Post’s re-post of UFT post: A Riposte

The NY Post wrote the book on tabloid headlines. They can’t all be “Headless Body in Topless Bar” but the headline on a charter school article this weekend was the worst I’ve seen: “Charters ënix 23%’ of kids.”

How can I put this? No they don’t.

The headline refers to this graf from reporter Annie Karni:

”A study of eight middle-school charters conducted last year by the United Federation of Teachers found the average attrition rate was 23 percent. Some of those students were held back a grade, but the numbers indicate that many students were forced to leave or were expelled, according to the report.”

Catch that? The Post’s sole source on charter statistics is now the UFT. Sample size in this case: eight schools (as Peter Murphy pointed out). Share of “attrition” due to being held back a grade: unknown. The UFT’s Jackie Bennett acknowledged that in the original blog post that Karni refers to, writing that “a question remains, however, as to whether students are leaving the school altogether, or being retained in earlier grades.”

And it’s a key distinction. As blogger Kim Gittleson wrote in response to the UFT, after running her own analysis of additional data:

”I found that when you consider the number of students retained each year in each grade, the majority of testing cohort attrition actually is due to retention of large numbers of students in both fifth and sixth grade.” (Emphasis added.)

That’s right, many high-performing charter schools choose to hold students back a grade when it’s necessary to keep them on track. For a fifth grader who arrived with a second-grade reading level, being retained in fifth grade may be the best move even after making multiple-year gains. (Gittleson later flagged a similar finding in a rigorous study of the KIPP network.)

Of course, to really examine this issue one would also have to compare student mobility at comparable district schools, something Karni doesn’t attempt.

Does this answer all questions about student attrition? Quite the contrary. We don’t know enough about how students come and go from charter schools, in part because of systematic problems in the state’s data. Here at the Charter Center we’ll have more to say about that in the coming months.

In the meantime, the Post should nix whoever wrote this headline.