Friday, November 12, 2010

Leaving charters behind in Chicago.

Linda Lutton of WBEZ and Sarah Karp of Catalyst Chicago collaborated on a project about the student attrition rate at the city’s charter schools, which is higher than at traditional schools. It is a worthwhile listen and read, given how often people talk about charters “pushing out” or “counseling out” students but rarely have substantive reporting behind those comments.

It’s not that the schools portrayed in these pieces actively encouraged these kids to leave (although at least parent quoted seems to be saying that). Higher standards certainly played a part. It’s hard to imagine how to hold on to a student who says, after leaving her charter for a regular school, “I like it a lot better. It’s so much easier. I don’t have to worry about stupid things. ... And I don’t be waking up every morning like, ‘Oh my God, I gotta go to school.’”

The most surprising element, to me, was how much money it costs to fall short at some of these charter schools—fines for breaking rules, relatively high fees for makeup courses. I suppose it’s easy for a family with no money to just say “to hell with that.” The underlying question is whether the school operators want to make that conclusion more difficult to come to.


  1. I wish neighborhood schools would do more "shadow discipline" where an adult accompanies a disruptive student to school, but with a difference. We need volunteers, other caring adults, who will help with the shadow. We also need more "parent conference suspensions" before the disorder gets out of control, but again, there needs to be a system of a volunteer to sit in for a parent who can't or won't attend those confences.

    John Thompson

    shadow discipline and parental conference suspensions have always fallen apart in our school because of our work load. I recall a parent who came alone to my after-lunch class. She looked confused about why her daughter refused to come to class. She said she thought that her daughter was selling drugs at lunch and that's why she wouldn't attend classes after lunch. But I've also seen a father who saw how much his son loved playing basketball with other students and me, and he decided that maybe he should play b-ball with his son.

  2. Nelson Smith is "forgetting" one key point, or question in this case: Do the charter schools replace the students who leave?

    The Illinois Network of Charter Schools' press release neglects to address that crucial issue.

    When I researched attrition at California KIPP schools and found it to be shockingly high (something the working press has been derelict in failing to do, I need to emphasize forcefully; I did it as an unpaid volunteer blogger) the response of the charter defenders was that public schools have high turnover too.

    But that's willful deceit and needs to be called out every time. Low-income students tend to move often, which is called high mobility in edu-speak. In the grades below high school, in public schools, students who move out are replaced by students who move in. In the "it's a miracle!" charter schools, students who move out -- or are moved out -- are not replaced, leaving a streamlined class of the highest-functioning, most motivated and compliant students.

    My unofficial amateur findings on the California KIPP schools were coincidentally confirmed shortly thereafter by a study by SRI International of San Francisco Bay Area KIPP schools showing that 60 percent of the students at those schools leave between enrollment and the end of grade 8 and are not replaced. SRI had access to good enough information to confirm that the students who left were overwhelmingly the lower achievers.

    That leaves open the question of how the public school down the street (the one that KIPP dumps all these rejects into) would do if it too could get rid of the lowest-performing 60% of its students and keep only the most successful 40%.

    The fact that high school students 16 and over can choose to permanently drop out of school makes it more complex to look at this information for high schools. But that's the case with middle schools.

    Shame on the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and Nelson Smith for deliberate dishonesty -- especially, Nelson Smith, for attempting to flimflam the press.

  3. Is there anyone who can keep CarolineSF from spamming every charter school discussion on the entire internet with her bragging about finding (now-outdated) information on the attrition rates at a handful of San Francisco charter schools? Everyone who follows education blogs has seen her make this point 100 times. We get it, Caroline. Can you think of anything else to say?

  4. " In the "it's a miracle!" charter schools, students who move out -- or are moved out -- are not replaced."

    And Caroline's evidence for this is . . . what? No one who ever makes this claim has managed to produce any evidence of it. It's fun to make up facts about how your hated enemies are doing something nefarious, but a little proof would be nice.