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Gary Rubinstein's Blog: Nearly Half of Success Academy 9th Graders Do Not Graduate From Success Academy

With 40 schools and 20,000 students, Success Academy is the highest profile charter school network in New York City. It is known for its high standardized test scores and its equally impressive PR campaigns. Here is an advertisement I saw recently at a bus stop. Notice they say we “can” be classmates for life and not we “will” be classmates for life. Based on data I’ve recently obtained, I can see why they were wise to not put “will” or they would be committing false advertisement.

Over the years I’ve tracked the attrition at Success Academy. They are a K-12 program and I’ve found that generally when I compare the number of kindergarteners entering the school with the number of 12th graders that graduate 13 years later, they lose approximately 75% of their students over the 13 years.

Success Academy has argued that losing 75% over 13 years isn’t actually that bad since it equates to about 10% attrition per year, which is what district schools also have. One flaw in that reasoning is that district schools fill in those 10% of seats each year while Success Academy stops ‘backfilling’ in the 4th grade. Another problem with comparing attrition rates from Success Academy to district schools is that a student can pretty easily move from one district school to another and those schools won’t be all that different. But for Success Academy which are supposedly the best schools in the country, it is a major life change to leave Success Academy for a district school so if they really are as good as they say, you would expect their attrition to be less than the 10% per year that district schools have.

I recently got some data from New York State that puts the attrition of Success Academy in a different and scary context. Since Success Academy is a K-12 school and you can’t get in after 4th grade, any student who makes it to 9th grade there has been at the school for anywhere from 5 to 9 years. After making it that long, the last four years should be pretty easy. It’s like running a marathon and getting to the 25 mile mark, of course you are going to finish the race. But some new data I got reveals that this isn’t the case with Success Academy. In general, only about 60% of the students who become 9th graders there eventually graduate within 6 years. And with certain subgroups it is a lot less than that.

Here is the chart I got. Take a look at it yourself and let it sink in.

What this chart shows is that only about 55% of the students who are in Success Academy as 9th graders have graduated from Success Academy after four years. Another 5% graduate after 5 or 6 years. As for the other 40%, they have left the school, maybe graduating on time in another school. The 60% 6 year persistence rate from 9th grade to 12th grade is alarming enough. But you can also see that the persistence rate for students with disabilities was just 50%. And for the 2017 cohort only 20% graduated after 4 years, maybe more will take 5 or 6 years, but these are students that have been with Success Academy for so many years, is it really humane to leave so many of them back? Also notice the lack of ELL students. I’m believe ED stands for economically disadvantaged.

This data is really scandalous. Have you ever heard of a school that sheds almost half their students in a four year period from 9th to 12th grade even though those students have been in the school since kindergarten or maybe 4th grade at the latest? A question I wonder is why do so many students leave the school so late in the game after succeeding there for so many years? My suspicion is that Success Academy does this little game where they tell students that they are going to make them repeat a grade but that they will promote them if they transfer out. I’ve heard so many cases of that over the years. Basically its a legal way for them to arbitrarily expel any students they feel have ‘got-to’go’ without making an actual list.

If New York State really cared about this bizarre attrition between 9th and 12th grade, they could easily investigate it. How hard would it be to find the families who left the school and to ask them “Why did you leave Success Academy?” If any readers are families that have left Success Academy, you can write in the comments what your experience was.

Bloomberg recently gave Success Academy a whopping $100 million to expand. So in future years they may be playing their numbers games with way more than the 20,000 that currently have to ride the whims of this notorious network, always just a few whistleblowers away from being exposed.

Update: It has come to my attention that Success Academy now has two high schools, Harlem 1 and Harlem 3. Harlem 3 just had it’s first graduating class and the persistence data for this school is pretty much the same as the other school.

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Gary Rubinstein

Gary Rubinstein is a high school math teacher. He is the recipient of the 2005 Math for America Master Teacher Fellowship. ...