Monday, May 1, 2017

No-excuse charters and collateral damage

From Valerie Strauss writing for the Washington Post:

“College or Die.”

That’s the motto of the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School, a charter school in Indiana which, according to its website,  “expects 100% of its students to be accepted at a fully-accredited four-year college or university” and “to achieve exceptionally high levels of scholarship and citizenship.”

The words “College or Die” are posted in giant letters in a hallway of Tindley, an open-enrollment charter school for grades six through 12 that opened in 2004 in a former grocery store in a low-income area of Indianapolis. It became well known in school reform circles when it was visited in 2011 by then-Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) and then-U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who heaped lavish praise on the school for its success in getting students into college.

Here’s what it doesn’t say: A lot of students leave the school before they get to senior year. Here’s an enrollment chart from the Indiana Department of Education:

As noted by educator and blogger Gary Rubinstein, Tindley had 93 students in ninth grade in 2013-2014. By the time that cohort got to 12th grade, only 40 students were in the class. That’s a loss of 57 percent. Such a big rate of attrition is not exclusive to Tindley; a number of charter schools, especially of the “no excuses” variety, lose a lot of students and don’t replace them. Students who can’t cut it have to find another school to take them, sometimes in the middle of a school year.

One of the points some of us have been raising for years now is that movement reformers lack adequate concern about the collateral damage of their proposals. It isn't just that many of the schools that reformers hold up as models have disturbingly high attrition rates; it is that (as both a motivational and a PR tool) these programs build themselves up as students' best and even sometimes last hope for escaping poverty and having a good professional life.

To say that this gets families' hopes up is a grotesque understatement, but arguably even worse, the kids who are unable to make it into the programs or complete them are essentially told that they are doomed to failure. Between the emotional damage, the disruption and the danger of a costly self-fulfilling prophesy, that is a hell of a toll to inflict on already disadvantaged kids.

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