Contrition about Attrition

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The Mass Teachers Association’s report Charter School Success or Selective Out-Migration of Low-Achievers? makes the claim, in short, that charter schools push out underperforming students, and as a result have higher MCAS scores. This has delighted some bloggers and all those who believe that there is no way to break the mold and improve the academic outcomes for disadvantaged students.

Problem is that the argument is a heap of mullarkey. A lot of “attrition”? Let’s define attrition. Attrition is mobility. It’s when a student leaves a school. It does not mean that students drop out.

Folks, when parents have choice, their kids will move around.

And even parents without the ease of choice that charters provide move their kids around. So while the MTA calls out charters for mobility/attrition, they should “examine thyselves,” for this is a matter of the pot calling the kettle black.

Point 1: District schools in the Boston Public School system have annual attrition rates of 22% (page 19 of the attached report) to 24% (see BPS website). That’s far higher than the handful of charters that the MTA report opines about.
Point 2: Charter attrition does not have the same effects as BPS attrition. Consider what kids do when they move from charters and district schools. Do they drop out? Evidence that we have seen suggests that about 10% of kids moving from charters drop out. Compare that the BPS’s drop-out rate of 35%. By far the majority of charter kids “attriting” go on to graduate elsewhere, whether in the BPS or after moving out of district.
Point 3: Kids leaving charters have, with rare exceptions, already passed the MCAS. They have passed and decide that the requirements of charters (which are meant to achieve college readiness) are not what they want. They are too tough. Wanting to graduate quickly, they to the BPS district schools, which are now for them much easier. The fact is that the likely scenario is that the student leaving a charter has passed MCAS with higher proficiency levels.

For example, the 10th-grade students leaving from one of the charter schools for which we have data left with the following scores: 79 on English Language Arts and 94 on Math. Compare that to BPS 10th graders, who average 57 on ELA and 56 on Math.

With all these facts, perhaps the MTA should show some contrition about their report on attrition. With 8,000 kids on charter school waiting lists and 12,000 on METCO waiting lists in Boston alone, the MTA and BTU should focus on improving the schools instead of drumming up very weak arguments against their competition.

Superintendent Johnson could also help here. The super could address the potential disruption resulting from kids’ moving back into the district schools late in the year in order to graduate, by working with charter leaders and establishing a date certain after which students cannot simply jump ship.