The following are excerpts from the Executive Summary of the Massachusetts Teachers Association’s publication “Charter School Success or Selective Out-Migration of Low Achievers? Effects of Enrollment Management on Student Achievement.”
This study provides policymakers with answers to two key questions:
Who is actually being served “and not served “by Boston Charter Schools ?
Despite claims made in a recent report by The Boston Foundation that charter school lotteries give all potential students an equal chance to attend, the enrollment data do not reflect the diversity of students in the Boston Public Schools. An analysis of the demographic characteristics of Boston charters in general, but more specifically the “high-performing” charter schools identified in three recent reports (referred to here as Boston Charter Report Schools, or BCRS), identify a student population that includes:
- Virtually no limited English proficient students.
- Lower percentages of special education students than the Boston Public Schools. Of the special education students enrolled in BCRS, there are:
“ Almost exclusively special education students with mild learning disabilities whose needs are addressed through full inclusion in regular education classrooms.
“ Virtually no students with moderate learning disabilities whose needs are addressed through partial inclusion in regular education classrooms and instruction in substantially separate classrooms.
“ Virtually no special education students with severe learning disabilities whose learning needs are met in substantially separate classrooms.
- Significantly lower percentages of the poorest students, those receiving free lunch, than the Boston Public Schools.
- Twice the percentage of less poor students, those eligible for reduced-price lunch, than the Boston Public Schools.
- A higher percentage of students ineligible for either free or reduced-price lunch than the Boston Public Schools.
What are the odds of a student entering a high-performing charter school successfully completing the academic program offered?
Boston”s Commonwealth charter schools have significantly weak “promoting power,” that is, the number of seniors is routinely below 60 percent of the freshmen enrolled four years earlier. Looking at it another way, for every five freshmen enrolled in Boston”s charter high schools in the fall of 2008 there were only two seniors: Senior enrollment was 42 percent of freshmen enrollment. In contrast, for every five freshmen enrolled in the Boston Public Schools that fall there were four seniors: Senior enrollment was 81 percent of freshmen enrollment.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently described “dropout factories” as schools where “two out of five of their freshmen are not enrolled at the start of their senior year.”2 By this standard, all of the Boston charter high schools and middle-high schools are “dropout factories.”
Claims of high performance on the part of some of these schools appear to be the result of significant student attrition. One measure of success used by all BCRS is Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) performance. However, the lauded results represent the performance of a fraction of the entering students who remain in the school”s upper grades. Struggling students “ those not making the grade because of academic performance and/or behavioral issues “ leave.
The excessively high student attrition rates at these schools are described in the report by The Boston Foundation as “selective attrition” and “selective out-migration of low achievers.” In other words, over the course of time, the majority of students who have “won” the lottery and gained admission to these charter schools leave and for the most part are not replaced by students on the waiting list.
At the same time, a second measure of success claimed by BCRS is that all or most students are accepted to four-year colleges. There is no admission that these claims are based on less than the full complement of enrolled students. For example, the claim by MATCH Charter School that 99 percent of its graduates are accepted to four-year colleges is misleading. In the first six graduating classes, no more than 136 students out of 367 entering students completed the curriculum.3 At this rate, only 37 percent of students entering have been accepted in four-year colleges as MATCH seniors, a number that is no better than that of most urban high schools, and significantly worse than the Boston Public Schools.