The Hidden Attrition Of Success Academy

Success Academy is the most famous and most controversial charter network in the country.  It is also the most mysterious.

They post excellent test scores on the state tests, we know that.  There are 40 schools serving about 10,000 students.  Though there is high teacher turnover, at a given time there are hundreds of Success Academy teachers.

But we hear so little first hand reports from the teachers, parents, or students at these schools.  I’ve seen horror stories in anonymous reviews on sites like this.  And I’ve spoken to parents of students who have transferred their children either voluntarily or involuntarily out of Success Academy schools.  The teachers at these schools keep a very low profile.  I suspect that they sign some kind of confidentiality agreement when they are hired.

Occasionally a negative story appears in the news about Success Academy.  Last year a student teacher took a video of a teacher ripping up a student’s math paper for giving an imperfect explanation of the math concept.  Then a story surfaced about how a principal had a got-to-go list of students he planned to force out.

Something that I think has not been reported widely enough is the attrition rate for Success Academy students.  Success Academy opened in 2006 with 83 Kindergarteners and 73 first graders.  Eleven years later there are now 17 twelfth graders set to be the first graduating class.  So we know for sure that at least 56 out of the initial 73 students, which is 77%, have left Success Academy before graduating.  But it is likely more than 77% attrition because Success Academy allows ‘backfilling’ in the early grades.  We don’t know how many of those 17 students currently in twelfth grade were among the 73 original first graders in 2006 and likely we will never know.  But even assuming that all 17 were among the original students, that is still 80% attrition.  Even over an 11 year period, that amounts to about 10% attrition per year for that cohort.

According to the Success Academy website, their annual attrition is just 10% which they say is better than the 13% attrition that is the city average.  The first thing that is misleading about these numbers is that since Success Academy does not ‘backfill’ beyond fourth grade which is a luxury that the public schools don’t have.  The other, more important, thing is that this 10% attrition number is not accurate.  Using the latest data from the New York City Department Of Education I have calculated the yearly attrition rate of the entire Success Academy network to be about 17%.

Here are the raw numbers:

The numbers in the first column, for example, mean that there were 1888 Kindergarteners in the network in 2015-2016 and 2006 First Graders in the network in 2016-2017 which meant that the cohort actually grew by 6%.

 Grade  2015-2016  2016-2017  % attrition
 K to 1  1888 2006  +6%
 1 to 2 2162 2125 -2%
 2 to 3  2138 2039 -5%
 3 to 4  1454 1311 -10%
 4 to 5  969 822 -15%
 5 to 6  688 545 -21%
 6 to 7  592 461 -22%
 7 to 8  337 334 -1%
 8 to 9  235 102 -18%
 9 to 10  45 37 -18%
 10 to 11  20 18 -10%
 Overall  10528 9890  -6%

When you look at the overall numbers which count for attrition and also for backfilling in the early grades, the school seems to lose just 6% of its total population.  But this number out of context would be misleading since we don’t have any way of knowing how many students left and how many entered in the early grades.  Also notice that since their attrition in the early grades is hidden by their backfilling in those years and since the younger cohorts are so much larger than the older cohorts, that number is skewed.

By looking at just the grades where they don’t backfill which begins between the 4th grade and 5th grade years, for just the grades from 4th to 10th graders becoming 5th to 11th graders, we see attrition numbers that sometimes get into the 20s.  In total there were 2886 students from 4th to 10th grade in 2015-2016 and only 2409 students from 5th to 11th grade in 2016-2017 which is an attrition rate of 16.5%.  I think this is the most accurate measure of their attrition and I find it pretty amazing that each year this school can shed 1/6 of their students each year and that this fact is not widely reported.

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26 Responses to The Hidden Attrition Of Success Academy

  1. Gary. -thanks for this. But this doesn’t count the kindergarten students at Success charters who are asked to leave in the first few weeks of school. According to reports, the school pushes out up to five or more students before they’re even counted in the official enrollment figures that generally use the Oct.31 audited figures.

    • LBarrasso says:

      You at 100% right about Kindergarten. My son is one of those “kindergarten drop outs” they did not account for. We very quickly realized what they were doing and pulled him. I for one am glad to give anyone that warning before they consider this “school.”

      • Michael Fiorillo says:

        You’d be doing a tremendous service to everyone, other families in particular, if you approached the media about it.

        As a parent, your voice would have more currency, since teachers are a “special interest,” and so can be ignored. Moskowitz is an extremely sinister force, and needs to be stopped.

  2. Stephen Ronan says:

    Gary, at first glance it is difficult to understand why you would toss out standard attrition data analysis and substitute this particular homebrew concoction.

    On the one hand you state “I have calculated the yearly attrition rate of the entire Success Academy network to be about 17%” and state that that encompasses “40 schools serving about 10,000 students”.

    And then you proceed to treat it as if it were a single school concluding: “I think this is the most accurate measure of their attrition and I find it pretty amazing that each year this school [sic] can shed 1/6 of their students each year and that this fact is not widely reported.”

    The map here shows about 25 of their schools, widely dispersed around the city, _only_ serve elementary school students: https://www.successacademies.org/schools/

    When a child successfully graduates from an S.A. elementary school and, for example, is not accepted to his or her first or second choice of Success Academy Middle School and decides to attend a different middle school, you’d count the child as having been attritted from a school? From which school? From the school from which he or she had already graduated or from some other S.A. school that he or she had never entered?

    And looking at that map, I only see S.A. operating a single high school.

    I’m sorry to say, Gary, this reminds me of when you raked Harlem Childrens Zone over the coals for supposedly ridding itself of an entire class that, in actuality, had never existed.

    • parent010203 says:

      “is not accepted to his or her first or second choice of Success Academy Middle School…”

      What are you TALKING about? Kids at Success Academy don’t get “accepted” to a choice of middle schools! The 4th grade class at a given school continues 5th grade at whatever school Eva decides to create for them. If it is an affluent group of students, she creates a middle school full of affluent kids for them. Even if it means sending therm out of their home district away from the poor Success Academy kids in the other elementary schools in their home district so their affluent parents know their kids won’t be treated like the unworthy poor kids who need that special discipline that their own privileged children should not be subject to.

      What are you talking about? You think Success Academy kids APPLY to Success Academy middle schools?

      • Stephen Ronan says:

        “You think Success Academy kids APPLY to Success Academy middle schools?”

        “All families who plan to attend middle school at Success Academy must rank their school choices in order of preference. Scholars will be matched to a middle school based on their choices and the number of seats available. […] We can’t guarantee that everyone will get their first choice school, but we are hopeful that most scholars will get their first or second choice.”
        https://www.successacademies.org/app/uploads/2015/12/MiddleSchoolChoiceFAQ.pdf

      • parent010203 says:

        Stephen Ronan,

        lol! Thanks for providing you are a Success Academy insider. This is a NEW policy so why would you blame the incredibly high attrition rate overall for years on some new policy that only affected one year of 4th graders?

        We have had this conversation before and you have always avoided addressing the obvious question. The very limited WNYC study PROVED that a SIGNIFICANTLY higher percentage of parents have pulled their kids from Success Academy schools — the best charter network in the city — than pull their kids from all the other far less desirable charter school networks except one. In a direct apples to apples comparison, Success Academy is the ONLY top performing charter network to lose such a high number of students. And it is the top performing by far and yet their attrition rate is extraordinarily high when only a racist would argue that the parents of non-white at-risk kids don’t like good schools because those non-white parents are “different” (i.e. prefer failing schools to top ones). And yet that is what you do when you claim that it is perfectly reasonable for the highest performing charter BY FAR to also have one of the highest attrition rates of any NYC charter network serving similar students.

        But I shouldn’t be surprised because you have also attacked me for questioning the racism of Eva Moskowitz’ insistence that as many of 20% of the 5 year olds in her schools with virtually no white students are so violent in their kindergarten class that suspensions must be given. Stephen Ronan knows it is true. Just like Stephen Ronan will insist forever that non-white parents prefer mediocre charter networks to the top performing networks AFTER their child experiences that high performing charter.

        Isn’t that how it works in Boston, too? The highest performing charter networks lose many more students than the mediocre ones? Has anyone in Boston researched why the mediocre charters are so much more popular with parents that they stay instead of leaving like they do at the very best charter network in all of Massachusetts?

        Is it true that In Boston, at-risk families pull their children far more frequently from the top performing charter networks but remain at mediocre charter networks because those at-risk families in Boston don’t like good charters and have violent kids anyway?

        Because that’s what you are claiming about NYC families. I know I shouldn’t be surprised given that you keep insisting Eva Moskowitz is ALWAYS right – whether it is her over the top praise and endorsement of Betsy DeVos or her explanation to rich white billionaires about how many violent non-white 5 year olds keep winning her charter lotteries.
        But those billionaires are so proud of Eva for recognizing the inherent violent tendencies of so many non-white 5 year olds and they happily give millions as long as she keeps suspending those violent non-white kids she keeps telling them win seats in her charters.

        Nasty, Stephen. Nasty.

      • Stephen Ronan says:

        parent010203: “We have had this conversation before ”

        Most recently in the comments here:
        https://themerrowreport.com/2017/12/20/moskowitz-and-mussolini/

        No sense reiterating all that.

        Kindly provide quotation(s) and link(s) to where you think the following is best illustrated in anything I have said or written:

        “But I shouldn’t be surprised because you have also attacked me for questioning the racism of Eva Moskowitz’ insistence that as many of 20% of the 5 year olds in her schools with virtually no white students are so violent in their kindergarten class that suspensions must be given. Stephen Ronan knows it is true. Just like Stephen Ronan will insist forever that non-white parents prefer mediocre charter networks to the top performing networks AFTER their child experiences that high performing charter.”

        And please keep in mind that a chronic inclination to make statements like that regarding a succession of people with whom you have disagreed, coupled with an incapacity to demonstrate their veracity, would weaken your credibility. Thanks.

      • parent010203 says:

        Stephen Ronan,

        Do you believe Eva Moskowitz is telling the truth when she says the high suspension rates in some of her charters which have virtually no white students and the oldest children were in 1st or 2nd grade is because every one of those many suspended non-white children acted out violently and her school and teachers are blameless for all that violence exhibited by so many of the non-white 5 year olds who keep winning the Success Academy lotteries?

        It’s a simple question. If you have to attack me for asking it, your answer is obvious. You don’t question when Moskowitz claims 18% or 20% or 24% of the non-white kindergarten and first graders act out violently in her charters. Given that those extraordinarily high suspension rates are ONLY in the Success Academy elementary schools that have virtually no white students and not in the growing number of her schools located in affluent neighborhoods that have a hugely disproportionate share of white and affluent students, either you are a racist or you have convinced yourself that your belief that non-white 5 year olds are far more violent than white 5 year olds (at least in Success Academy schools) is not racist. But it is.

        Feel free to correct me if I am wrong about your certainty that all those non-white kindergarten children Moskowitz suspends are as violent as she claims.

        But if you believe it and don’t want to admit your own racism, I will understand why you don’t reply. I wouldn’t either if I were as racist as you to believe Moskowitz when she claims she gets so many violent 5 year olds in some of her schools — and they are always the ones where virtually no white students attend.

        I don’t expect you to reply. Perhaps you are convinced that your certainty that Moskowitz is honest when she states lots and lots of violent non-white 5 year olds win her lottery is not racist. But it is.

        And trusting the word of the person who said Betsy DeVos is a terrific choice for Sec. of Education because she cares about kids when she tells you lots and lots of non-white 5 year olds are so violent in Success Academy schools they must be suspended tells me a lot about what you believe to be true.

  3. Norm Scott says:

    Gary — Great work on this. I also hear some stories of behind the scenes backfilling if the student has the “right stuff” — meaning a connected parent and a child who fits into the Success profile. Nothing substantial to prove that or when they cut this off.
    Another issue with Success is how they invade some schools where a potential of one of the current occupants will be closed — one of the closing schools in Rockaway with a great building also houses Success. Last year they closed PS 145X a year earlier and Success is in there expanding. That may be the de Blasio way of giving Success space without being held accountable. I wrote about this in my current column in The WAVE and on my blog. I think the real estate is a major issue in Success expansion which right now stands at 46 schools and a reported 15,000 students — though people in the co-located schools say that they are doing something with the numbers — that there are not as many students as they say though I don’t know how they can hide that.

    • parent010203 says:

      If you ever listen to the press conference that Moskowitz put together after her “model” teacher was caught on video demonstrating “model” techniques that SA teachers use but aren’t supposed to get caught using, you can hear a happy Success Academy dad explaining exactly how that works.

      This dad tells the story about how his own child had completed Kindergarten in another public school and her Kindergarten teacher had raved about her abilities.

      But then his child won a first grade spot at Success Academy. He was told in no uncertain terms that his child would NOT be allowed to enter first grade but due her lack of being a worthy first grader, they had a choice: repeat Kindergarten or she could not come. He decided to have her repeat Kindergarten and guess what? Turns out that she was so smart she not only went to first grade but then skipped ahead another year!

      I suspect that had this child been one of the many white kids from the neighborhood who SA was desperately hoping would fill attrition seats, this dad would not have been told his child wasn’t good enough for first grade.

      This dad was happy to believe the inexperienced SA administrators who told him how subpar his daughter was over her more experienced teacher in a public school who recognized that she was, in fact, advanced. I was embarrassed for him at the press conference because he didn’t even realize how revealing his story was about his own gullibility and the tactics used by Success. He believed his child advancing 2 grade levels so quickly in a few months was simply the great teaching at SA and not her own abilities which her public school teacher had recognized.

      A similar thing happened in Williamsburg. A few years back, NY 1 ran a news story about a family who had won a first grade spot at Success Academy and had left the public school where the child had attended Kindergarten. But the child was told she’d have to repeat Kindergarten and couldn’t take the first grade seat (I wonder which high performing kid got it?) The family didn’t want her to repeat Kindergarten and tried to re-enroll her at her previous school but since she was out of zone, the school didn’t want to take her back.
      Sadly, the reporter made it a story about the evils of the public school refusing to accept the charter school reject back and didn’t express one ounce of curiosity about why this charter network was telling parents who won first grade spots that their kid couldn’t attend their school unless they agreed to repeat Kindergarten. How many times does this happen and who are the obviously untrained “testers” who seem to mark non-white children to repeat a grade to discourage them from taking attrition spots?

      I think it would be very interesting to see how many of the 17 seniors graduating from SA this year were in the original cohort and how many were brought in later grades. I suspect the number who actually started with the network in 1st grade is shockingly low. The fact that those LONGITUDINAL attrition rates of entering cohorts are kept hidden should be a red flag.

      When colleges track graduation rates and attrition, they MUST include every student who enrolls as an incoming 1st year freshman and they can’t fudge their attrition rates by adding students later and saying “we graduated as many as started, so our attrition is zero”.

      Every legitimate researcher understands that you need that data to make any conclusions. Unfortunately, there are no legitimate researchers in education reform and almost no reporters smart enough to understand WHY colleges aren’t allowed to fudge attrition rates the way charter schools do and ask researchers paid by education reform billionaires why they are using some shoddy research practices?

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  5. Are charter schools protected by state law from having their retention rates, both student and teacher, protected? If they are public schools, as they claim, why aren’t they subject to the same transparency requirements as non charter schools? Why does it take sleuthing just to figure out basic information about these schools?

  6. dmaxmj says:

    And I have had a conversation with Karen Sprowal about the experience of her and her son Matthew (you might remember them from early in the S.A. legend). The way she described it: the early start to S.A.’s school year was spent on finding the “got to go” kids. Her son and a few others were almost immediately at a back table by themselves, being observed…The others just disappeared and then they were on to Matthew and trying to pressure Karen into just leaving. That “best fit” sympathetic goodbye method. My question: would it even tic that attrition data if they can get the kids out BEFORE the official school year began? Do other charters do this too and instead of describing it as their built-in child filter zone, brag up the extended year?

  7. dmaxmj says:

    oops…now I see leonie’s comment. We’re talking about the same thing, I think. I wonder if it’s common. I’d bet yes because then the charters can pretend to be public, and a “choice”, but rely on the safety net of the truly public system to cover for their lack of will.

  8. parent010203 says:

    Gary,

    There is some suggestion of the way that Success Academy gets rid of students in their own commissioned study that they seemed to have buried.

    https://www.mdrc.org/sites/default/files/2017_Success_Academy.pdf

    Page 8:
    “Of the lottery winners in the sample (both kindergarten and first-grade entrants), about 82 percent attended a welcome meeting. Approximately 61 percent of lottery winners attended student registration, 54 percent attended a uniform fitting, and 50 percent attended a dress rehearsal. With few exceptions, lottery winners who did not attend an activity did not attend subsequent activities. Ultimately, about 50 percent of lottery winners enrolled in Success Academy schools in the 2010-2011 school year.”

    Half the lottery winners never enroll, even though over 80% of their parents were interested enough to attend a meeting after their kid won a seat. In each successive meeting, more families seem to be discouraged from enrolling. Losing 50% of the lottery winners before the first day of school is shocking for a school as desirable and rich as Success Academy where supposedly parents are desperate for a spot. And if 61% of the lottery winners registered (which means their parents took the time to go there with all the paperwork) but only 50% enroll, that is an immediate 18% attrition rate between “registration” and “enrollment” and that is extraordinarily high for this supposedly coveted charter school network. And none of that 18% attrition would show up on the book. Not to mention the parents who won spots, came to the first welcome meeting and were dissuaded from even enrolling after that.

    Gary, you may be able to delve more deeply into what this MDRC study is trying NOT to say. There is a level of obtuseness in the tables that seems designed to mislead instead of illuminate. For example, on page 13 there is a table titled “The Effects of Enrolling in a Success Academy School on Kindergarten Entrants After Four Years”. In the “NOTES”, it says: This sample contains 400 lottery winners and 3,001 control group members”. If you aren’t reading carefully, you would assume that the 400 “lottery winners” are being compared to 3001 “control group members” but in fact, we already know that half those winners didn’t enroll. So how many Success Academy students’ scores ARE included in this chart? We don’t have a clue. Except that on page 14 the report ends with an easy to miss caveat: “…as previously discussed, the lottery sample available at the time of this analysis was relatively small, and had a low ratio of lottery “winners” to all applicants, which limits the sample’s statistical power…”

    Finally, on the first page of the MDRC report it says “Success Academy Charter Schools funded this work as part of its 2015 Investing in Innovation grant application. MDRC also used its own resources to finish the report.”

    Is that odd that an organization would commission a report but then the organization “used its own resources to finish”?? Why would they have to use their own resources to FINISH a study they were commissioned to complete?

  9. Stephen Ronan says:

    No need to publish this comment, Gary, but just to be sure you understand my allusion in my first comment… You had written re: HCZ

    “For the second scandal, notice that in the 2007-2008 school year there were 88 6th graders but in 2008-2009 there are no seventh graders. This is because they also rid themselves of an entire class of 6th graders that year. ”
    http://garyrubinstein.teachforus.org/2013/05/12/canadas-legend-ary-ted-talk-lie/

    Curious and checking into that, I learned that there in fact never had been any 2007-2008 6th grade class. The ’88’ was misplaced, apparently a clerical, typographical error at NYSED. If you were to scroll further down the page from where you saw the ’88’ on page 2 at https://data.nysed.gov/files/reportcards/archive/2007-08/AOR-2008-310500860864.pdf you’d see that no results can be found for that non-existent class on pp 12, 15 or 16). I was able to confirm that by sending an inquiry email to HCZ.

  10. Pingback: The Hidden Attrition Of Success Academy | Scholarly Reading and Writing in Education

  11. huh says:

    charters are sucking out the life of people in nyc and charters need to go….originally branded as experimental schools now they want our spac

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  13. Jack says:

    Now, BELOW is a video which Eva just posted on line.

    It’s inspiring, to be sure.

    An urban African-American boy, one member of the first Success Academy grade / class to reach the 12th Grade, opens an envelope to find that he got into Tulane University, and everyone around him goes crazy with joy.

    As a teacher in the inner city or urban environment myself, I’m equally happy for the kid, as would any reasonable person.

    However, this guy is part of what one may call “The Select 17” — one of the 20% who survived from Kinder all the way to 12 grade (current) — a measly 17 students left after starting with 83.

    Indeed, given that astronomical attrition, this kid damn well better have gotten in somewhere.

    Indeed, who’s to say that, had he attended public schools, that same student very wellmight not have had the same outcome — since Eva most likely kept the kids who were naturally brightest, came from supportive, stable home environments, and who were most dedicated in their studies — and pushed out or kicked out those who lacked those qualities?

    Whether he would have also done so after attending 12 years of NYC traditional public schools, is, of course, impossible to determine. (Though, with teachers as dedicated and talented as Gary, those odds increase considerably 😉 . )

    What we know for sure is that 80% of his Kindergarten classmates at Success Academy were dumped or driven out of the school, or for some reason left — during the time frame of Kindergarten—thru—12 Grade. (FROM your article above)

    Honestly, if you kick out or otherwise lose 80% of your students, is it really all that great an accomplishment if one or some or even all of them get accepted to college?

    I would freakin’ hope that most of them also got accepted. Otherwise, what the-hell is going on over there?

    On that same score, you could make 5,000 – 10,000 times the number of videos of NYC public school students opening up a college acceptance envelope / letter, and everyone around him then jumping for joy.

    Big-freakin’-deal!!! So friggin’ what???!!

    What someone needs to ask is:

    What the ding-dong happened to that 80% of kids — the kids not part of Eva’s “Select 17” — that were dumped, pushed out, or for WHATEVER reason, left Success Academy?

    Does Eva or anyone else at S.A. even give a sh– about them?

    Here’s excerpt from the above article where Gary makes the 80% attrition claim:

    https://garyrubinstein.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/the-hidden-attrition-of-success-academy/

    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
    GARY RUBENSTEIN:

    “Success Academy opened in 2006 with 83 Kindergarteners and 73 first graders. Eleven years later there are now 17 twelfth graders set to be the first graduating class.

    “So we know for sure that at least 56 out of the initial 73 students, which is 77%, have left Success Academy before graduating.

    “But it is likely more than 77% attrition because Success Academy allows ‘backfilling’ in the early grades. We don’t know how many of those 17 students currently in twelfth grade were among the 73 original first graders in 2006 and likely we will never know.

    “But even assuming that all 17 were among the original students, that is still 80% attrition. Even over an 11-year period, that amounts to about 10% attrition per year for that cohort.”

    • Jack says:

      Here’s a Success Academy promotional piece about “The Select 17” — whom Eva refers to as the “Founding Seniors”:

      https://www.successacademies.org/education-blog-post/success-academy-founding-seniors-we-are-so-proud/

      Don’t get me wrong. Their college admissions described in the piece are wonderful and worth of celebration, but the criticism contained in my post (JUST ABOVE) remain.

      I mean, think about it. There are approximately 1 million students in NYC’s traditional public schools. Imagine if the public schools could and did treat 80% of them as Success Academy treats their kids who are kicked out, get pushed out, or, for whatever, reason leave. Once gone, who cares? You’d have 800,000 kids adrift.

  14. anonomus says:

    I know I am just a child but success academy is exactly how it is described here if not it is even worse, very harsh

  15. anonomus says:

    They almost suspended me because is was texting in class, that is not dangerous behavior that can harm another child, in elementary school, we got deductions for not having our hands folded or our legs crossed. It is like a military here and i am glad to leave this school

  16. Pingback: Success Academies: “Reinventing High School” for the Few Who Remain. | deutsch29

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