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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Louisiana Moves From 4th Worst To 3rd Worst On AP Performance

Louisiana is one of the most ‘reform friendly’ states in the country.  They got a Race To The Top grant in 2011, in 2012 they got a TFA alum, John White, as their state superintendent and they created an all charter district, the RSD, for the city of New Orleans.  For all their increased autonomy, as the reform credo goes, they have increased accountability which, for them, means that they have to get their test scores up or else.

I’ve been tracking the progress on the AP tests in Louisiana for five years.  Every year when the AP results are reported, John White holds a press conference celebrating the amazing progress that students in Louisiana have made over the years.

From 2012

From 2013

From 2014

From 2015

From 2016

From 2017

This all sounds great, but when I go to the actual AP data from the College Board website I find that that data paints a different story.

Increased participation can make it difficult to compare results across states since the passing percent might go down while actually having more students pass the tests.  To make an ‘apples to apples’ comparison, I calculated how many juniors and seniors per 1000 juniors and seniors in each state passed an AP test.  For that year, Louisiana ranked 4th to last.


ap comparison 2014

A few months ago the Louisiana Department of Education put out a press release with the title ‘NUMBER OF STUDENTS EARNING ADVANCED PLACEMENT® CREDITS INCREASES BY 10 PERCENT‘  Reading this release, you would think that AP scores in Louisiana are on the rise.  But by looking at the latest data from The College Board, I notice that in the most objective way, Louisiana AP scores are actually on the decline.

Here is the ‘apples to apples’ statewide comparison for the 2016 tests.

ap comparison 2016

So Louisiana is no longer the 4th worst state on the AP tests.  It is now the 3rd worst state since being overtaken by North Dakota.

Two years ago after I made the graph for the 2014 scores, one of the reform propaganda sites, Citizen Ed, wrote an entire post just about me called ‘The Misanthropy Of Gary Rubinstein’ with the lede “If you’re a Teach For America alum like I am, you’ve probably heard of the name Gary Rubinstein. If you haven’t, stop reading now, because he’s the sort of person who will only erode your faith in the essential goodness of humanity.”  I wonder what they will say now, two years later, that Louisiana is not even keeping pace with the lowest performing states.  It would be nice if they took some time to think about how hypocritical it is for them to ignore when reform heroes like John White continue to misrepresent the lack of improvement of Louisiana test scores.

Here are links to previous posts about Louisiana AP results:

From 2015

From 2014

From 2013

From 2012



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TFA Simultaneously Denounces And Embraces False Dichotomies

There has been a shift in recent years in the sorts of arguments that many reformers use to advance their agenda.  Though some are proudly fanatical, people like Joel Klein, Steve Perry, and Eva Moskowitz and organizations like StudentsFirst and 50CAN and also websites like The 74 and EduPost, most reformers at least pretend that they are more moderate, itself a strategy.

Most reform zealots are very pro-TFA, though TFA itself has often tried to straddle the fence claiming that they value diversity of opinion and that they are their own worst critics and things like that.  Sometimes, though, they let down their guard and show that they can be as simple minded as the most extreme reformers.  An example is a speech that the CEO of TFA Elisa Villanueva-Beard made a few years back where she continually chants the title of the anti-union bomb ‘Won’t Back Down.’

Villanueva-Beard recently wrote a piece on entitled “Accelerating Progress in Education: Calling for a Coalition That Rejects False Choices”

The history of successful change efforts shows us that a broad, diverse coalition is essential if we’re going to blaze a path to educational equity and excellence in America. No quick fixes, but the courageous commitment to exchange ideas and to respectfully disagree in dogged pursuit of solutions.

But this is not what’s happening.

Instead, we’re allowing the education conversation to be defined without enough nuance, appreciation for, or proximity to the realities students face every day. We’re relying on false dichotomies to frame our work, and this set of either-or choices fails our children.

This is an introduction that I agree with, but I’ve heard reformers say things like this before so I don’t get too excited, knowing that the other shoe will eventually drop.  In this case it happens in the next paragraph.

False dichotomies can be found in the tired idea that we have to choose whether to end poverty or improve education first. That we have to choose between a classroom that is academically rigorous and excellent and a classroom that affirms a child’s culture and community. That we have to choose between public charter schools and traditional district schools. That preparing the country’s future workforce to succeed in our global economy requires a choice between academic results and broader student outcomes.

While our children are watching and waiting, these false choices tear at the fabric of our society and drive a wedge among the many of us who have dedicated our lives to expanding educational opportunity.

I don’t know of anybody on the reform-skeptic side who thinks that we have to wait to fix poverty before trying to improve schools, so this is a false dichotomy in the sense that it doesn’t even exist.  And the other false dichotomies she proposes we stop arguing about are very real dilemmas.  But most importantly, I think, is the dichotomies that she doesn’t list, the one that that pits the ‘status quo’ against the ‘reformers’ and the one that puts ‘students first’ against ‘adult interests.’  These are the false dichotomies that the TFA allies like to use all the time.  Apparently, those are still OK.  Even Villanueva-Beard can’t resist a few ‘status quo’s in her piece.

Since Teach For America’s first corps entered classrooms in 1990, people have tried to apply these false choices to our organization and define us on ideological grounds. Our model challenges the status quo, and therefore has always been controversial.


False dichotomies are good at one thing: preserving a status quo. They’re a terrible framework for solving complex problems. They make ideology the stubborn foundation for dialogue. They keep a coalition from becoming more than the sum of its parts. They repel new ideas.

To see how TFA and Elisa Villanueva-Beard really feel about false dichotomies, all you have to do is look at their Twitter feed.

Here is an example of the classic false dichotomy of ‘students first’ vs ‘adult interests’ from a few hours after this latest plea from Villanueva-Beard.

Because the false dichotomies that she wants people to stop using are just ones that reform critics often use, this piece is getting a lot of retweets from various reformers.

Since I find it pretty hypocritical that some of the biggest abusers of the false dichotomy are celebrating an article that, at least on the surface, seems  to be saying that false dichotomies are bad, I tried to reach out to a few of them to see what they thought of my observation.  As expected, they either didn’t respond at all or they responded very rudely.

Chris ‘Citizen’ Stewart is a blogger, podcaster, and contributor to Edu Post and The 74.  He is also a friend of Elisa Villanueva-Beard who sometimes retweets his articles, like this one against the NAACP’s charter school stance.

Recently Stewart wrote a blog post bashing me and several other bloggers with the working title ‘Hello I’m White Which Means I Know What’s Best For You’ (still seen in the url of the post) though he changed it to the even worse ‘Angry White Teachers On The Internet (And Their Colored Friends)’.  (You can read it for yourself, I’m not going to summarize here except to say that he omitted in his bio of me that I was a TFA corps member, a TFA staffer, and a TNTP staffer over the years.)  It is difficult for me to understand how that can be consistent with the Edu Post motto to have a ‘better conversation.’


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My Sixteen Years Of Wacky Halloween Costumes

At my school, Stuyvesant High School, there’s a tradition of students and teachers dressing up in some pretty elaborate Halloween costumes.  Now that I’m in my 14th year there, I realize that I’m starting to lose track of all the costumes so I thought I’d collect them in one definitive place so I always have them.

2003 — Einstein.  My first year, this wasn’t such a crazy costume and there’s no photo that I know of.

2004 — Ali Gebra

At the time before Borat, The Ali G show was popular at that time, and this costume is still my wife’s favorite:


2005 — Homer Simpson

Most people thought this one was just creepy.


2006 — Calculicious.  A Flavo’ Flav parody with a giant calculator on my neck instead of a clock.  The graph is the exact equation for curves that make the horns on the helmet.  Also, if you look very close, I have a full gold ‘grill’ on my top teeth.


2007 — Tim Novikoff.  A good friend of mine left teaching to go to graduate school so I dressed as him by dying my hair blonde and getting blue contact lenses.  I don’t have a picture of this one.

2008 — Irrational Number.  I had an idea that a bunch of teachers from the math department would dress up as different types of numbers.  Someone would wear a Santa Claus hat and have an ‘i’ on his chest and be an ‘imaginary number.’  Someone would be a ‘perfect square’, etc.  I assigned a bunch of people to be different types and I got a punk rock wig and had a shirt that said Pi is irrational, so I was the ‘irrational number.’  Nobody else dressed up so that was the last time I tried to coordinate a group themed costume.  No picture, I think.

2009 — Facebook.  My Facebook friends on the timeline are all famous mathematicians, mostly dead, discussing math.  This was probably my favorite of all the costumes.  It has a lot of private math jokes in it, and I’d say that this is the one that took the longest to create.

facebook costumefacebook shirt

2010 — FOIL.  This was one of those costumes that ‘you have to figure out’.  FOIL is a thing from high school math, a way of multiplying certain mathematical expressions.  So I had the tin foil costumes with the math expressions and people had to stare and figure it out.  This was a huge his and I’d say that the 2009 and 2010 consecutive year were the peak of my Halloween costume creativity.

foil costume2011 — Stanley Teitel.  Our principal was forced into retirement the summer before because some students had cheated on the Physics regents.  So I went as Mr. Teitel in retirement with a Hawaiian shirt and a bag of money and the Physics regents.  No picture that I know of.

2012 — Occupy Sesame Street.  As ‘occupy wall street’ was happening around that time, this was a funny twitter hashtag that I made into a costume, another kind you ‘had to figure out.’  Most people didn’t but it was still an elaborate costume.  Looks kind of like the Homer Simpson costume.

bert costume

2013 — Walter White.  With my bag of ‘Crystal Math’ this costume went over pretty well.

walter white

2014 — Wolfman Alpha.  This was a spoof on the math website Wolfram Alpha.  In addition to this costume, I had a speaker where I explained in a wolfman voice that I was once a professor and I got bitten by a werewolf and became Wolfman Alpha.

wolfman alpha

2015 — Marty McFly.  Though it is not math themed or likely understood by many of my students, Back To The Future is one of my favorite movies and with October 21st 2015 being the day they travel to the future in the second movie, I really can’t go as anyone else in good conscience.  This picture was taken on October 21st 2015 at the theater where I attended a triple feature of all three movies beginning at 5:30 PM and ending around midnight.

marty mcfly

2016 — Safety School Rejection Letter.  To a Stuyvesant High School student, nothing is more scary than a rejection letter from the fictitious Safety School University.  Though this might have been a tad mean, students seemed to enjoy it with good humor.


2017 — Citibike.  Though this costume became bittersweet as a terror attack claimed the lives of several New York City tourists riding CitiBikes, all New York City residents are familiar with the ubiquitous royal blue bikes all over the city nowadays.  This was a tricky costume to pull off and the students really appreciated it.



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The Great Tennessee Achievement School District Experiment Finally Comes To An End

Six years ago the Tennessee Achievement School District launched with a five year mission to, in their words, ‘catapult’ schools in the bottom 5% into the top 25%.

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 8.45.43 PM

This is their old website, before they changed it when it was evident there were not going to reach their goals.

Tennessee won $500 million in Race To The Top money and dedicated millions of that into the creation, and most importantly, the marketing of it.  The marketing firm they hired is very proud of the work they did and still feature the ASD on their websites as a successful promotional campaign.

The way an ‘Achievement School District’ works is that the district takes over low performing schools and either runs it themselves or, more commonly, gives them to a charter network.  In 2011 the ASD comprised of six schools and now that has grown to over thirty schools.

Two years into the five-year mission, the superintendent at the time, TFA alum Chris Barbic, declared in an interview that of the original six schools, two were on target to get to the top 25% in five years while one of the six schools, Brick Church Elementary, was on a trajectory to reach the goal after just four years.

Three years into the five-year mission, the improvements that he had based these projections on did not continue and Barbic was saying that they underestimated how difficult this would be, even admitting that the ‘immigrant poverty’ he worked with as a charter school founder in Houston is very different than the ‘generational poverty’ he works with in Tennessee.

Four years into the five-year mission, Barbic resigned from the ASD, citing among other things, his health as he had recently had a heart attack.  He soon got hired by the John Arnold foundation to work on education issues for them.

Five years into the five-year mission, the Tennessee ASD was saved by a computer glitch so the state test scores had to be invalidated.  We would never know if the ASD got any of their schools from the bottom 5% to the top 25% in five years.  We would have to wait one more year and see if they could do it in six years.

The results for the sixth year were released today.

On the Tennessee Ed Department website, I downloaded the database with the recent scores.  For each school they had an ELA and a math score.  What I did was add together these two scores and then sort all the schools that have 3-8 scores and see where the original six schools now are, how far they catapulted in six years.


School Percentile
Cornerstone 6.7%
Brick Church 4.6%
Humes 2.2%
Corning 1.7%
Frayser 0.5%
Westside 0.1%

The title of this post, ‘The Great Tennessee Achievement School District Experiment Finally Comes To An End’ is a bit misleading.  While it is true that the five (or six) year experiment has come to an end, the Tennessee ASD continues to limp on.  They erased from their website the old mission of catapulting the bottom 5% to the top 25% in five years and have replaced it with an ambiguous mission of “By 2025, we will close the opportunity gaps long persistent in Tennessee’s public education.”  Whether or not the ASD is still around in 8 years is anyone’s guess.  Barbic’s replacement resigned a few months ago and, with her, there are no people left from the original ASD team to be held accountable.

There are actually other states considering starting their own ASDs, I just read that Mississippi is working on it.  Georgia, North Carolina and Nevada already have them in the works.  There was one in Michigan which folded and there is still the original one in New Orleans which continues to post awful test results.

Reformers claim that they care about accountability, but when it comes to people in the reform family, they tend to ignore colossal failures like the Tennessee ASD.

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