Charter Cap ‘n Gown II: The College Years

A new report finds that Boston’s charter high schools are sending kids on a path through college, one at a time…

kindergarten_cap_gowns‘Tis time for another stroll down the path to college, reader. Alas, you will need to *suck in your gut* for this one as this path turns out to be even narrower than when last we stepped upon it. The occasion for our ramble down readiness way is a new report on college completion by graduates of Boston’s public high schools. Alas, alas, the report, which was supposed to confirm Boston charter excellence once and for all, fell a tad short, finding that grads of BPS high schools were more likely to complete college than their charter peers. But a deep dive into the data reveals that there’s even more — or rather, less — to this story than meets the eye.

numbers 2By the numbers
Enough with my editorial opining already. You want to know: ¿what do the numbers telleth us? The report compared members of the respective classes of 2007 from the city’s high schools and five of our local academies of excellence. Fifty percent of the BPS students had scored a college degree within six years vs. 42% of their charter peers. Now I know what you’re thinking. That equals a difference of eight percent, and eight rhymes with *hate* and also *overstate.* Which is why it’s time to look at the numbers behind those numbers. The 2007 class of Boston high school grads consisted of 1700 students, of whom some 850 have now attained their post-secondary attainment. The 2007 class of Boston charter high school grads, from a total of five charter high schools, consisted of 80 students, of whom 33 have scored their sheepskin. 

Boy oh boy
If you are thinking that the number 33 (from five schools) is not a very big one, prepare to squint your eyes, for we are about to visit a smaller number still. As was documented by this very page last year, Boston’s charter high schools have something that we might delicately describe as a gender imbalance, meaning that by the time it’s time for charter grads to climb aboard the college express, there are very few boy grads left to make the climb. Like six at this school, six at this school, and four at this school. In fact, girls at Boston’s charter high schools typically outnumber boys by two-to-one by the time the final stages of the excellence extraction process has been reached. Apply that ratio to the 33 college grads and you end up with a number in the 15-ish range (if one is feeling generous…), meaning that five different charter high schools managed to produce a grand total of 15 boy college graduates.

Apply that ratio to the 33 college grads and you end up with a number in the 15-ish range, meaning that five different charter high schools managed to produce a grand total of 15 boy college graduates.

Hero-kids-graduationCuriouser and curiouser
Let us leave the numbers for a moment and visit the curious (and curiouser) story of the report itself. Put out by something called the Boston Opportunity Agenda, a little sibling of the hot-for-charters Boston Foundation, the report is a long-awaited follow-up to an earlier report on the state of Boston’s *cradle to career educational pipeline* that, rather oddly, left the city’s charter schools completely out of the pipeline. But whatevs… At least the new report drills down into the data, answering any questions a curious reader of such reports might have, right? Wrong. There is but a single, vaguely worded paragraph on the college completion rates of charter high school graduates (close readers will want to turn to page 17), noting that *the span in rates for individual schools ranges from a high of 60% to a low of 18%,* and listing the names of five Boston charter high schools, one of which isn’t a high school at all. (Close readers will still be on page 17). Note: my request for raw data and additional information went unanswered.

Charter cap n’ gown
There is one other rather interesting number for us to consider. The report notes that since 2000, Boston’s public high schools have succeeded in raising the percentage of their graduates who earn a college degree from 35% to 50%, the highest level in the city’s history. In other words, the case for more charter schools has never been more fiercely urgent. And by *more* charter schools, I mean a lot more charter schools. Since by my calculations, with the city’s charter high schools each producing an average of three boy college graduates, and some 28,000 boys currently enrolled in the Boston Public Schools, we’ll need approximately 10,000 additional charter high schools…

lehigh.pngAnd now for some sad news…
Close readers of this page know that I have long harbored a secret, and thoroughly unrequited, love for Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh. Alas, whatever shy hopes I nursed that I might one day be the subject of one of Scot’s columns, have been dashed. It seems that all avenues to Scot’s heart are blocked — as am I …

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  1. I’d like to see a comparison of English Language Learners who graduated from college after attending public versus charter high schools. Wait, do ELL kids even graduate from charter high schools?

  2. I have a couple of questions about the report data.

    Question 1:
    The 4-year high school graduation rate – charters 74%, BPS 66%. How does that jibe with this:
    “Stand and Deliver”
    Published by The Boston Foundation as “Charter Schools and the Road to College Readiness: The Effects on College Preparation, Attendance and Choice”

    “Does charter attendance also increase high school graduation rates? Perhaps surprisingly, given the gains in test score graduation requirements, the estimates in Table 7 suggest not. In fact, charter attendance reduces the likelihood a student graduates on time by 12.5 percentage points, a statistically significant effect….Charters reduce the four-year high school graduation rate more for boys than for girls.”

    Question 2: Annual drop-out rate BPS 4.5%, charters 2% – but “students who transition into other public school settings, whether district or charter in Boston or elsewhere, are not considered dropouts from their school of origin if they drop out at a later date”—so low-performing students who are pushed out of charters, go back to BPS and then drop out count as BPS drop-outs. (Interestingly, the treatment of similar Catholic school data is different: “It is not possible to quantify dropout rates for parochial schools, because once students leave a Catholic school, they often return to a public school or another private school. The Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Boston will be working with us in the coming year to better understand this number as well as to help us identify district and charter students who may have entered Catholic schools but are captured as dropouts in the public data.” Why aren’t the report authors working with the charter schools to understand the number of their rejects who are “captured as dropouts in the public data”?

    Also, if charter-graduating girls outnumber boys by 2 to 1, wouldn’t that be only 11 boys, 1/3 of the 33 students? But…eleven, fifteen, who’s counting, right?

    Also, where in Lehigh’s tweet site is the reference to barring you? I couldn’t find it.

    1. Who IS counting? I decided to err on the side of generosity, given that it’s a ratio… The larger (or actually, smaller) issue that remains is that Boston’s charter high schools were continuing to graduate single digit’s worth of boys through last year. Which means that it’s entirely possible that for every class of 9th grade boys that begins at, say, City on a Hill, a single boy graduates from college.

      Your questions are great and I wish someone who actually *does data* would delve into them. As for your last question, I’ve uploaded an artifact for your viewing pleasure.

  3. Wow. Blocked, for real. Hey, I’m feeling somehow inadequate! How come I didn’t get blocked? Oh, maybe because I never look at his Tweets?

  4. Oh, what the hell. Think of all the mansplaining you’ll miss with Mr. hyper-masculine Scott out of your life forever.

  5. This is so important. If you were to investigate certain insanely privately funded charters, they’ve created a “through college” element of their program, where they mentor kids and support them from dropping out as undergrads. It’s not a bad idea, and it is something that schools like UCLA do through volunteer programs like MENTE, but it’s just sad that again, as usual, private donors are willing to provide for this kind of really extreme, privately funded, “wrap-around” services that somehow our government doesn’t feel is necessary. A small tangent, but this reminds me of the huge problem with privately funded literacy organizations like Reading Partners–what an amazing organization! But wait, why isn’t this kind of reading support funded by our tax dollars? Why aren’t kids assessed in meaningful ways, in the early grades, then provided with a reading specialist before they reach 3rd grade. A warm human being, not a computer or a workbook. If we just really invested in the early years. Like, for real. Like the way we invest in Kevlar.

    1. Great point – the response by Boston’s charters to these low numbers has been to try to wrap grads in supportive services, and to replicate some of the structure of the schools into the college years. Obviously, though, the more that’s required to help a few kids, the fewer kids can be helped. I’m struck when I see these numbers by what an incredibly inefficient way this is to deal with a social problem…

  6. I’m actually struck by something else in the numbers. I remembered off hand that BPS has around 50k students which should work out to somewhere near 4000 students per grade (checking on the MA site it looks like this year its around 3805). This was 7 years ago and I think the enrollment was somewhat smaller. Nevertheless 1700 graduates seems very low. Is their overall dropout rate as I high as it looks?

    1. Actually, drop out rate in Boston is the lowest its been since 1977. And they’ve cut it in half since 2006. Since a big part of that effort has involved working with at-risk 9th graders, presumably you should start to see the 12th grade numbers increase.

      1. Ben has a point. While they claim the highest
        graduation rate ever – about 67% – and a low
        dropout rate – about 4% – there are many
        students in between with various state
        reported labels. While some of these
        students do go on to graduate, many do not.
        Soon they’re no longer counted and the
        real dropout rate is never officially reported.

        1. Absolutely – I’m not disputing any of that. The drop-out prevention and recovery work seems like it’s producing some results, and there are some charters that also help older students who’ve dropped out, finish their degrees. Even with those efforts there are still way too many students lost along the way. But how the fix for a system that loses too many students, especially boys, can be charter high schools that lose almost all of their students, is beyond me. And that’s where we are in Boston.

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