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.

Screen Shot 2017-04-16 at 8.00.17 PM

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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17 Responses to College Or Die

  1. Stephen B Ronan says:

    You seem deeply wedded, Gary, to the view that you can decipher HS attrition rates from looking at enrollment among 9th graders and then 3 years later 12th graders in a school. May I suggest that you check out, for example, the technical appendix to “Locating the Dropout Crisis” by Balfanz and Legters of Johns Hopkins for clues as to why that is faulty methodology?

    Click to access ED484525.pdf

    • mjpledger says:

      I skim read it and very little of it applies to a charter school that ruthlessly controls it’s roll, that doesn’t take transfer students and isn’t affected by school district contract/expansion.

      Repeating maybe an issue but except for the year where there were 135 9th graders, it looks like the roll is pretty much in steady state, so repeaters come out in the wash i.e. the repeater not counted in the correct year but counted in a later year is matched by a repeater in the cohort below who also gets counted in a later year. Repeaters only matter to the graduation rate in the first few years or if the roll radically changes, Except for that one year, it doesn’t look like it matters – roughly 50% of the 9th graders are making it to 12th grade.

      I would love to see Gary’s data by gender because I would think it would show that the cohort gets more and more female. That being submissive is the main attribute for making it to graduation.

      • Stephen B Ronan says:

        “so repeaters come out in the wash”

        Not so.

        Consider, for example, a four year H.S. opening up with enrollment every year of 100 incoming freshmen, and with solely 10 freshmen retained each year. Zero dropouts/attrition/transfers.

        110 90
        110 100 90
        110 100 100 90
        110 100 100 100
        110 100 100 100

        That’s goes on and on from there: 110 freshmen, 100 seniors, zero dropout/attrition/transfers.

        On the other hand the 9th and 12th grade number Gary relies on could, in theory reflect a reality far worse than he imagines… A bunch of 12th grade repeaters, or everyone dropping out and being replaced with incoming transfers.

    • garyrubinstein says:

      I can see how this way of measuring attrition is not perfect, but I think for a school with the motto ‘College Or Die’ they should have a bigger graduating class.

  2. mjpledger says:

    OK, repeaters are a bigger problem than I thought. But if this is the problem then the school is pretty terrible to have such a high retention rate or they are purposely holding kids back to get the funding.

    It actually can’t reflect a reality far worse – there is no 12th grade bubble because there is “100% graduation rate” and it’s a charter school, there are no incoming transfers.

    • Stephen B Ronan says:

      A 100% graduation rate wouldn’t preclude a 12th grade bubble, would it? All 12 graders might graduate, but not necessarily all at the same time. You’re correct that charter high schools commonly avoid incoming transfers, but that’s not always the case.

      In respect to retention, that’s not necessarily a signal of fault on the High School’s part, particularly where such retention is front-loaded. If children arrive in 9th grade unable to read or write or do arithmetic as well as most 6th graders in their state, they may progress rapidly for two years in 9th grade in an excellent school that doesn’t practice social promotion.

      • mjpledger says:

        I thought a 12 grade bubble was 12 graders repeating like a 9th grade bubble is 9th graders repeating. That is how it is characterized in your reference (besides transfers into 12 grade which aren’t relevant here),

        But just looking at this data, this isn’t kids being held two years in 9th grade and them moving on. The 2012/13 cohort was losing 20% every year. The 2013-14 cohort lost 44% from grade 10 to 11, similarly, the 2014-15 cohort lost 26%. If this is retention then it’s pretty extreme.

        I don’t believe in universal social promotion but the evidence is that kids who are held back are less likely to graduate than kids of the same ability who aren’t.

      • Stephen B Ronan says:

        We share the same understanding of a 12th grade bubble. But retention in any grade doesn’t preclude eventual graduation.
        It is certainly possible that the attrition rate at the school Gary is referencing is higher than local district schools. My main point is that his method of determing an “attrition rate” is seriously defective. He has not by any means been alone in chronically relying on it. See, for example, my exchange with Jersey Jazzman referenced here:

        “I don’t believe in universal social promotion but the evidence is that kids who are held back are less likely to graduate than kids of the same ability who aren’t.”
        Agreed. As Balfanz and Legters wrote: “Absent a strong and sustained intervention, there is little evidence that students who failed to be promoted to the tenth grade will right themselves by simply being given a second try…” Then again, in many charter schools that retain 9th graders, there may well be such “a strong and sustained intervention”.

      • mjpledger says:

        And my point was that it’s not as defective as you think in this *particular* case.

        I’ll agree it’s a problem in a non-charter high school that takes transfers, expands and contracts with the health of the school district and does retention. But apart from possible retention, those other things aren’t a problem in a charter school that ruthlessly controls its rolls and doesn’t take transfers.
        The reason I even bothered having this big arguments was that you left a message saying, you’re wrong, read this to find out why without giving any indication that you had thought about this particular case. And this particular case is pretty bad – roughly half the 9th graders graduate four years later.

        And while retention may be used for good effect in this charter school, it’s not unknown in the charter industry for it to be used as a way to get rid of unwanted students.

      • Stephen B Ronan says:

        “And my point was that it’s not as defective as you think in this *particular* case.”

        You don’t find this to be shockingly defective achievement of supposed certainty?

        “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.”

      • Stephen B Ronan says:

        BTW, looking at an Indianapolis traditional district high school (John Marshall Community High School) I see:
        2013-14 155 9th graders
        2014-15 143 10th graders
        2015-16 97 11th graders
        2016-17 53 12th graders

        Should we guess that there’s a greater likelihood of incoming transfers there than at the Tindley and jump to various conclusions about relative attrition/dropout rates?

  3. Abigail Shure says:

    Plenty of people who never attended a day of college live fulfilling lives. Some college graduates end up in careers that do not require a college education.

  4. Pingback: Gary Rubinstein: “College or Die” | Diane Ravitch's blog

  5. Maybe the students that didn’t make it from 9th grade to 12th-grade graduation did die. Does this school have a large walk-in oven, a gas chamber big enough for several children and their parents to enter?

  6. Michael Fiorillo says:

    Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School to (academically or behaviorally) non-compliant students: “You’re dead to me!”

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