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Leo Casey: Tracking Attrition Patterns at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charters

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Leo Casey, director of the Albert Shanker Institute in Washington, D.C., has pulled together New York state data on the Success Academy charter chain in New York City.


When the New York Times revealed the existence of a “Got to Go” list of students, Moskowitz replied that this was an “anomaly.”


When the New York Times published a video of a teacher chastising and humbling a first-grader for not answering a question correctly, Moskowitz said this was an “anomaly.”


Critics have often said that Moskowitz gets good test results by pushing out students who might pull down scores and by not replacing them with new students (“backfilling”). Casey reviews the data. Tables are in the link.


Casey writes:


The general pattern is unmistakable. In the early grades, student enrollment in Success Academy Charter Schools increases: Whatever losses the schools may suffer through student attrition are more than compensated for by the enrollment of new students. After Grade 2, however, the enrollment numbers begin to decline and do so continuously through the later grades. There are only small variations in this essential pattern among the different Success Academy Charter Schools.


In New York State, high stakes standardized exams begin at the end of Grade 3.


Success Academy Charter Schools has made a conscious decision to not fill seats opened up by student attrition in the upper grades of its schools. And this is a deliberate, network-wide practice, as evidenced by Success Academy’s own website. When one compares the grades in each Success Academy Charter School, as listed on its website, with the grades in each school, as listed on the website of the New York City Charter School Center, one finds that the Charter School Center lists all the grades currently being provided under the school’s charter, while Success Academy lists many fewer grades – only those in which it is willing to enroll students.


In effect, the Success Academy website has the equivalent of a “do not apply” sign posted for each unlisted grade.


Moskowitz has forcefully defended the policy of not accepting new students beyond grade 3, saying it would disrupt the culture SA created.


Moskowitz also insists that her schools should not have to accept students from district schools who have received what she considers to be an inadequate education. Even if one accepted her questionable characterization of education in district schools, it is worth noting that she is insisting on a “one way” street: district schools should have to enroll the students who leave Success Academy Charter Schools, but Success Academy schools should not have to enroll students who leave district schools.


Casey notes that while few other charter operators are willing to criticize SA, the leader of Democracy Prep has called her out for refusing to fill empty seats in the upper grades as students are winnowed out.


Recent developments may well put Moskowitz’s defense of Success Academy’s discipline and enrollment policies to the test. The authorizer of the Success Academy charter schools, the SUNY Charter School Institute, has announced that it is launching an investigation into the disciplinary practices at Success Academy. And the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, responding to a complaint by the New York City Public Advocate, the Legal Aid Society, and a group of former and current Success Academy parents, will investigate claims that Success Academy schools illegally discriminate against students with special needs. The reaction to last week’s video publication by the New York Times can only increase the scrutiny of Success Academy Charter Schools.


Most national studies find that charters do not outperform public schools, yet their foundational claim is based on the assertion that they get higher scores. If the veil is ripped away from practices that produce higher scores–by selective winnowing of students–this would be a major blow to the charters’ drive to expand. Casey predicts that a major political battle over the future of public schools and charter schools is in the making.




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