by Steven Hale
In this week's issue of The City Paper, Andrea Zelinski looks at the issue of student attrition and finds Metro schools officials and charter schools advocates doing different math to quantify the problem.
Of the district’s 81,000 students, about 5 percent of them attend one of the district’s dozen charter schools this year.
MNPS calculates that eight of those schools have some of the district’s highest student attrition rates, including Smithson Craighead Middle, Boys Prep, KIPP Academy, Drexel Prep, STEM Prep, Liberty Collegiate, East End Prep and New Vision Academy. Collectively, 387 students have left those schools this school year, about a fifth of the schools’ population.
“If you choose to go to a school, and then you choose not to go to a school, there’s a problem,” said Fred Carr, chief operating officer for MNPS, who managed the data. “Every time you change schools, you regress academically.”
But rejigger the formula based on charter school advocates’ preference, and the top eight schools for attrition instead lead with Boys Prep, Pearl-Cohn High School, Smithson Craighead, Maplewood High School, Hunters Lane High School, Gra-Mar Middle School, Whites Creek High School and Buena Vista Enhanced Option. Collectively, 1,759 students have left those schools since shortly after the beginning of the academic year, almost 33 percent of those schools’ student bodies.
Click through the jump for a look at the results the different formulas produce.
Student attrition is problematic for a number of reasons. For one, moving from school to school mid-year doesn't help a student's academic progress. Moreover, comparing the results produced by the methods of "reformers" to those produced in traditional public schools becomes meaningless if charter schools are losing low-performing students before standardized testing, as some have suggested.
But looking at the data produced by each group's chosen student attrition formula, a couple of things jump out. The method preferred by MNPS gives more weight to student entries, making it more favorable to traditional public schools, which tend to have more students joining a school mid-year than charters. The result is a list from MNPS in which charter schools rank as the worst offenders when it comes to student attrition.
The method used by charter advocates, however, calls out charter schools and traditional schools alike. Indeed, their formula still finds a charter school (Boys Prep) as the school with the highest attrition rate. But the list produced by the charter advocates' formula (seen above) shows that the MNPS formula allows some schools (traditional and charter alike) with apparent attrition problems to avoid detection.
For instance, while the charter advocate formula finds Brick Church College Prep, as one of the top 10 schools for student attrition (23 percent), the MNPS formula suggests there's nothing to see there. Should we not wonder why 30 students, out of an enrollment of 103, left a charter school simply because 30 more came in to replace them?
Similarly, the MNPS formula seems to minimize a potential problem at Pearl-Cohn High School, where 310 out of 827 students left. Looking at those numbers, can we really say attrition is a problem at Smithson Craighead, but not at Pearl-Cohn?
There are, of course, a number of potential factors when it comes to why a student leaves a school. That said, the results-based arguments made by charter advocates mean that scrutiny of why students leave charter schools — and when they leave — is a must. But if student attrition is a problem, it seems to be a problem at schools of either distinction.