Arne Debunkin’

A little over three years ago, I first encountered Arne Duncan when he spoke at the TFA 20 year alumni summit and described the miracle school Urban Prep.  He implied that this school had a 100% graduation rate and a 100% college acceptance rate, which inspired me to investigate this clam leading to my very first school debunking.  My research became a part of the ‘game changing’ (as Duncan likes to say) NY Times Op-Ed by Diane Ravitch, Waiting for a School Miracle.

Since that Op-Ed, politicians, including Duncan, have been a bit more careful with their miracle school claims.  I suppose that Duncan felt it was safe to go back into the water when I saw him tweet, the other day:

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I followed the link to the ed week blog, which began with the paragraph:  “A high school graduation rate of 100 percent is quite a feat. At Stapleton High School in Denver, not only will all seniors earn a diploma this spring—each one has been admitted to a four-year college or university, according to a press release issued last week. And it’s not a fluke. This has been the case every year since 2008, for the school, where 40 percent of the racially and ethnically diverse student population comes from low-income families.”

So, let’s see, the opening sentence “A high school graduation rate of 100 percent is quite a feat.”  Actually it depends on what they mean by a 100 percent graduation rate.  If they mean a 100 percent ‘cohort’ rate, meaning that all the students who began as 9th graders three years earlier, eventually graduated, then yes, that would be something.  But if they just mean that all the seniors graduated, then that isn’t so much of a feat.  Also, notice that this school is far from qualifying as a 90-90-90 school since the school, according to the article Duncan cites, has just 40 percent of the school come from low-income families.

Colorado is one of the better states for having a lot of school data publicly available.  So I looked into the enrollments for the past four years at this school.  Within a few minutes I learned that this school there were 144 9th graders in 2011, 129 10th graders in 2012, 98 11th graders in 2013, and now 89 12th graders in 2014.  So their cohort graduation rate is more like 62%.

Doing these school debunkings is definitely an annoying task, but I’m glad that Duncan was able to come up with a miracle school this time that was so easy to do.

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5 Responses to Arne Debunkin’

  1. TeacherSam says:

    That’s not even the half of it. I live in Stapleton. I also used to teach at an elementary school that is a feeder school for another one of the schools in this “network” of charter schools (the Denver School of Science and Technology, or DSST). So I know from experience that:

    1. While they accept all applications and choose students through a random lottery, they also have a reputation that guarantees only certain kinds of students apply to their lotteries. They are a “no excuses” charter school, with very strict uniform and behavior rules, daily detention, and mandatory summer school for ALL incoming 6th graders. Many of my students who are unmotivated or lack support at home did not even apply because they knew they couldn’t or wouldn’t want to make it through that.

    2. They do not have special education programs for students who cannot be mainstreamed with pull-out or push-in support. Thus, they do not serve the neediest special education students. They have around 4% special education students, as compared to the district average of about 11%.

    3. The Stapleton location reserves 40% of enrollments for low-income students. I assume that is where the 40% figure is coming from. In reality, the middle school is 52% FRL and the high school is 48%. However, the other 50% of students comes mainly from the Stapleton, Lowry, and Montclair neighborhoods, arguably the three richest neighborhoods in Denver (and also some of the most highly educated).

    4. The attrition rate is part of DSST’s plan for keeping behavior and academic problems minimal and test scores high. Their website states:

    “DSST serves students in grades 6 through 12. We accept applications for grades 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. We do not accept students in the 11th or 12th grade. Our main entry point is 6th grade—that is the year that largest number of seats are available. However, a very limited number of spots will be available each year for grades 7 – 10 as well.”

    Of course, from what I’ve seen from the outside, DSST is a good school, with caring teachers, a clear vision, and supportive administration. And I’m sure they’re working small miracles every day. But this statistic that Duncan cites is meaningless, especially when you consider the special factors involved. And the fact that Duncan is celebrating the success of this school, when there are so many schools in Denver that are being punished for low test scores, despite doing so much good in very difficult situations, makes me very frustrated.

  2. Gary, another great debunking! Dunkin should know better than to crawl our from under his rock with you on his case.

    Were you able to get attrition data on Urban Prep in Chicago? I think the schools in the Noble charter network in Chicago need to be carefully examined, too, because they are known for their expulsions, as well as charging poor families for behavioral infractions, to the tune of $400K last year, but I couldn’t find that info. Those schools are also the favorite children of notable billionaires –and named after them– such as Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner. Can you tell us anything about their miracle scores? Their state school report cards are here and they look pretty good: http://iirc.niu.edu/

  3. Pingback: How “Reformers” Lie About Graduation Rates | Diane Ravitch's blog

  4. Pingback: Beware the Charter Attrition Game | Diane Ravitch's blog

  5. Pingback: Horace Meister: The “Mass Hysteria” at the U.S. Department of Education | Diane Ravitch's blog

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