Who Survives Success?

Success Academy opened in 2006 with 156 students — 83 kindergarteners and 73 first graders.  Now, eleven years later, they have their first graduating seniors, though just 17 of them.  In my last post I wondered what can be learned about the Success model by examining who exactly those 17 students are.

A big question, and one that might never be answered, is how many of those 17 students were actually among the original 73 first graders.  Since Success allows transfers up until 4th grade it is possible that some of those 17 students transferred in which would make their attrition rate even worse than the 77% that it is at a minimum.

New York State has a pretty good data site which I used to look at the most recent data from the 2016-2017 school year.  I then compared the data about the 10th and 11th grade from 2016-2017 to the data of their kindergarten and 1st grade from 2006-2007.

According to the state data (which can be found here), out of the 156 students (83 Kindergarten and 73 1st grade) in 2006-2007, 113 — which is 72% — of them qualified for either free or reduced lunch.  Though there was not data of the breakdown by gender, I think it is a fair assumption that the boys and girls were likely equally split, more or less.

Using the most recent data (which can be found here) we see that last year there were 36 10th graders and 20 11th graders.  So those 156 students have now become just 56 which is a 64% attrition, not even counting how many new students transferred in by 4th grade.  But even more than the attrition, I was able to use some of the data filters to get more information about who left the school.

For one thing, of the remaining 56 students from those first two cohorts, there are now 37 girls and 19 boys.  I know that I don’t have data to prove that they were half girls and half boys back in 2006-2007, but I believe it is very likely so the fact that those two classes are now two-thirds girls and one-third boys supports my belief that girls are more likely to make it all the way through Success Academy than boys.

But something that I do have data to compare is in the economic disadvantage category.  While they had 72% economically disadvantaged in 2006-2007, for those two cohorts in 2016-2017 there were on 27 out of 56 that were in that category which is just 48%.  So there is firm data that students who are economically disadvantaged.  So even without counting for transfers in, they only retained 24% of their economically disadvantaged students (27 out of 113) while retaining 67% of their students who were not economically disadvantaged (29 out of 43).

For the class of 2018, the 17 who are about to graduate and who have been celebrated in the media, what we can say from the data from last year was that they had 20 students of which 9 qualified as economically disadvantaged.  So there are at most 9 out 17 (53%) now or, depending on which three students left, as few as 6 out of 17 (35%).  This does not support the claim that the Success survivors have the same demographics as their neighboring schools.

If the net result of eleven years of Success Academy is to get 9 low-income students into college, that’s a lot of hype and a lot of money to be spent for that, not to mention all the loss of resources to the 1,099,991 other students in New York City schools who had to suffer a loss of resources as Success used their influence and marches and wealthy donors money to stage publicity stunts in Albany and to get the Governor to go to battle with the Mayor about having the city pay charter school rents.

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Wall Street Journal Fails To Answer Or Ask Many Questions About Success Academy

Success Academy is the highest profile charter network in New York.  The currently serve over 10,000 students in 40 schools.  They are known for their high test scores and their brazen founder, Eva Moskowitz.

Success Academy opened in 2006 with 83 Kindergarteners and 73 first graders.  Now, eleven years later, they are about to graduate their first cohort of students.  This has prompted a two part series in The Wall Street Journal.  The first part was called How Success Academy Got Its First Seniors Into College and the second part was called At Success Academy Charter School, Stretching Comes With Growing Pains.  These were articles that were yet another media missed opportunity.

The most notable fact in the article is that the graduating class that achieved a 100% college admissions rate had a total of 17 students.

From the first article:

Back when the Class of 2018 started, they were among 73 students in first grade. Those remaining express deep loyalty to their classmates and teachers. For years, they watched as friends left for schools that had less homework, fewer rules, shorter days, more sports and bigger pools of classmates for socializing, or the allure of selective district high schools. They take pride in their persistence.

Success Academy officials say their charters have low attrition rates compared with other schools serving their demographic.

This excerpt shows an unwillingness by The Wall Street Journal to probe into the facts about this school.  Success Academy officials may ‘say’ their charters have low attrition rates, but the numbers don’t lie.  17 out of 73 is just 23 percent of that initial cohort.

The gravity of this large attrition is definitely underplayed in this quote from the article:

Success Academy seniors joke about the intimate size of their class. The network has a sought-after lottery for enrollment in elementary grades, but doesn’t add new students after fourth grade or fill seats when children leave. Many educators argue that taxpayer-funded charters should offer vacant spots to applicants, as regular public schools do. Ms. Moskowitz says newcomers wouldn’t be prepared for the curriculum.

And that list of why students leave for the perks of other schools and for their own laziness is very unfair.  Nowhere is it mentioned that the school sometimes counsels out students with various tricks.  They even famously had something called a ‘got to go’ list of students they wanted to shed a few years back.

A few years ago one of these 17 seniors actually wrote a comment on my blog.  I commented back about the attrition rate and did she know where the rest of her cohort was.  She commented back:

The reason why many of the students left was because some of them moved out of New York City, some were expelled from Success Academy for not following our honor code and others, well I do not know about the others.

I’ve analyzed their attrition and found it to be about 17% per year for the older grades which is not low at all.

An example of a trick they use, and this is one that I know for a fact because it happened to someone I know, they will tell a parent at the end of the school year that their child is going to be left back.  But if they choose to transfer their child to another school, Success Academy will promote the student to the next grade.

The second article is about some of the problems Success Academy had had in their high schools.  According to the article, there was a student protest where 100 out of the 345 students participated.  Then later in the article it says about the principal:

Mr. Malone also has had to grapple with high staff turnover. He said almost one third of about 50 teachers last year left, in some cases due to the exhausting nature of the job.

So a school with 345 students had 50 teachers?  If these two numbers are accurate, that is quite the 7 to 1 student teacher ratio.

Part of their ‘success’ depends on their decision to not ‘backfill’ when students leave the school.  This is quite an advantage for a school seeking to keep its test scores up.  What would happen if all schools had this luxury?

Reformers are known for saying that every child should have the opportunity to a great education regardless of zip code.  By not backfilling beyond 3rd grade, Success Academy denies the right to transfer into this school for kids over 10 years old, which is definitely discriminatory.  Also this means that any child who moves to New York after 3rd grade and didn’t have the opportunity to ever apply for the Success Academy lottery will never attend a Success Academy.

The first article has testimonials from some of the seventeen seniors about how they would have never gotten into the colleges they did without Success Academy.  To me, this raises an important question.  While we will never know what would have become of these seventeen students had they not attended Success Academy, it would be very useful, I think, for education researchers on all sides of the national education debate to get more data about this very small set of kids.

Since Success Academy so often uses these kids in their own promotional materials and a small subset of even these seventeen always seem to turn up interviewed in articles like these, I’d be really interested to know more about these students to see if there is anything about them that would have made them more likely to succeed at this school than the 56 students who did not.

Like how many of the 17 were part of the original 73 students?  It is quite possible that some of those 17 were ones that ‘backfilled’ in in second or third grade.  If this is the case, then their attrition rate would be even more than the 77% it seems to be.

Did any of the 17 students take the gifted and talented test when they were in Pre-K and if so, what did they get?  Not that I think testing 4 year olds is the most accurate science, I still think it would be relevant.

How many of the 17 students have at least one parent who went to college and how does that compare to the average for the neighborhood around the school?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I think these are the sorts of relevant questions that reporters who get a chance to interview the officials at the school should be asking.

A strange thing I noticed in the second article was in the caption under a picture of one of the seniors.  The caption said:

The school requires a uniform, but this was one of the occasional days when students had a more relaxed dress code.

How odd is this to say in the caption?  And how revealing of  the sort of control that Success Academy over what sorts of things they allow to be revealed in public.  There is no way that a reporter would have thought that anyone would care or notice that a student wasn’t wearing a Success Academy uniform.

I only have two first-hand experiences with Success Academy.  I was once passing by the school yard in upper west side Success Academy on one of those days where the New York City schools were closed but Success Academy was open.  I saw a very miserable looking recess with kids in straight lines and several kids crying.  I was with my daughter at the time and we didn’t watch for more than a minute so maybe things got better after we left, but it didn’t look so fun to me.

Another first-hand experience was when, a few years ago, I stumbled upon a collection of about 500 videos they use for teacher training.  I was pretty horrified by what I saw and I wrote a few posts critiquing some of the videos.  One of them showed the most unpleasant story time for kindergarteners I had ever seen where the teacher was more concerned with the kids sitting ‘tall like a rock star’ than whether they were involved with the story.  Another had two English teachers working together on test prep with sixth graders.  After I wrote a few posts I found that Success Academy took down the entire video site, which was something that flattered me a little.

Though I haven’t talked to her in a while, I do have a former student who went on to become a teacher and then some kind of administrator at Success Academy.  She said she loved it there and that it was way better than the dysfunctional Harlem Children’s Zone Charter she had worked at previously.  I haven’t heard from her in a few years though.

I think that there are some kids who would be a good fit for Success Academy.  Like my own 10 year old daughter would probably do well there and she goes to summer camp with some friends who attend Success Academy.  My 6 year old son would likely be on the ‘got to go’ list, however.  I can’t say what percent of kids have what it takes to make it through 12 years of Success Academy, but that is yet another important question to raise.

Unfortunately this two-part series in The Wall Street Journal did not make much of an effort to unravel the mystery of the most controversial charter network in the state and their tiny group of seventeen survivors, the ‘product’ of the great experiment.

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The Current Wisdom Of TFA

I never thought I’d say this, but I kind of miss Michelle Rhee.

Back in the day I could always count on her or some other reform rockstar like Joel Klein, Arne Duncan, Cami Anderson, Kevin Huffman, or so many others to say something really bold yet completely ignorant about what’s wrong with schools in the country and how to improve them.  It was so easy and also so satisfying and rewarding.

But more recently I’ve noticed that the outspoken education reformer has become somewhat of an endangered species.  And with the exception of Eva Moskowitz, there have not been any charismatic reformers to take the place of those who have gone into seclusion.

And I think this was, whether or not this was intentional, a good decision by reformers.  Now that the reform movement has been mostly revealed to be a fraud, the only way that they can continue what they are trying to do is to do it behind the scenes without making controversial statements that can so easily be challenged.  So instead you have these milder nondescript reform leaders like Derrell Bradford Vice President of 50CAN, Carolyn Belcher, president of TNTP and Elisa Villanueva-Beard, CEO of TFA.

When Wendy Kopp created TFA twenty-eight years ago, a long term plan was that eventually the organization would become experts in the issues of education in this country and would be able to mobilize an army of informed alumni to help improve education based on their combined wisdom.  So here we are twenty-eight years later and although there have been some TFA alumni who have amassed some wisdom about education, I find that TFA ‘the organization’ continues to have a view of education that is extremely naive.  This simplistic view on the complexity of education was on display in a speech and question and answer session by Villanueva-Beard at The City Club of Cleveland last summer.

And though Villanueva-Beard is not necessarily the definitive voice for what TFA ‘thinks,’ I found this speech to be an interesting case study of how the wrong organizations and the wrong people have been giving way too much power and influence in the education debate in this country.

At around the five minute mark of her remarks, Elisa Villanueva-Beard says something that she has been saying in nearly all of her speeches and written published pieces.

Once kids are in schools they face even more barriers because the truth is that our system does not expect kids in low income communities, children of color to perform at the absolute level of their more affluent peers.

We find that in low income communities we have low expectations of children.

President Bush called it the bigotry of low expectations.

Channeling the wisdom of George W. Bush on education is never a good sign.

She then supports her argument by saying that she struggled her first semester in college due to the low expectations her teachers had for her (but surely her success after she adjusted to college had nothing to do with what she learned from her teachers before college, presumably).

Who is it that has these low expectations?  Well, she doesn’t ever say that it is the teachers of the students just that it is ‘a system’ that has the low expectations.  But that really doesn’t make much sense.  If ‘low expectations’ is indeed the problem then it must the the teachers who are negligent in setting these.  I don’t think there is any teacher out there saying “I would like to have higher expectations, but ‘the system’ just isn’t letting me.”  No, the level of expectations is set by the teacher so though she never says it explicitly, it is at least implied that teachers are the culprits.  As a teacher, myself, I know that I use my professional judgment to decide what my expectations are.  I don’t think it would be good to have expectations that were too low — my students would get bored and restless.  I also don’t think it would be good to have expectations that were too high — my students would be confused and restless.  Teachers generally set expectations at the appropriate level to best serve their students.

Besides being a teacher for nearly 25 years, I have also been a parent for the past 10 years.  And I know that I would not want my own children’s teachers to set expectations that were too high.  I remember when my daughter was doing chess club once a week after school when she was in kindergarten and first grade.  She was learning the rules pretty well and liking it at first.  But then when the instructor began with the ‘theory’ part where there were supposed to learn how to perform different checkmates with different pieces, she stopped liking chess and eventually gave up on it.  It was an example of the expectations being too high for her when she wasn’t ready yet for that level of ‘rigor.’

During the Q and A session after the speech, there were two very revealing things Villanueva-Beard said.

The first was in response to a question about TFA corps member effectiveness in district vs. charter schools.  She stared with:

Nationally what we have found where we’ve been placing about a third of our corps members across the country teach in public charter schools and then the rest are in traditional public schools

We actually find in terms of data and performance, you know in the charter schools you usually have just a certain culture that expects a certain rigor and you know, level of teaching that is you know necessary for us to ensure that we’re doing what we need to for kids and so you do see that  teachers are held to just a very high bar and have to deliver on results and if they don’t then, you know, they’re in trouble.

What is especially ironic about this is that her husband Jeremy Beard is the school leader for YES Prep Charter Schools in Houston.  Though they are often cited as some kind of gold standard of charter schools, once receiving $1,000,000 from Oprah, I’ve found that two out of the twelve middle schools her husband is in charge were ‘F’ rated by Texas.

https://garyrubinstein.wordpress.com/2017/12/10/is-yes-prep-failing-its-black-students/

So if charter schools, she thinks, are generally higher performing because of their high expectations, how does she come to terms with the fact that one out of six of her husband’s own middle schools are ‘failing’ by the Texas state definition?

She goes on to say that the corps members in traditional public schools are also doing incredible work things because “at every school there’s always people working to be their best and do their best.”  Then she says that on average they don’t see huge differences between charter school corps members and traditional school corps members.  Finally she says that the difference is really that the teachers at the charter schools feel a lot more pressure from their administrators while the teachers at traditional schools have to put the pressure on themselves.

Another question she answered was about TFA’s relationship with teachers’ unions:

In terms of the relationships with the teacher unions there are national unions and there are local unions and so they vary across the board.  I would say that on average you know as I said earlier we believe that we need diverse coalitions and people that are working together to find the common ground to you know make the progress necessary um there are sometimes there is dissonance in the relationship on certain aspects but we work really hard to make sure that we are focused on the positive and the things that make sense to do work together and so nationally I would say we have a strong relationship with one union and another union I would say it is not as healthy but we continue to work to figure out how to find the common ground because at the end of the day we are all in this together and trying to just make sure we are providing the education that our children deserve.

She could have answered this question by pointing out that throughout the country there are many TFA members who are not just union members, but who are very active members.  One of the most high profile union leaders in the country, the leader of the Los Angeles Teachers’ Union, Alex Caputo-Pearl, is a TFA alum, for example.  And also in Los Angeles, Steve Zimmer is also a TFA alum, who recently lost his board member seat to a reform backed TFA alum.  She could have mentioned them and others and it would have supported the idea that TFA has a diversity of opinions among their alumni.  Instead she promotes the idea that TFA alumni have diversity of thought about some things, but on other things, like opposition to teachers’ unions, we are all unified.

In December, Villanueva-Beard was interviewed on two podcasts, one with RiShawn Biddle at Dropout Nation http://dropoutnation.net/2017/12/04/the-conversation-teach-for-americas-elisa-villanueva-beard/ and another with Michael Petrilli at the Fordham Institute  https://edexcellence.net/commentary/podcasts/the-politics-of-teach-for-america

On both of these she was challenged by the hosts about whether or not TFA, by taking sides on political issues like DACA and Black Lives Matter, is abandoning its mission to focus exclusively on student achievement.  Her response is that TFA alumni have a wide diversity of views on these issues.

But like in The Blues Brothers where the waitress at the counter says they have “both kinds of music, Country and Western.”  Villanueva-Beard would have us believe that TFA has two kinds of alumni, pro-charter school anti-union reformers who think issues like DACA and Black Lives Matter are part of our mission, and pro-charter school anti-union reformers who think that issues like DACA and Black Lives Matter are not part of our mission.

So while she is right that TFA alumni have a diverse set of views on different issues, she works to conceal that this diversity of opinions is a lot more than TFA would like it to be.

Though it was more exciting to do takedowns of the higher profile ed reform rock stars a few years ago, I do think it is good for the cause of public education that those people are no longer in the spotlight.  Though I do think that some of those people are still working in the shadows — it was just over a year ago that Michelle Rhee was interviewed by Trump and, from what I understand, offered the job of education secretary — I do think they they will have less impact in those shadows.  Who could still think that Michelle Rhee is embodying the premise of StudentsFirst?  What about her life and actions that the public can see, at least, demonstrates that she is so passionate about helping students in this country that she puts the needs of the students above all else?

The disappearance of the reform rock stars and replacement by this new breed of bland understudies was a first step in the collapse of the reform movement.  Trump and DeVos surely have not helped Democrats continue to embrace ‘school choice’ as a viable solution.  Then, you knew it had to happen eventually, Bill Gates recently came out and admitted that teacher evaluation reform didn’t work as well as he had predicted so he is going to instead work on curriculum development.  Whether or not the reform movement is merely ‘playing possum’ right now and playing dead while really planning their next wave of attack (some are giddy about the upcoming Janus Supreme Court case), I suppose we will find out in the years to come.

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Tennessee ‘Cusp List’ 2017: 5 of 6 Of Original ASD Schools Still In Bottom 5%

Six years ago, fueled by Tennessee’s Race To The Top money, the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD) was launched.  Its original mission was:

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 6.37.06 PM

They promised to accomplish this feat in five years time.  That was six years ago.

The ASD chooses schools from the bottom 5%, known as ‘The Priority List’ and either take them over themselves or, generally, hand them over to charter operators.  The first five schools opened in 2011:  Cornerstone Prep – Lester Campus, Brick Church College Prep, Humes Preparatory Academy, Corning Achievement Elementary School, Frayser Achievement Elementary School, and Westside Achievement Middle School.

In the summer of 2014, two years into the experiment, then superintendent Chris Barbic claimed in an interview on Nashville Public Radio that three of the six original schools were on track to make it to the top 25% on schedule with one of them, Brick Church, a year ahead of schedule.

Because of a testing snafu in the spring of 2016, there was not enough data to determine after five years how many of the ASD schools ‘catapulted’ straight to the top 25%.  But based on other data that was released, things were not looking good.  I made the best estimates I could with the data I had, but it was not looking good.

Barbic resigned four years into the experiment as did his replacement Malika Anderson a year later and they were both inducted into the reformer hall of fame known as Jeb Bush’s ‘Chiefs For Change’.

Though my own calculations made it clear that the six original ASD schools had not made it out of the bottom 5% after six years, it doesn’t become ‘official’ until Tennessee releases its next ‘Priority List’ which it does every three years.  But a few days ago, they released something just as good, the so-called ‘Cusp List’ showing all the schools in the bottom 10% which includes what percentile each school is at.

Here are the results:

School Percentile
Cornerstone 8.2%
Brick Church 4.3%
Humes (closed down and became Frayser Achievement Elementary School 1.3%
Corning 2.2%
Frayser 1.3%
Westside 2.2%

So four out of six are now in the bottom 3%, one is in the bottom 5% and one has catapulted into the bottom 9%.

If you go to the ASD home page, you no longer find that their mission is to catapult the bottom 5% schools into the top 25% in 5 years.  According to the internet archive ‘Way Back’ machine, they changed the mission sometime between December 2016 and February 2017.

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Reformers claim that with increased autonomy people get increased accountability.  Since Barbic and Anderson have already resigned, they can’t get fired.  I think a fitting accountability for them would be, at least, to be shunned by their reformer friends, but that doesn’t seem likely to happen.  I don’t know what Anderson is up to, but Barbic landed a job with the John Arnold Foundation.  I recently saw Anderson’s name on a list made by reformers of who they think should take over New York City Schools.

The ASD model is still being replicated around the country, actually.  In a way, it was written into the new Every Student Succeeds Act where states have to make an intervention plan for ‘the bottom 5%’ an idea that seems to have originated with this failed ASD experiment.

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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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Is YES Prep Failing Its Black Students?

YES Prep is a charter school network in Houston with very close ties to Teach For America.  It was founded in 1995 by Chris Barbic, a 1992 TFA corps member.  Many of the teachers at the YES campuses are from TFA as is the current head of schools, Jeremy Beard.  Jeremy Beard is also the husband of Elisa Villanueva-Beard who is the CEO of TFA.

In 2010, YES was awarded a million dollars by Oprah Winfrey, in part because of their incredible record of getting 100% of their 12th graders to be accepted into college.  This was before people knew to ask, “But what percent of your 9th graders remained in the school to become 12th graders?”

Regardless, YES continued to grow into what is now 12 middle schools and 5 high schools.  The success of YES helped its founder, Chris Barbic, to get a job as the superintendent of the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD) which takes over low performing schools and turns them over to charter networks.  Though The ASD was a flop and he resigned four years into the experiment, Barbic did land a good job with the John Arnold Foundation.

In Texas there are about 1200 schools of which about 200 of them received an ‘F’ for the 2016-2017 school year.  Ironically, though, out of the 12 YES Prep middle schools I found that two of them received ‘F’s, exactly the same percent of schools as Texas as a whole.

School Grade
YES Prep – West A
YES Prep – 5th Ward B-
YES Prep – North Central A
YES Prep – Southeast A-
YES Prep – Southwest A
YES Prep – Northside C
YES Prep – Southside F
YES Prep – White Oak C
YES Prep – Gulfton C-
YES Prep – North Forest F
YES Prep – East End B
YES Prep – Brays Oaks D+

Considering that this is one of the ‘gold standard’ charter networks, these grades don’t support the reformer argument that a network like YES has figured out how to do it and now just needs to scale up.

YES Prep also has five high schools and I noticed that none of those schools were F rated.  Those schools have four As and one B.  All five also got a Gold Ranking in the 2017 U.S. News And World Report ranking system.  So it seems, at least on a superficial glance, that YES Prep has some inconsistency in their middle schools but gets everything worked out nicely for high school and can continue their high percent of 12th graders getting into college.

But I examined the data from here (and I invite anyone who is interested to independently analyze what I did) and found something that I think is interesting.

But first I want to get back to Chris Barbic and The ASD.  One of the charter networks that was scheduled to take over a middle school was YES Prep.  But then, abruptly in March of 2015, YES announced that it was abandoning their plan to take over that school.  This was very strange considering that Barbic founded YES and he was acting very hurt by all this.  Just one month later, Barbic was interviewed by Chalkbeat, TN, and he gave this revealing answer to the question “What are some lessons learned?”

I think a second lesson is around the depth of the poverty in Memphis and the obstacle that creates in educating our students. Obviously, when we looked at the info on our kids before bringing a school into the ASD, we knew most of the kids we serve are living in poverty and that poverty plays a factor at school. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and every single school I’ve worked with has been in a community dealing with poverty. But the poverty in Houston, where I worked before coming to Tennessee, compared to the poverty in Memphis, is different. In Houston, it was more of an immigrant poverty. In Memphis, it’s more generational poverty. I think that the depth of the generational poverty and what our kids bring into school every day makes it even harder than we initially expected. We underestimated that.

It seems like Barbic is admitting that it was easier to get good test scores from the mainly Hispanic students from ‘immigrant poverty’ at YES Prep in Houston than to get them from the mainly Black students from ‘generational poverty’ in the ASD in Memphis.  He is not making a general statement here about the relative intelligence of Hispanic and Black students.  He could just as easily say that in two cities where the Black students have the ‘immigrant poverty’ and the Hispanic students have the ‘generational poverty’ that in those cities the Black students would be an easier population to work with than the Hispanic students.  A few months later, Barbic abruptly resigned , citing his health — he suffered a heart attack — as one of his reasons.

In Houston Independent School District (HISD), the demographic breakdown is 62% Hispanic, 24% Black, 4% Asian, and 9% White.  When it comes to the 12 YES Prep middle schools, they are about 85% Hispanic and 14% Black.  But this varies by school.

School Grade % Hispanic % Black
YES Prep – West A 73 14
YES Prep – 5th Ward B- 93 6
YES Prep – North Central A 96 2
YES Prep – Southeast A- 95 2
YES Prep – Southwest A 90 10
YES Prep – Northside C 94 5
YES Prep – Southside F 34 62
YES Prep – White Oak C 78 19
YES Prep – Gulfton C- 90 4
YES Prep – North Forest F 73 25
YES Prep – East End B 98 0
YES Prep – Brays Oaks D+ 72 23

So any reformer who claims to be ‘data driven’ and who cares a lot about A-F school ratings would notice that by this metric, YES Prep is failing when it comes to teaching Black students.  What should we make of this?  Are we to believe that YES Prep has special teaching techniques that work wonders for Hispanic children but don’t work as well for Black children?  Of course not.  It is just that the students at the F rated schools, whatever their race, are coming into that school farther behind so it is going to be more difficult to get their test scores up.  This also means that the students at the A rated schools, whatever their race, are coming into that school further ahead.  A charter network that has schools with more of those students who begin further ahead is going to have more A rated schools than one that doesn’t.

Mostly this is happening because of geography and which neighborhoods the different schools are in.  Aside from Southside, the other two low rated schools are still mostly Hispanic students so this suggests that there is a difference in the starting level of the Hispanic students in those schools compared to the Hispanic students at some of the other more highly rated middle schools.

But what about those YES Prep high schools?  They seem to be doing pretty well with 4 As and a B.  On the US News rankings, all five are among the top 40 high schools in Texas and three of them are in the top 20.  Well, looking at their high school demographics, you will notice something unusual.

School Grade % Hispanic % Black
YES PREP HS – Southwest A+ 95 2
YES Prep HS – Southwest A 90 10
YES Prep HS – East End A- 98 0
YES Prep HS – Gulfton B+ 91 4
YES Prep HS – North Central A+ 96 2

From the data it can be seen there there is an almost complete absence of Black students at the five YES Prep high schools.  While 14%, on average, of their middle school students are Black, only 3.5% of their high school students are.  This also suggests that Hispanic students from the lower performing middle schools are likely not represented as much in these high schools.

So the big question is, why are there so few Black students in the YES Prep high schools? Why has their percent of Black students decreased by 75% from 14% in their middle schools to 3.5% in their high schools?  It seems to me that YES Prep is complicit in this since they have set up their high schools, the location and the process of getting into those high schools in a way that eliminates the lower scoring middle school students whether they are Black or Hispanic.

So is YES Prep failing its Black students and then abandoning them when it serves YES for them to do so?  I can’t be certain, but the data makes me pretty confident that the answer is YES.

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Michael Johnston Tells Mile High Tale In Campaign Video

Michael Johnston is one of the highest profile ed reform heroes in the country.  As a state senator in Colorado his teacher evaluation bill SB-191 mandated that 50% of a teacher’s evaluation would be based on standardized test ‘growth.’  The continues to be the highest percent in the country with even Washington D.C. lowering it to 35%.   Johnston was even an education advisor to Obama during the 2008 campaign.  In 2014 he was featured in a New York Times article called The Trouble With Tenure.

Michael Johnston, or Mike, is also someone that I have known for 20 years.  I first met him in 1997 when he was training at the TFA summer institute.  His trainer was a good friend of mine that I had worked with the summer before when I was on staff at TFA.  Over the years I would see him at TFA alumni summits and he and his girlfriend at the time, and now his wife, were always so nice to me.  They even helped me to sell my books at a booth I had set up at the 10 year alumni summit in New York City.  When Mike wrote his own book, I attended his book signing at a New York City Barnes and Noble and he was extremely gracious and inscribed something very flattering in my book.

A few years back I wrote a series of ‘open-letters’ to various reformers, some who I knew and some who I didn’t.  Of all the letters, only three people ever responded to any of them and he was one of them.  You can read my letter and his response here.

Education reform hit its peak of popularity about 7 years ago with the celebrity of Michelle Rhee.  With Obama and Arne Duncan at the helm, politicians could be proud education reformers and spread the word with the typical playbook.  But things are different now.  The public has awakened somewhat to the false promises of the reformers so politicians who are inclined to the Michelle Rhee doctrine generally are not so vocal about it.  I think the most dramatic example was two years ago when Rahm Emanuel, of all people, made a speech in which he said “I am not an education reformer.”

One of the things that used to be popular six or seven years ago was to hail a school, usually a charter school, as a ‘miracle school’ that got ‘turned around’ by replacing the staff.  I used to spend a lot of my blogging time ‘debunking’ such miracle schools.  One of the easiest ways to do this would be when some high school boasted a 100% college acceptance rate.  While this is something that sounds really impressive to the casual reader, I could usually show that they really meant 100% of the students who made it to senior year which would often be just 50% of the students who were in the school as 9th graders.  My first debunking was about a school that Arne Duncan claimed the 100% college acceptance rate, back in 2011.  No matter how many times I challenge a claim of a school getting 100% of their students into college, these stories keep on happening even to this day.  Just a few weeks ago, however, NPR did the first ever somewhat mainstream media report about a school that had a 100% college acceptance rate for seniors despite many of those graduates missing over three months of school.

Since I like Mike and appreciate that he writes back to me when I email him from time to time, I was really disappointed when I watched his two minute recent education themed campaign video.

It starts off very nicely and he makes it nearly to the end without messing up, but then there is that 8 second spot between 1:41 and 1:49 where he says:

“That’s why I became a principal in Colorado and helped turn a school where half the kids were graduating into one where every senior got into a four year college.”

I first became aware of Michael Johnston’s 100% college claim in 2011 when it was a featured anecdote in Steven Brill’s ‘Class Warfare’ book about the rise of education reform.

In what Forbes Magazine in 2012 called The Best Speech About Education — Ever, Johnston spent the first 7 minutes of that speech about how all 44 seniors at his school were accepted to college and participated in a public celebration about it.  At the 7 minute mark he dramatically concludes, “Our school becomes the first public school in Colorado where 100% of our kids are admitted to a four year college.”

Even on Michael Johnston’s Wikipedia page this stat is quoted.

But when I researched this back in 2012 while writing a review of Brill’s book, I learned that 100% of 44 seniors in 2008 is not the same as 100% of the 73 10th graders who were enrolled at the school in 2006.

Mike’s decision to include this misleading half-truth is troubling to me.  Though I know that politicians like to stretch the truth if it helps them get elected, there is a risk in doing this since it is so easy, nowadays, to fact check these kinds of things and to so easily let others know about it.

Mike must know and struggle with the choices he made with regards to his education policy over the years.  He is a darling of the DFER group and he continues to get a lot of campaign donations from wealthy education reform supporters from outside of Colorado.  In that sense, identifying as an ed reformer is something that will help him raise money which can help him get elected.

On the other hand, he must know that his history with education policy is also his Achilles’ Heel.  His signature policy SB-191, which made 50% of teacher evaluations in Colorado based on standardized test ‘growth’ has been a complete bust that has not raised test scores or, ironically, increased the number of teachers rated ineffective in Colorado.  If he is wise, he should distance himself from his ed reform roots.

Instead, he is retweeting things like this:

To which Mike (or his campaign social media person) responded:

What Mike Johnston doesn’t realize is that the way to be an education reformer in 2017 is to pretend that you don’t still preach the gospel of Michelle Rhee.  Even Michelle Rhee isn’t preaching the gospel of Michelle Rhee (where is she nowadays anyway?) and her organization StudentsFirst has been rebranded and merged with another ed reform propaganda group.  He reminds me a bit of Woody Allen’s character, Virgil Starkwell, in a scene from one of my favorite movies of all time ‘Take The Money And Run.’  In this Virgil Starkwell is in jail and the inmates have planned to break out.  But they decided to reschedule the escape at the last minute and they forgot to tell Virgil.  Not knowing about the new plan, Virgil is all by himself trying to do the prison break alone while everyone else is safe and sound in their cells.  Here is the three minute scene.

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