How To Define ‘Success’?

The new and improved New York State tests have arrived and the higher standards have taken much of the air out of many charter chain’s balloons.  Schools, in particular, from KIPP and Democracy Prep have seen their status change from ‘above average’ to ‘below average’ overnight, at least based on the ‘reform’ definition of quality.

But there is still one charter chain, standing tall, and that is the Success Academy network.  ‘Reformers’ must be conflicted.  On the one hand they have a charter network that is doing well.  On the other, many of the sacred cows of reform, including KIPP, are not looking so good.  If Success really has demonstrated that it has the recipe that the other chains do not have, then in the name of ‘accountability,’ wouldn’t it be best to stop investing in these other charter networks and focus solely on the one that seems to be working?

Still, I’d say that this is a ‘victory’ for the reform crowd right now since the Success schools seem to finally prove that ‘Poverty is not destiny’ — as long as you define destiny as below average scores on a multiple choice math and reading test.

I’ve examined the various statistics about Success and will summarize and analyze them here with the hope of shedding light on what things this network might be doing that ‘works’ and also illuminating some of the problems with this network.

An example of the press gushing about this network, see this recent New York Post article.  Here is an excerpt:

Of the 1,500 kids in her Harlem and South Bronx schools who took the Common Core exams, 82 percent got a passing score in math, and 58 percent passed English.

Across the city, the pass rates were 26 percent in English and 30 percent in math. Many other charter schools also had dismal showings, and not all passing scores are equal. Moskowitz’s students scored a disproportionate number of 4’s, meaning the top range.

Her gloriously lopsided results — her network topped Scarsdale schools by 14 points in math! — would be suspicious, except they happen routinely. Year after year, even as the number of students in her Success Academies grows, she cracks the code on getting disadvantaged children to excel.

The numbers tell the tale. Success Academy Bronx 2 was the top-performing nonselective school in the city and ranked third out of more than 3,500 schools across the state. Some 97 percent of its students passed math and 77 percent passed English, despite a poverty rate of 85 percent. The school did not have a single white or Asian student on exam day.

The first thing I did was take a look at the Success Academy Bronx 2 school.  This is a K-3 school so the only students who took the state tests in the school were the 97 third graders.  And, yes, 97% of those passed.  Now since they have only one grade that was tested, it is also true that the pass rate for the entire school is 97%, but I think it is a bit misleading to leave out this detail while other schools are K-5 or K-8.  Still, 97% is a very impressive score.

As far as serving the ‘same kids,’ it is interesting to compare the demographics of a Success Academy that shares a building with a public school.  Harlem Success Academy 1 and P.S. 149 is a representative example.  In 2012 Harlem Success 1 had 14.2% students with disabilities, 5% of students with limited English proficiency, 65% free lunch, and 13% reduced price lunch while their public school roommate had 28.2% students with disabilities, 8% LEP, 74% free lunch, and 5% reduced price lunch.

The Success Academies Network has 14 schools, but most of those schools don’t yet have a third grade class.  One school is K-7, three are K-5, and three are K-3.  In looking at their results, I focused on their fourth grade results because there are four schools to analyze there, and for each school I can do a comparison of last year’s results to this year’s results.

On average, they scored 54% on reading compared to 27% across the city and 80% on math compared to 35% across the city.  I made a scatter plot of all the 4th grade schools comparing their 2012 scores to their 2013 scores, seeing if there were any ‘outliers’ who were outperforming schools that had comparable 2012 scores.  I made the public schools blue, the charters red, and the Success charters yellow.

For ELA, Success as well as other charters, had much bigger drops than other schools that had the same 2012 scores.  Success schools dropped by about 40 points while other schools that had such high 2012 scores dropped by about 20 points.  But in math, two of the four Success schools had a smaller drop than the other schools and the other two Success schools had about the same drop.  All in all, the fourth grade test scores did remain good.

So the next thing I looked at was their student attrition.  If they ‘lost’ many students, these scores are tainted.  Now there is only one Success school that has been around since 2007.  That school started with 83 kindergarteners and 73 first graders.  Those cohorts just tested in 6th and 7th grade, respectively.  The school has ‘lost’ a big chunk of those original 156 kids.  Of those 73 first graders in 2007, only 35 took the seventh grade test.  Of the 83 kindergarteners, only 47 took the sixth grade test last spring.  Overall, they have ‘lost’ 47% of the original two cohorts.  If this is one of the costs of having such high test scores, I’m not sure if it is worth it.

For the four cohorts that just took the fourth grade tests, those 316 students were, back in 2009, 443 kindergarteners, so they have ‘lost’ 29% of those cohorts.  Now their high test scores aren’t completely explained by this nearly 30% attrition rate, but it is still something worth noting as we consider if this program is ‘scalable’ or not.

When a school is ‘healthy,’ teacher are happy there and want to stay there.  The Success schools are known to have huge attrition of teachers, in the neighborhood of 50% per year.  I received this comment recently from a teacher who taught at one, which indicates that there are some good things about the school, but that there is a lot of test prep as well:

I worked at Success Academy for two years. I hated it and I was miserable, as were most of my co-teachers, but the reason Success continues and will continue to do well on tests is that they have a progressive, research based curriculum in K-2. It’s not that the teaching is awe inspiring, it’s just that it’s consistently good. Though the staff skewed young, some of the teachers even had their own kids at the school. The school is heavy TFA — but the corps members have to work only as assistants their first year. The curriculum is semi-scripted. For example, they give us the basic teaching points for each unit, but it’s up to the teacher to decide how they want to deliver the lessons, and if their students need more of this or less of that. Success is also really on top of their RTI so its a bit harder for kids who get behind in pre-testing grades to go unnoticed. Also, they’ve been using common core for way longer than it was required.

Combine that with hardcore test prep and you get good results. My co-workers and I hated working for Success, but everyone, including myself have taken much of what we learned at Success and taken it into our new settings. I did see a little bit of counseling out, but the creaming people talk about is way overblown.

My larger concern is how bogus these test are. In my opinion, Success Academies deliver a high quality and relatively well-rounded education for low-income minority children. My concern is that even with a good education, kids need a ridiculous amount of test prep to pass the test. The test prep at Success runs like a machine. The kids get small group instruction all day during test prep–even the principals often stop their administrative duties to teach small groups. They even pull lower grade teachers to teach groups of test preps while assistants lead their classes. I hated that place, but I can’t deny their curriculum is excellent and they know how to do test prep right.

 I guess the question is what, besides attrition and test prep, is helping this school get such good test scores, and are there any lessons that other schools can learn from them?  For one thing, I know that Success Academy schools generally have two teachers per class.  This is something that would be very costly to scale.  Also, though they do hire new TFA teachers, those teachers are never lead teachers, but function more as teaching assistants.  This, I think, is a pretty good use for TFAers and I’ve suggested before that all first year TFAers should serve this kind of role.  Also, at least according to the commenter who was not thrilled with her experience there, they do seem to have a good curriculum.  Another thing I should note is that I am less skeptical of a school where they start in kindergarten than I am with a KIPP middle school that starts with kids in 5th grade.  Early childhood education is something that I support, and the success of Success is an example of this helping.

Still, I’m not convinced that what they have gained in their high test scores outweighs what they have lost, particularly 50% of their original kids at the first school, and 30%, so far, of the kids who are now fourth graders.

In general, these good test scores, I think, should make the ‘reformers’ more nervous than elated.  From my perspective, I don’t think that the scores are devastating to my cause.  I don’t think they really prove that there are super teachers out there who can get the ‘same kids’ to excel, even if it is just on standardized tests, since I’m not convinced they are truly the ‘same kids.’  But the ‘reformers’ should be very careful about this.  They already had Success as a big success story, as well as a bunch of others like KIPP and Democracy Prep.  Now they still have Success, but they have lost some of their schools they used to take credit for.  I’m not sure how they can reconcile their idea that test scores are an accurate measure of school quality with the fact that many of the schools they have been touting have lost their luster by that measure.

And what ‘excuse’ is there for these other schools.  Surely behind closed doors they are accusing Success of some kind of manipulation, either by extensive test prep or by booting even more kids than they do.  I wonder if this could start some kind of charter civil war.

When I expose a charter school that has low test scores, remember that I’m not doing this because I think that the school is ‘bad’ because of those low scores.  For me, it is more of a “give them a taste of their own medicine.”  I don’t think a few days of testing in Math and reading can capture all that is learned in a school year.  The ‘reformers’ can keep pretending that they do and then one day there will be an expensive enough test that will be ‘test-prep proof’ and then suddenly they may find that they have no more schools to hold up as examples.

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35 Responses to How To Define ‘Success’?

  1. Steve M says:

    Kemi, the person whom you quote, needs to more thoroughly discuss why he/she left Success Academies. Why does Kemi state that he/she “hated” to work there.

    We’re talking about a level-headed person who does his/her job (I assume). If Success Academies cannot hold on to such personnel, then it is not sustainable…for that reason alone.

    Will people make a career out of a job that they hate?

  2. Karen says:

    Steve M: they don’t care if people make a career out of it. That’s the point. Cheap labor. Make whatever your doing systematic enough that the rotating cast of teachers doesn’t matter. Of course the ‘super’ teacher is a myth. Certainly it is at SA schools where most start with no experience, and then don’t stay past two years (once they begin to get experience).

    Gary: Thanks for this analysis and so many of your blog posts. One of my teaching colleagues at a Title 1 city public is an SA teaching alum and I I’ve asked her on more than one occasion to detail their methods, to compare, etc. With regard to SA success, I believe two teachers in a classroom, plus intensive RTI to every student who is reading below level by the start of grade 1, are key. This is just too expensive for my public – two teachers in every class, and daily pull out of every child for small group support who is below level? I know at my current school that, in addition to doubling the number of classroom teachers, it would mean hiring several reading support teachers for the more than 100 kids assessed as below proficient in grades K – 2. Again, this is where the Mayor, and others, support of the ‘cheap labor’ part comes in. (Of course, at my public we also have more ELLs and SN/LDs than SA, and can’t punish parents with Saturday school if they don’t do the homework, nor counsel out families that fail to show for meetings, let alone school!)

  3. nuff said says:

    It will be the Charters themselves that bring down their house of cards. No Charter will give Success a free ride on the numbers when they all know how manipulated they are. Percentage quotes are the key, whenever the sample is miniscule they quote percentages- 2 passed last year and 3 this year voila 50% improvement. By the way that’s how a poorly performing school can get an A rating and bonuses. It will be interesting to see how the Charters go after each other with turf battles trying to exploit/justify these test numbers-just sit back and watch.

  4. nuff said says:

    September should prove interesting will Administrations rebel finally realizing that the deck is stacked to fail the majority of students,teachers, and administrators simply by moving the bar on the bell curve retroactively?

  5. nuff said says:

    The other date to watch is when scores are actually released to parents. Right now they don’t believe it was their kid that failed-it’s impossible. Just wait til they get the scores showing their child that has been 4-4 is now rated 1-1 or 2-2 or??? This will not go down lightly.

  6. SM says:

    I agree with your general assessment. I work for a “high performing” charter school–we have top-in-the-state test scores and a strong college success rate despite being only a 5-8 school (this is bolstered by a stellar high school placement and graduate services program to get students in strong high schools and get them into college.

    I think we do a number of things well (but not that much better than average public schools). I think the big differences are:
    A longer school day. We have time for 7 52 minute periods: 2 math classes, reading, writing, history, science, and pe/theater/dance, plus lunch, study hall/tutoring block for low-skilled students, and DEAR (20 minutes)

    Data-driven instruction to nail the test. Interim assessments with questions modeled after the state tests, daily exit slips, weekly quizzes, and more modeled after the interim assessments, and tutoring and reteach days in response to the standards that students don’t master.

    High-quality special education services with push-in, pull-out and more for students who need it.

    Our staff is young, but there is only one teacher in their first year, and the median age is probably 26 or 27. We work hard, but we don’t hate our jobs.

    We are a new environment, families chose our school, and we are strict. I think kids respond to our high expectations for behavior because it is a new school with new students, and the fact that their families chose us means that they are invested in a way it is hard to invest kids in the local public school.

    Teacher turnover averages about 20%–very high, but much lower than other charter chains.

    Student attrition is about 20% over 4 years-significant in terms of test scores, but again not astronomical.

    We serve close to 80% families that qualify for free and reduced lunch, almost entirely black and latino.

    We are successful, but we are not replicable on a large scale in our current form. How can public schools take our lessons and improve with them? I am a teacher who knows he does good work for his kids–better work because I work in a school where my students have incredible support–but is scared to work in a school that doesn’t have the same culture and academic rigor my school does. What is the path forward for public education? Do our lessons go unlearned by public schools? Are they written off solely because we are a charter?

    • Steve M says:

      Exactly what lessons has your school learned?
      -Longer day…check.
      -Incessant test prep…check.
      -Young, unsustainable faculty…check.
      -Mechanism used for admissions…check.
      -Elitist placement into next program…check.

      I’m heartened that you have more instruction aimed at math and a focused SpecEd program. That certainly helps. But, good luck when your faculty members start having their own families.

  7. Tim says:

    What drives the extreme attrition at “mature” Success schools is the network’s policy of not backfilling empty seats after the end of second grade. This is in stark contrast to other NYC networks, most notably KIPP and Icahn, who work assiduously to fill every available seat.

    And there’s evidence the network stops backfilling even earlier than that. Take the high-flying 3rd graders at Bronx Success 2. When the cohort began school as first graders, there were 106 of them. If we are to believe all the breathless press releases about overwhelming demand for Success schools, why haven’t those 9 empty seats been filled with someone from the wait list?

    The network and its most vocal champions carefully avoid this issue, because it would undermine all of the PR about ‘great public schools’ (no other public school that I’m aware of — not magnets, not selective schools — is allowed to simply stop admitting kids at an arbitrary point well short of the terminal grade) and that they deserve unlimited space to fill the demand. It’s the worst kind of hypocrisy.

  8. Karen says:

    What good and important points Tim!

  9. norm scott says:

    We can certainly support the idea of 2 teachers in a room and that makes any comparison with public schools faulty. When you add the “disappeared” who most likely end up in public schools, the SA results don’t look so good given the different climate. So they have money to do this, often due to working young teachers to a bone and replacing them when worn out. Yes, cheap labor with 12 hour days and few career teachers. In no way scalable and over the long run as SA expands to 40 schools even sustainable. Watch the numbers as they get to higher grades. And the point that there is so much demand is bogus as we’ve been saying all along.

  10. Anni says:

    I think the attrition is a big deal, in part because of its relationship to your topic of test score percentages. In larger part, I think it is important because of the way Success continues to justify its ‘need’ for more and more space throughout the city, squeezing out neighborhood schools to hog up classrooms in order to seat a bunch of kids who, in just a few short years, get bumped back out into the regular public school system…but, wait, their PS seat may have been lost in the Success co-lo squeeze! Their whole parasitic existence is very harmful to schools, to the enrollment process and to the concept of public education itself.

  11. Demian says:

    It is nice to see TFAers brought in as TAs for their first year. I would love to see TFA adopt this more broadly. I do wonder how SA pays for this.

  12. KitchenSink says:

    As an independent charter person, I don’t see a civil war erupting over success’s test success. We know we are outnumbered by the status-quo people, we are a big tent, and we generally support each other.

    Mayor DiBlasio or Thompson would have us out on the street whether we are from a “good” network or a “bad” one, so we have learned from the UFT that solidarity counts for something. The other side of the coin is that (at least those of us who are ethically minded, which in my experience is the overwhelming majority) we know the “bad” performed will be thinned from the herd IF the charter authorization and renewal process works like it has supposed to. In some years it has, in others it hasn’t.

    • Alison says:

      How does the ‘big tent’ feel about state audits?

      Is everyone in agreement that NYS doesn’t have the legal right to audit charter schools as it would other governmental entities, or do charters want some guarantees on administrative costs/frequency/etc so it doesn’t eat up time, and are using the legal postures to negotiate? Or is it protecting the privacy of private donors that is at stake?

      Your comments on “thinn[ing] out” and existing regulation give me the impression you think market mechanisms and 5-year re-authorization cycle provide adequate safeguards for the public purse…

  13. KitchenSink says:

    By the way Gary (and other naysayers) do you have a better definition of success and “destiny” than test scores? I think we all know test scores are a proxy for something else–longitudinal outcomes on happiness, empowerment, security.

    But I have heard nothing — not one single thing — come out of the anti-deform camp that is even remotely discuss able a practical way to determine whether teaching and learning is effective in the long term. And I said practical – it has to be scalable, as you imply, and not just live in the domain of the ivory tower and the living room debates.

    There are real people in the prison pipeline and while you complain about the finer nuances of test prep, those who are in the still-failing district schools are condemned to hearing “you’re going nowhere.” Is that a better alternative?

    What’s your plan?

    • Meghank says:

      This very “reform” movement is making the prison pipeline worse, by making schools more focused on tests.

      Test prep makes schools less interesting to kids, it makes learning less fun for kids, and it literally makes schools more like prisons.

      So the first part of any successful plan would be to get rid of the test prep by getting rid of the tests.

    • Karen says:

      I work in a “failing” district school and we work very hard to create a positive, college-bound environment. I think we succeed in that. I fear that it is the message from the world outside/at large, and at home frankly, that tells kids “you’re going nowhere”. At my school I always feel that we are a most stable and a most caring influence in our children’s daily lives. This idea is what gets me up and to school/work early and happy nearly every day. Sometimes I wonder if people who talk about this stuff actually live it, because it sounds so different from the reality I know and see.
      I’m not posting to get in any debate with you about all the things you say in your post, however I just want to say (does it need saying?) that the point of Gary’s post isn’t to come up with an entire better system than what we have now but rather to point out some significant reasons why Success has the scores it does, and how those reasons may affect its “success” being duplicated elsewhere. I think it’s important to know why Success-its scores-might be so much better than another also excellent charter school (or public, for that matter). After all, as Gary writes, the whole point (I thought) of the charter movement was to come up with ways that we could be more successful with students, and to try and duplicate success. Can we afford two teachers in every classroom? Should we? Is the longer day, or curriculum used, an answer? Etc. A public school cannot leave its seats unfilled to bona fide applicants. Valid and important point.

      (Of course, in addition to duplicating success, to me there is also the important IF Success’ scores are being used as a bludgeon against the public schools it is trying to close and replace, it is entirely valid to look at the very real ways in which those scores are achieved. It is SA itself who touts its scores, selectively, against the public schools it has nestled in with, in its advertising which blankets community mailboxes, not to mention buses, etc. (What public school can respond in the community to such an advertising budget?)
      I’m glad charter schools have a ‘big tent’. Education should be a ‘big tent’. You should not have the political zero-sum game going on that we have now in the city with charter schools. This zero-sum situation was created by the Mayor – it was a policy choice. it’s a negative one.

    • Demian says:

      Really!? You’re saying we just have to maintain this intense focus on test scores because there’s just no other option? Have you heard of a country called Finland? They don’t have any standardized tests until the end of school. And they were influenced by many progressive educators in the US. Moreover, many of the elite private schools in the US (the ones that Bill Gates sends his kids to) have little emphasis on testing. Some public schools try to de-emphasize testing, though this is difficult in the current test-based accountability environment. In fact, there are books written on alternatives. Check out

  14. Mike G says:

    Disclosure – I’m a charter guy, have long read your stuff, starting with Reluctant Disciplinarian.

    I think your prediction about civil war represents a good question. I’d encourage you to put a date on your calendar for, say, 6 months from now, and return to the issue: what did happen?

    We probably agree there are 2 meta-narratives about the people who lead those handful of charters that have high growth scores on tests.

    1. “Our version” – Generally well-intentioned people, mostly wake up each morning genuinely trying to help kids, with a sprinkling of self-promoters. (Not unlike, in my opinion, teachers in traditional schools).

    2. “Bad version” – Generally self-promoting people, looking for popular acclaim, with a sprinkling of well-intentioned educators.

    If #2, we’d expect what you describe to happen. Rational self-interest of KIPP, in your description, would be to find ways to attack Success to justify themselves, without their fingerprints on it.

    If #1, we’d expect something different….KIPP would visit with Success, try to learn what they’re doing that seems to help, sort out (per your own teacher’s narrative above), what if anything they might bring back to KIPP.

    Let’s see. I’d lean towards #1, as that’s what I’ve seen to date in Boston with only a small amount of back-stabby behavior.

    P.S. Also, I share KitchenSink’s question in comments above. You’ve written so much, I assume you have covered this topic somewhere, so I would love a link to that “more affirmative” vision of how we move things forward…

    • Educator says:

      I’m hearing that in New Orleans it’s a bloodbath between the charters. Anyone know if this is true or not?

  15. Ray says:

    Gary, this is you at your best. I love your thoughtful and balanced approach. You are not out to bash Success schools. You acknowledge their achievement in math while putting this in context. Like you, I would love to hear more from the individual who posted the comments about working at a Success school

  16. Kemi says:

    For those who wanted more clarification one why so many teachers hated working at Success:

    Most no-excuses charter schools burn out their teachers with
    1 – High workload
    2 – Too many meetings during prep
    3 – constantly changing priorities
    4 – expectation of being near-perfect every day
    5 – long hours
    6 – little to no autonomy
    7 – hyper-obsession with data (as in not differentiating between meaningful and meaningless data, and wasting teacher time inputting and analyzing the meaningless data)

    However, most teachers at charter schools LIKE working at them, even if they know it is unsustainable in the long run. The difference at Success (I might tentatively add Democracy Prep and AF to the list) is the attitude towards teachers. A few of the principals do their best to treat their staff with respect, but the overall attitude is that the network couldn’t give a sh*t how the teachers feel or what they think. Unqualified people are promoted quickly when they prove they have no problem “coming down” on their subordinates. They play lip service to teacher satisfaction at times but in reality they are completely unconcerned. Open dissent is not tolerated. Eva dismisses any complaints as “whining,” and she is openly dismissive of any teacher complaints, and has mocked the “whiners.” The workload at Success is actually less than at many charters because their systems are more streamlined, they have more money, and the curriculum is semi-scripted. The reason the turnover is high is because teachers are treated with absolutely no respect. They actually came up with a new teacher career “pathway” where the best teachers could make six figures after 6 years. Everyone laughed after that meeting because no one makes it that long, and realistically the Network will never have to shell out the $$. When you begin working there you are generally blinded by all the resources and how much they talk about teacher “support.” Within a few months you start to see through the BS. It takes longer for some who drank a little extra cool-aid, but everyone gets there eventually…or decides that they will bide their time until they can get promoted into an administrative position. I can’t wait for the hiring freeze at the DOE to be completely lifted…schools like Success will be screwed and have to rely on out of state hires and newbies more than they do already.

    The only people I would recommend employment at Success to are brand-new teachers looking for associate teaching positions. You become a really good teacher very quickly. I found that I was a lot more skilled at teaching reading, writing and math than some of my public (and even private) school friends because of all the best-practices I was exposed to.

    • Steve M says:

      Kemi, thanks for the candid response.

      I’m afraid that you’re probably mistaken in your assessment: “…schools like Success will be screwed and have to rely on out of state hires and newbies more than they do already.”

      There are many, many teachers from other states who would willingly move to NY to get a job…and a (seemingly) inexhaustable supply of TFAers to step in. SA will probably just change its practice to having two brand-new TFAers in a class. Or (more likely) the NY DOE will establish a hiring policy that favors charters…as many other states have done.

    • Jacob H. says:

      I was in a meeting with Eva Moskowitz and a lot of MBA students once. She said some things about how we need fewer people with classroom backgrounds running schools, and more people with business backgrounds. And then she said that the reason teachers in urban schools don’t push the kids hard enough to succeed is because the teachers are racist.

      Sounded like a great school leader.

  17. Gary, thanks for going through the data for 4th grade, and ELA. I don’t know how you find the time for this. My former colleagues at TC who are paid to do this kind of critical analysis really should be doing this! Regardless, some issues with the analysis: 1) reporting attrition rates of the charters while not for a reasonable comparison group is unfair. There is a lot of movement and attrition in public schools in NYC. We need to know how much exactly if we are going to nail SA for its attrition rates. Ive seen data suggesting citywide rates of 30% and for high risk schools close to 50%. it should also be noted that small schools just starting out have just a handful of teachers so applying attrition rates to these microschools is statistically unfair. 2) Inserting the anecdotal comment by the SA teacher who hated it, confuses the key issues of the score change analysis and whether its significant or not. Its an unnecessary potshot – and it would be just as easy to find a positive comment from the koolaid gang! 3) Teacher attrition is an entirely separate issue which again distracts from the student scores data analysis you presented (which was great). The data on teacher attrition is certainly game but let’s see an equivalent analysis comparing charter schools vs equivalent public schools. Lets suppose for a moment it’s true that teacher turnover is higher than the doe average of equivalent demographic schools – that’s not a fair comparison since school newness is a compounding variable. I’d love to see teacher turnover rates for: new schools, with extended schedules, and similar student demographics. Once we’ve controlled for this we can more fairly critique the teacher instability issue of SA and other (apparently now pseudo highflying schools. Beyond this lets suppose markedly higher teacher turnover is a fact of charter schools. There are models in business, ngo and the military that suggest this might be a good thing for the institution and its primary mission (making money, “defending country”, inciting change in underdeveloped communities. Peace Corps is a 2 year built-in attrition model. This doesn’t mean that we can do away with career teachers – just that within a diverse school system some institutions might be able to run best with a high teacher turnover. And this isn’t just about saving $ on senior teachers. Many international schools operate with high turnover rates and 2 year contracts (with varying degrees of success).

    • Jonathan says:


      there is a difference between mobility rates (kids move from school to school. You lose 120, you gain 105….) and attrition rates (kids leave, or are helped to leave, they are not replaced).

      Some researchers or politicians might say that a school with a high mobility rate has COHORTS with high attrition rates… but that’s not the same thing.

      Teacher turnover rates depend on school culture, not on school demographics. Shitty principals generate high turnover rates, whether they are at a poor elementary school, or at the Bronx HS of Science.

    • Steve M says:

      you say: “This doesn’t mean that we can do away with career teachers – just that within a diverse school system some institutions might be able to run best with a high teacher turnover.”

      I can’t believe you said that. It’s mind boggling.

      Is the aim of your charter (whether you run one or are simply a proponent) to create “some institutions”, i.e a few special schools sprinkled throughout a large school district? Or, is it to develop a replicable model that can be implemented wholesale (and actually help fix our educational system)?

      If the former, then it needs to be pointed out that we already have successful “special” schools (magnets), that charters do engage in reprehensible forms of cherry picking, and that our most marginal students are generally being ignored by charters. Charters don’t service everyone.

      If the latter, then we’ve already established that they are not replicable…and your comments make that even more clear.

      We really have to question your motivations, Mr. Maldonado.

    • Educator says:

      I have heard this argument before – that maybe high turnover in charters in really low-income schools is a better approach to educating a certain type of kid. Bring in TFA types, work them like crazy for two years, then replace. I’m open to this, really, but my big hold up is — these charters, with their “no excuses” culture, creates a really hostile environment for both staff and students (proponents would argue this isn’t a hostile environment – it’s a high expectations environment of tough love).

      I’ve spoken to charter teachers who have shared their stories where these kids are treated like animals, forced to comply with every directive. The teachers are treated the same way. It’s a dictatorship, where in the classroom the teacher is master, and the student slave, while in the building, the charter leader is master and the teacher slave. If this brings higher test scores, I’m not sure if it’s worth it.

      These kids are….kids. There’s an incredibly high cost to kids who are “disappeared” from charters. I wonder how they feel when they win the lottery, their parent cries, they go to school and there’s posters of “Harvard” and Yale and Stanford. Then, over the course of their years in the school, they either drop out or are encouraged to leave. This causes damage.

      And all of this for…test scores?

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  20. matt says:

    How do we know the kids left the school due to the rigors of it or possible ‘counseling out’? HOw do those rates compare with other local schools? I don’t think it is fair to attribute SA with a high attrition rate without comparing it to other schools.

  21. matt says:

    Maybe they just moved upstate. We are talking about very low income areas where people generally will jump at an opportunity to leave if something better comes along. I find it hard to quantify these results without more data on the reason for leaving.

    As for the teachers, is there any data on how many apply for jobs at SA and are denied/accepted? If it is that bad I would guess they have a hard time finding teachers.

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