Student Attrition Is A Core Feature Of School Choice, Not A Bug

Posted by on August 27, 2012

The issue of student attrition at KIPP and charter schools is never far beneath the surface of our education debates. KIPP’s critics claim that these schools exclude or “counsel out” students who aren’t doing well, thus inflating student test results. Supporters contend that KIPP schools are open admission with enrollment typically determined by lottery, and they usually cite a 2010 Mathematica report finding strong results among students in most (but not all) of 22 KIPP middle schools, as well as attrition rates that were no higher, on average, than at the regular public schools to which they are compared.*

As I have written elsewhere, I am persuaded that student attrition cannot explain away the gains that Mathematica found in the schools they examined (though I do think peer effects of attrition without replacement may play some role, which is a very common issue in research of this type).

But, beyond this back-and-forth over the churn in these schools and whether it affected the results of this analysis, there’s also a confusion of sorts when it comes to discussions of student attrition in charters, whether KIPP or in general. Supporters of school choice often respond to “attrition accusations” by trying to deny or downplay its importance or frequency. This, it seems to me, ignores an obvious point: Within-district attrition – students changing schools, often based on “fit” or performance - is a defining feature of school choice, not an aberration. Read More »


Peer Effects And Attrition In High-Profile Charter Schools

Posted by on July 18, 2011

An article in last week’s New York Times tells the story of child who was accepted (via lottery) into the highly-acclaimed Harlem Success Academy (HSA), a charter school in New York City. The boy’s mother was thrilled, saying she felt like she had just gotten her son a tuition-free spot in an elite private school. From the very first day of kindergarten, however, her child was in trouble. Sometimes he was sent home early; other times he was forced to stay late and “practice walking the hallways” as punishment for acting out. During his third week, he was suspended for three days.

Shortly thereafter, the mother, who had been corresponding with the principal and others about these incidents, received an e-mail message from HSA founder Eva Moskowitz. Moskowitz told her that, at this school, it is “extremely important that children feel successful,” and that HSA, with its nine-hour days, during which children are “being constantly asked to focus and concentrate,” can sometimes “overwhelm children and be a bad environment.” The mother understood this to be a veiled threat of sorts, but was not upset at the time. Indeed, she credits HSA staff with helping her to find a regular public school for her child to attend. Happily, her son eventually ended up doing very well at his new school.

It’s very important to remember that this is really only one side of the story. It’s also an anecdote, and there is no way to tell how widespread this practice might be at HSA, or at charter schools in general. I retell it here because it helps to illustrate a difficult-to-measure “advantage” that some charter schools have when compared with regular neighborhood schools – the peer effects of attrition without replacement. Read More »


More On What “Superman” Left Out

Posted by on October 20, 2010

Our guest author today is Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University and an historian of education. In addition, she is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C..  Her latest book is The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

In my recent article for the New York Review of Books about “Waiting for Superman,” I praised the SEED Charter School in Washington, D.C. (one of the schools featured in the movie) for their high graduation and college acceptance rates.  I also pointed out, however, that they spend about $35,000 per student, three times as much as normal schools spend.  This fact was not mentioned in the movie.

Nor was the school’s incredibly high attrition rate.  Take a quick look at the graph below (hat tip to Leigh Dingerson).  They start out with about 150 students in seventh grade, but their enrollment slowly declines to around 30 in grade twelve.  This level of attrition is alarming, and it makes any simple evaluation of SEED’s results impossible.  Read More »


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