Missing: Lots and Lots of Charter School Students

UP Academy, which is expanding into Lawrence and recently applied to open another charter school in Boston, lost more than 25% of its students last year.

Since UP Academy took over a public middle school last year, more than 25% of its students have left. Yet state officials continue to tout UP as a success story.

The hot new buzz word in local edu-crat circles these days is “portfolio.” Here–say it with me: port·fo·li·o. Excellent! Now you are probably wondering, what does  “a case for carrying loose papers,” (from Latin, the imperative of portare “to carry” and folium, meaning “a sheet for writing upon”) have to do with closing the achievement gap–unless perhaps those papers are to be stuffed into said gap???

Alas, “portfolio” in this case refers to the many education options that await students who live in a high-poverty, low-performing school district. Or at least that’s what the term WOULD mean if we weren’t in the strange, upside down world of education reform. Instead, “portfolio” really refers to a nonsensical #edreform strategy in which 1) a few schools enjoy the luxury choosing their students while 2) the remaining, truly public schools continue to deal with the reality of poverty that made them low-performing in the first place.

Here’s a recent op-ed in which EduShyster favorite Charles Chieppo of the Pioneer Institute touts a new partnership between public schools in Lawrence and several successful charter schools. Key to the dream team concept, writes Chieppo, is that the charters “will share approaches that have made [them] flourish.In fact the partnership holds such promise that self-styled education reformers like Chieppo are already trying to push it on to other high-poverty districts including Fall River and New Bedford.

The only problem here, of course, is that the very approach that gets these charter partners their high test scores is to push out hard-to-teach or low-performing students. Lawrence’s own Community Day Charter Public School has the top-scoring sixth graders in math–but loses more than 50% of its students between 5th and 6th grade. As for Unlocking Potential, self-appointed school turnaround specialists that operate the UP Academy in Boston, we’ve had no way to judge their success as they’ve been open less than a year.

Now a former employee of UP Academy has contacted EduShyster to express concern about the number of students that the school lost during the past year. The writer estimates that 25% of the students who began the year at UP Academy, which took over the former Gavin Middle School, were gone by the end of the year.

If almost a quarter of your students are leaving within the year, I think that’s a pretty serious problem. It certainly doesn’t bode well for long-term student retention. FYI: The administration claims that the vast majority of students who left at the beginning of the school year left because of “transportation issues.” If the school really did lose that many students–and the “worst” ones at that–then any plan to open a second school in Boston should include a section on how the administration plans to stop that from happening the second time around.

Highlighting UP’s “success,”  Scott Given, the CEO of Unlocking Potential, concludes that: “While the school’s students and facility remained the same, nearly everything else changed – new leadership, new teachers, new expectations, new systems of support, new school climate, and new results.”

The former UP employee has no doubt that UP will see a big boost in its MCAS scores in comparison to the school it replaced. “The problem, though, is that the two populations are nowhere near comparable.” For the record: the writer has nothing against UP or its administrators. UP or its administrators. “I just think it’s important to be 100% transparent about your strengths and weaknesses, and I don’t think the school or district has been.”

Well said…

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