In June, School Stories published the names of the 10 charter schools with the highest suspension rates. Many of these were middle schools and three had suspension rates at least four times above the city average.
Now, the city test results are out, and two additional facts emerge about these schools.
First, students in these schools weren’t just suspended; they also disappeared. Specifically, as classes moved up from one grade to the next, the number of students in them got smaller and smaller. The average reduction was 15% between 5th and 6th grade alone, which is when the size of cohorts is most likely to shrink.
|School||Grade Span||Change in number of students in cohort||% Reduction in cohort|
|Harlem VIll. Acad. Ldrshp||5th (2011) to 6th (2012)||96 to 77||-20%|
|Bed Stuy Collegiate||5th (2011) to 6th (2012)||81 to 69||-15%|
|Kings Collegiate||5th (2011) to 6th (2012)||80 to 71||-11%|
Classes shrink faster at these charters than as just about any other charters in the city. All three, in fact, rank in the top five citywide (and citywide the median reduction from 5th to 6th grade is 6%).1
The second thing we learn about these high-suspension schools from the latest testing results is that as students disappear the passing rates rise dramatically. The average gain between grades 5 and 6 was 21 percentage points.2
|School||Grade Span||% Reduction in Cohort||Increase in Number of Percentage Points (ELA)||Change in Percent of Students ELA|
|Harlem VIll. Acad. Ldrshp||5th (2011) to 6th (2012)||-20%||plus 24||33% to 57%|
|Bed Stuy Collegiate||5th (2011) to 6th (2012)||-15%||plus 20||35% to 55%|
|Kings Collegiate||5th (2011) to 6th (2012)||-11%||plus 21||37% to 58%|
So what’s the relationship between high suspension rates, shrinking cohorts and rising passing percentages?
The most benign way to tell that story is to claim that attrition and suspension have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Under this scenario, less school time for troubled kids is actually a good thing, so good in fact that these suspended kids experience terrific academic growth — much better than they otherwise would have — which accounts for the rising passing rates. True the cohorts are shrinking, but that’s only because other students, not these troubled students, are disappearing to lower grades-levels or other schools.3
What seems more likely is that some students with behavioral problems, and possibly emotional disabilities, are being pushed out of these schools by repeat suspensions. If that’s the case, then the students who remain are generally those who arrived more ready to learn and then became even more so after seeing what quick work had been made of their more rambunctious peers. We don’t know if that that’s true, but we do know that many charter schools sanction this approach. In a report from the charter community itself, for example, the writers record what some charter operators see as the happy outcome that results from ridding schools of troublesome kids:
“…By this logic, schools should be full of students who share a common culture of learning, provided that the culture is not defined in an exclusive fashion … a student who leaves one school to find a better fit at another should be considered a success story.”
Was that how we were supposed to be measuring the success of charter schools?
Everyone who works in education understands just how hard it is to create the kinds of school cultures that keep kids focused on their education. And we do not have enough information to know for sure how many struggling students are pushed out of charters by a culture of punishment (though we do have anecdotal evidence). What we do know, however, is that these schools are public schools, and at public schools we take it as our mission to support every student who shows up at the door.
If these charters are suspending students right out of the school, we would not call that a success story.
We’d call it a disgrace.
1Another two middle school charters have similarly high attrition between grades 5 and 6, at 19% and 25%. All five belong to the same two charter networks: Uncommon Schools (the Collegiate schools) and Deborah Kenny’s Harlem Village. In fact, the seven schools with the highest attrition all belong to these networks.
2It should be noted that a fourth charter school, South Bronx Classical, followed the same pattern as these three middles schools — over four times the city average for suspensions, a 39% reduction in size of the cohort, and a 36 point increase in the passing rate. Because this post focuses on middle schools, I have omitted it from the main body of this text.
3While we don’t know for sure that shrinking cohorts indicate that students have left the school altogether, it seems much more likely that they have left than that they have been left back. When students are left back, we expect the class they join to rise in size — or at least to stay the same. But in these schools, the pattern is just the opposite — most cohorts shrink, including the ones that would be receiving students from shrinking cohorts. It seems likely therefore that numbers are shrinking because students left the school.