Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ravitch displays her ignorance/bias (again)

It's blindingly obvious that Diane Ravitch is nothing but a shill for the unions, yet people continue to see her as an objective researcher, fairly and accurately presenting both sides of an argument.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The latest evidence of this is this excerpt from an interview she did with the Dallas Morning News, in which she talks down both KIPP and Harlem Success, displaying total bias and ignorance:

Let's go back to charter schools. Dallas has one KIPP Academy. Houston has more. Do you think they are good charters?
It depends. Michael Feinberg (a KIPP founder) invited me to Houston in October and I'm going down. They do a good job, but they had a high attrition rate in a Bay Area sample. They took 100 kids at random and 60 percent dropped out within three years. For those who remained, they can say they are succeeding. For those 40, it is good. But they don't tell you the success is with the survivors.
I liked the original idea of charters: A group of teachers could form a small school and use it as a research lab for public education. They would take unmotivated kids and take what they learned back to the school and say this is how we solved this problem. These are now the minority among charters. Most now want to compete with schools, not make them better. They want to drive them out of business.
What's an example?
The Harlem Success Academy. It's a chain of four schools. The head gets $400,000 for running four campuses with a total of 1,000 kids.
How do they compete with public schools?
They compete for the kids who get high scores on the state test. They get fancy solicitation letters to come there. They are now moving to the South Bronx, where they will skim off the highest-performing schools.
Before I respond to her specific allegations, I was curious whether she's ever visited the schools she so likes to criticize and see what they're doing with her own eyes, so I checked: she last visited a KIPP more than a DECADE ago, and she's NEVER visited any Harlem Success school.  So why would anyone believe a word she says about these fine schools, when she can't even be bothered to hop on the subway and visit one???
As to her specific allegations about KIPP's attrition rates, this is a story that's more than three years old, which I covered at the time:  In short, a few of the KIPP schools in the Bay Area had high student attrition and critics were claiming that this explained KIPP's rising student achievement: namely, that KIPP forced out low-performing kids, which of course would have the effect of raising the average test scores as each class of students progressed from grade to grade.
This is an important issue, so KIPP hired an independent firm, SRI, to investigate this and published the report along with a letter from KIPP's CEO, Richard Barth, on the main page of its web site at  The report is still available at:
The findings can be summarized as follows: at some new KIPP schools, attrition is high.  KIPP isn't for everyone.  But at nearly every school, attrition falls and at our mature schools, attrition is generally LOWER than comparable nearby schools.  Here's a summary from an article by EdWeek's Eric Robelen (full article below):
…several experts cautioned against drawing strong conclusions based on the attrition data. Student mobility, they pointed out, is high in general among low-income and minority urban families, KIPP's prime target.
Also, they said, many of the schools are still quite new, and enrollment is likely to be unsteady early on, especially for schools of choice with the high demands KIPP has for students and families.
"I would expect to see more of that kind of attrition when schools are new," said Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank that supports charter schools. "I don't see anything there that makes me doubt the value of what KIPP's providing."
Steve Mancini, a spokesman for KIPP, said the organization is committed to keeping attrition as low as possible. "It's something we're taking very seriously, trying to understand and get better at," he said.
Rates Drop Over Time?
Data the KIPP Foundation provided Education Week from a sampling of five schools show some preliminary evidence that attrition rates drop over time.
A campus in Newark, N.J., for example, has seen a steady decline in annual attrition, from about 26 percent during its first year to 8 percent four years later. At KIPP Bridge College Preparatory in Oakland, which showed a high level of attrition for its fall 2003 cohort of students, early data indicate the annual exodus is going down.
"As schools become more established, there's some evidence that the schools are doing things that are leading to more students' staying with KIPP on an annual basis," Mr. Mancini said. "That data is very promising."
Attrition rates seem to vary widely across the network, according to the data KIPP provided and an Education Week analysis of enrollment at 23 KIPP schools nationwide.
For instance, a KIPP pre-K-elementary school in Houston, housed on the same campus as one of the first KIPP middle schools, has seen annual attrition of less than 4 percent in its first three years, the network's data show. KIPP Ways Academy, in Atlanta, saw annual attrition fluctuate over its first three years, from 21 percent up to 30 percent, then back down to 21 percent.
Data from the Fulton County, Ga., district show that South Fulton Academy, in East Point, had 75 5th graders in 2003-04 and roughly half that number of 8th graders—39—this academic year. Those figures do not account for students who repeated a grade or students who entered the school later, though KIPP schools typically add few students in the upper grades.
In sharp contrast, two Houston middle schools—KIPP Academy Middle School and KIPP 3D Academy—had 8th grade enrollments last school year that were 95 percent or more of the 5th grade class three years earlier, state data show.
'Serve Every Student'
KIPP principals say they are communicating more across the network about strategies to keep more students, and to learn from those who succeed.
"We're going to do everything we can to serve every student who comes through our doors," said Molly H. Wood, the principal at Bayview Academy in San Francisco. "We are getting better at explaining why we do what we do, and why the high standards are worth it."
As for Ravitch's charges against Harlem Success ("They compete for the kids who get high scores on the state test. They get fancy solicitation letters to come there. They are now moving to the South Bronx, where they will skim off the highest-performing schools."), she couldn't be more wrong.  Harlem Success, more than any other charter school I've seen, tries to get EVERY parent who lives near their schools to apply to their lottery so they can serve ALL students – this is something Ravitch should be celebrating, not scorning (ah, but recall that she always does the bidding of her buddy Randi, who's been on a decade-long, thuggish, personal vendetta against Eva Moskowitz, which Ravitch has joined with gusto (if not with facts)).  If Harlem Success is seeking only the "kids who get high scores on the state test", then why would it spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to reach EVERY family, and why would it have applied to NY state for special permission (which was granted) to give PREFERENCE to English Language Learners in next year's lottery (see  And where is Ravitch's evidence that Harlem Success is skimming?  The attached data shows that Harlem Success is serving equally if not more disadvantaged children than nearby district schools.


Diane Ravitch on testing, accountability, curriculum, charters and much more


12:05 AM Mon, May 17, 2010 | Permalink | Yahoo! Buzz
William McKenzie/ Editorial Columnist |  | News tips


KIPP Student-Attrition Patterns Eyed

High mobility rates at certain schools attract criticism, despite suggestions that problem is easing over time.

By Erik W. Robelen  

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