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Gary Rubinstein's Blog: Success Academy Class of 2020 Sheds 239 Scholars Along the Way

The New York Post recently ran an editorial about the SAT scores of the Success Academy senior class of 2020.  Of all the different numbers they referenced, one that I took note of was 114 — the apparent number of students in the senior class.

The class of 2020 is the third graduating class of Success Academy.  The class of 2018 had 17 seniors out of a cohort of 73 first graders in 2006-2007.  The class of 2019 had 26 seniors out of a cohort of 83 kindergartners in 2006-2007.  Some of the class of 2019 were students who had been held back from the class of 2018 — probably in a comparable number to the number of 2019 students who will graduate this year.  So the 26 out of 83, or 31% persistence rate probably accounts for students who take an extra year to graduate.

For the class of 2020, things get a bit more complicated since in 2008 Success Academy did its first expansion and grew from one school, now called Harlem 1, into four schools now including Harlem 2, Harlem 3, and Harlem 4.  Some of the past records are incomplete for these schools, but when the 2020 cohort was in 2nd grade in 2009-2010, I find that there was a combined 353 students in the cohort.  By 6th grade, they were down to 263 students and by 9th grade it was 191.  In 10th grade they were 161 students and in 11th grade, 146.  And now, according to the New York Post article based on a Success Academy press release, they have 114 seniors.  So only 32% of the students who were there in second grade made it through their program.  And even more startling is that of the 191 9th graders that had been at Success Academy for 10 years, only 59% of them are on track to graduate three years later.

SA2020

[all data gotten from https://data.nysed.gov/ ]

This 32% persistence rate doesn’t even include the students who ‘backfilled’ some of the empty spots for students who have left over the years.  Without access to more granular data, this isn’t something I can study right now.  From Robert Pondiscio’s book about Success Academy we learn that the backfill process is somewhat corrupt.  Families that get off the wait list to backfill vacated spots are sometimes told that if they come to Success Academy their children will have to redo the grade they had just passed in their other school.  Surely many of these families choose to forfeit their place off the waiting list and, in that way, Success Academy makes sure that the backfill students are generally the higher performing students which serve to inflate the school’s test scores.

According to Success Academy, the demographic data for their students are:  74% receive free or reduced-price lunch, 16% have disabilities, and 8% are English language learners.  But the most recent data (From 2017-2018) about the 2020 cohort from the New York State public site is that 66% are economically disadvantaged, 11% are students with disabilities, and 0% English language learners.

Success Academy and The New York Post love to claim that Mayor de Blasio is out to get Success Academy.  I really don’t think so because de Blasio has access to the type of data that could so easily expose the various ways that Success Academy tips the scale in their favor.  Just using publicly available data, I’ve been able to uncover so much about their massive attrition rate.  Imagine how much can be learned from the data that the New York City DOE can access.

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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.