down to just 7 out of those 56 students and of those 7, they were not not able to claim any economically disadvantaged students to meet the standards (which were already pretty low, just needing 52%) on the Algebra II Regents.

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The Truth About YES Prep’s 100% College Acceptance Rate

YES Prep is a charter chain in Houston that was started by a TFA alum and is currently run by Jeremy Beard, the husband of TFA CEO Elisa Villanueva-Beard.  In the recent US News and World Report ratings YES prep had several high rated high schools.

Charter schools are supposed to be education innovators and YES prep is, as far as I can tell, the inventor of one of the biggest half-truths in recent education history — the 100% college acceptance rate, failing to mention, that this is really just 100% of the graduating seniors, which could be much less than the original cohort.  I first heard about this in 2010 when Oprah awarded them $1 million, in part, because of this amazing, beating-the-odds statistic.

Over the years, various reformers and charter schools have used the 100% college acceptance rate trick to their advantage.  Arne Duncan did it with Urban Prep Charter schools in 2011.  Michael Johnston continues to use it for the school he was principal of as he currently runs for Governor of Colorado.  Just the other day I saw something on Twitter about a Milwaukee charter school that claimed 100% college acceptance and it turned out that their senior class had 33 students vs. their freshman class of 140.

Considering that YES Prep is run by the husband of the CEO of TFA, I think they are definitely worthy of examination.  Over the years I’ve uncovered various scandals about them.  One is that 2 out of 12 of their middle schools are ‘F’ rated in Houston.  The biggest, though, is that while 14% of their middle school students are black, only 3.5% of their high school students are.  This is pretty strong evidence that YES prep has a discriminatory practice for their high school admissions.

Since TFA is one of the darlings of the ed reform movement (Arne Duncan spoke at a fund raiser in Chicago the other day) and since YES prep is the darling of TFA (now that KIPP has had a big scandal involving a TFA-alum founder and, allegedly, a student), and with the TFA CEO being married to the head of YES prep, all these shady dealing are very relevant and not very widely known.

I recently obtained a copy of YES Prep’s 83 page student guidebook.  In there, among other things, it is easily seen how they can maintain their 100% college acceptance rate for graduating seniors:  Getting into college is a graduation requirement.  Here is the section from page 13:

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 9.48.55 AM

Some other things I found interesting from their handbook:

Page 10:  In the parent section, this is a strange thing the parents have to sign on to.  There is a partnership with the parents, the students, and the school.  If the school is doing things that provoke the students into misbehaving, then the school should be a shared partner in this.Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 9.45.33 AM

Page 12:  State test scores are used as a factor in determining if a student is promoted to the next grade level.

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Page 13:  Students have to take an AP test.  This seems designed to get the school better ratings in US News, which uses that as a big factor.

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 9.48.38 AM

Page 16-17:  Their retention policy is very vague and gives them a lot of power to use this as a way to get students to transfer out.

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Page 17:  Students who have less than 90% attendance may not get promoted to middle school.  Also students who don’t do well on the state test.

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Page 17-18 to be promoted from 8th to 9th grade, need 90% attendance and passing the state tests.

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Page 20:  If they get into college, but then their college acceptance gets rescinded for any reason, they no longer are eligible to graduate.Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 9.52.51 AM

Page 34:  Being late 10% of the time and missing 1st period can cause you to lose credit for that class.Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 9.55.08 AM

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Queen Eva’s Gambit

In the New York Post today there was a headline that read “Charter school upsets juggernaut Stuyvesant HS on way to chess crown”

It began in dramatic fashion.

The US hockey team beating the mighty Soviets at the 1980 Olympics, Mike Tyson being knocked out by Buster Douglas 10 years later — and now this.

A Success Academy girls chess team upset perennial juggernaut Stuyvesant HS at a Chicago tournament over the weekend to claim its first national championship.

In winning the girls crown, the crew from the charter network’s Manhattan high school notched its first ever victory over what is roundly considered the city’s top academic institution.

As an avid chess player myself and also as a teacher at Stuyvesant High School and also knowing that one of our sophomore girls is the 38th highest rated female chess player in the country, I thought that this would be quite accomplishment if there wasn’t more to the story than the article suggests.

But as with everything about Success Academy, important details are always conveniently left out to support the mythology of Success Academy.

First, a little about chess ratings and tournaments since not everyone is familiar with this.  Chess players have ‘ratings’ anything from 0 to about 3000 which is how good you are based on who you’ve beaten and who has beaten you.  A beginner would have about a 500 rating.  An advanced beginner would be about a 1000.  An intermediate player would have somewhere between 1000 and 1200 while a more advanced intermediate player would be between about 1200 and 1400.  After that it gets pretty difficult to increase your rating but a 1600 player is very good and an 1800 is nearly an ‘expert.’  Officially 2000 is an expert and 2200 is a ‘master’ and you have to have about 2500 to be a grandmaster.

Stuyvesant High School sent two girls to the 18 and under division with ratings 1962 and 2146 (the 2146 player, again, is the 38th best female player of any age in the country).  Success Academy sent four girls to the 18 and under division with ratings of 1051, 1052, 1112, and 1168.  I’m not trying to put anyone down here, but it would be very incredible if a player who is between 1000 and 1200 ever beat a player who was between 1900 and 2200 in a tournament.  So hearing that the Success Academy team upset the Stuyvesant team was intriguing to me and knowing all I do about how Success Academy likes to take liberties with the truth, I thought I would do some fact-checking by visiting the official tournament website.

This tournament was not “the nationals” as is implied by The Post when they say “its first national championship.”  The K-12 high school nationals will happen April 27th to 29th in Columbus, Ohio.

The way a chess tournament works is that there are about 30 players and a computer pairs up people to play in the first round.  If you win the game you get a ‘point’ and if you draw you get a half of a point.  In the second round the computer pairs up, as best as it can, people who have the same number of points.  This continues for six rounds.

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There were only two times that a Success Academy player played against a Stuyvesant player and in both cases the Stuyvesant player won.

One Stuyvesant player had 4.5 points at the end and the other has 3 points.  For Success Academy, three players had 3 points and one had 2.5 points.  The highest rated player that any Success Academy player beat was rated 1222.  So how, then, did Success Academy win the team competition?  Simple.  Stuyvesant’s ‘team’ was just two players.  The way they calculate the team score is by adding up the points of the top three players on that team.  So Stuyvesant, with just two players, got a team score of 7.5 while Success Academy with three of their top four players, got a team score of 9.  Basically, if you don’t field a full three person team, the players are really just there for the individual parts and not for the team competition.  With two players, you can’t really win the team part by the way it is scored.  Looking at the roster it seems that Success Academy is the only school that had at least three players to contribute to the team score.  They won because they were the only school in the competition with a full team.  This, not surprisingly, isn’t mentioned in the article.

Though I know some people will accuse me of being negative, I do want it to be known that I have nothing against the girls who participated in the Success Academy team.  I think it is great that Success Academy has an active chess program.  It’s a great game and great for the mind and for concentration and it is fun to go to tournaments and to bring home trophies.  And being rated around 1100 is a very good start for a teenager so I’m not trying to demean these girl’s skill levels.

But when the Success Academy PR team thinks it is necessary to call The New York Post and to give an incomplete account of how they took down the two member ‘juggernaut’ Stuyvesant squad, something they will surely use in their fund raising campaigns in the future, I do think it is worthwhile to give a more complete account.

The Success Academy girls were playing for enjoyment and for the fun and challenge of competition — not to be pawns in Eva’s game of public relations.




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