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:
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.
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.
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.