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Charter Schools and Student Attrition: Not a Myth

WBEZ Public Radio and Catalyst Chicago magazine just co-released two excellent stories about the disturbingly high rates of student attrition and pushouts in Chicago charter schools.

The research for the stories was funded through the non-profit Hechinger Institute, which sponsors investigative journalism on education issues and is directed by a former fellow at the pro-charter Hoover Institution at Stanford — which makes the stories’ critical conclusions about this issue even more striking. Parents and students explained to the reporters how charter staff openly recommended that they transfer back into public schools or required them to pay hundreds of dollars to the school for the students’ disciplinary infractions.

As the reporter for WBEZ notes, Chicago school chief Ron Huberman dismissed such stories as a “myth,” but then failed to provide an evidence for his claims:

Schools chief Ron Huberman says when charters are successful it’s thanks to rigorous curricula, and motivated teachers who spend more time with students. He doesn’t believe charters have policies that systematically weed out weaker students.

HUBERMAN: I have found none of that to be true. What I have found is that it is a promulgation of a myth.

Huberman said he’d turn over data to support his finding, but the district didn’t keep that promise. WBEZ did obtain an internal CPS memo. It’s titled “Memorandum on Charter School Myths.” The four-page report actually finds that traditional schools held onto more kids than charters did for the year CPS examined. It found that both charters and traditional schools lost lower-performing students.”

As well-researched as these stories are, one of the key points they don’t mention is that unlike district schools, charters aren’t required to replace the students who leave, further skewing their test scores upward. After a similarly critical report on high attrition in Boston charter schools came out earlier this year, Massachusetts revised its charter regulations to require new charters to replace students in certain grades (for example, some 6th-12th grade charters now need to admit new students in 9th grade).

Based on recent data, New York City’s charters also experience high student attrition — especially in some of the city’s highest achieving middle schools, such as KIPP and Harlem Village. As the state’s authorizers begin the process of approving and renewing hundreds of charters over the next five years, perhaps student attrition is something they should consider more seriously and systematically in deciding which schools should be considered successful.

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3 Comments:

  • 1 Edwize » Charter Schools and Student Attrition: Not a Myth « Parents 4 democratic Schools
    · Nov 22, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    […] Edwize » Charter Schools and Student Attrition: Not a Myth. […]

  • 2 NJCharterTrustee
    · Nov 22, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    Our charter school is not in Chicago, and not in an inner city environment. Ours in a suburban setting, where the local schools are actually quite fine – even great. But our founders (I am not one, though I’m a trustee now) wanted to combine elements of Waldorf, Montessori and other alternate teaching philosophies into a special kind of child-centric educational experience for our K-8 kids.

    There’s so much in the news lately about “charter schools” and so many all-inclusive statements about them. I’d like to offer a few counterpoints, just in the interest of illustrating variations from the stereotype…and also to remind folks that a sweeping full-frontal assault on “charter schools” will set some wrong things right but will set some very right things wrong.

    Our school:
    – is in suburban Jersey, not a city; our students are therefore predominantly white, middle-class, with the usual bell-curve of talents and troubles

    – *must* work very hard to keep full enrollment; the economics of the situation demand it. The idea of gaming our test scores by not replacing students is to us as inverted a set of priorities as trying to lose weight by having a lung removed. We love our kids, and we do work hard to give them each a unique appropriate educational experience – but the economics mean we *must* be at full enrollment

    – cannot game our test scores by way of the application process. It’s illegal, unethical, and would grind against our principles in the most awful way if we considered it. And the word “application” conjures up the wrong image. Our application is purely about contact info and demographics. There’s not a single line on it where a family is asked to “make their case” and convince us to consider them. “Applying” to our school is like “applying” for a library card: name, address, phone number. If you’re in-district, then congrats: you’re in. (We hold a public lottery when we have more incoming families than spaces.)

    – does not structure education around drills, and extra-long days and extra-long school years, and uniforms, and conformity. It’s about a student-centered learning experience, collaboration, individual responsibility, and honoring and welcoming differences. It’s project-based learning, and working with each student’s unique enthusiasms to the best degree possible.

    I know I’ve gone beyond the bounds of the specific points you were making about Mr. Huberman, and so I appreciate your indulgence in all this. But it’s hard to see all charter schools painted with the same brush, and here tonight, it seemed appropriate to speak up.

    Many thanks….

  • 3 Christina Collins
    · Nov 24, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Dear NJCharterTrustee,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response and your work in founding what sounds like a school dedicated to meaningful student learning. I am sorry you felt that my post implied a critique of schools like yours; as you note, it was intended to draw attention to studies of specific charter schools in Chicago, New York, and Boston where research has shown high rates of student attrition. Here at the UFT, we’ve founded our own charter school and represent teachers at others in the city, and we share your goal of making sure that the discussion of charters in general acknowledges the complexities and variability among them.

    Best,
    Tina Collins