Where Chahter Rhymes with Wicked Smahter

In Massachusetts, we like our education debates like our turkeys: fact free and stuffed with excellence.

Greetings from the land of the Massholes, where chahter rhymes with wicked smahter and we like our debates about public education the old-fashioned way: fact free. Did you know, for example, that in the most recent round of international tests, African American students in Massachusetts outscored Finnish students in math? No? Chances are you missed this information—because you live in Massachusetts, where it went completely unreported.

The rubber stamp gang
To experience this fact-free environment in all of its glory, I’d suggest you fire up the family mini van and take a little road trip to Malden, where our esteemed edu-officials will soon engage in the yearly ritual known as ‘rubber stamping excellence.’ Members of the Board of Education will spend the next two days “deliberating,” “asking questions,” and deploying the word “achievement” as noun, verb and adjective. (Note: the guy in the back is NOT sleeping; he’s reflecting deeply on the achievement gap.) And after two days of mystery, suspense and hard-charging debate, the Bay State will likely have five new academies of innovation and 11 expanded institutions of excellence.

Familiarity breeds excellence
To premium EduShyster readers, many of these ‘pre-approved’ contenders will be familiar. There is the Turkish-run science school which is absolutely not connected to the Gulen network. And there is our fave local miracle school, UP Academy, which will soon be working its particular brand of magic (presto, chango, students are gone-o) at one of Boston’s largest elementary schools. And don’t forget City on a Hill, the “high-flying” charter high school that specializes in a unique brand of college-prep. Let’s pay a call, shall we?

Attrition is just another way to say ‘I love you’
When we last encountered City on a Hill, which is awaiting the state stamp of approval to expand its brand with new schools in Boston and New Bedford, the mayor of the latter city had raised some, ahem, difficult questions about the school and its, ahem, effectiveness in preparing kids for college. Like the fact that COH officials are predicting that 65% of the students at the new charter high school will leave the school before their senior year. Or that pesky business about City on a Hill students having lower AP scores, generally considered the “gold standard” of college prep measurement, than students at union-stifled public high schools in Boston and New Bedford. And may I add, somewhat gratuitously, that City on a Hill has an out-of-school suspension rate of 43.6%?

What’s AP?
Now here’s something that will make absolutely no difference in a fact-free environment: new data that seems to confirm that whatever City on a Hill is preparing students for, it probably isn’t college. In recent weeks, state education officials released yet another trove of data for journalists to ignore, including SAT and AP participation and performance from 2010-2012. The more recent student data for City on a Hill is even worse than the last batch. In 2012, for example, not a single student at City on a Hill scored above a 1 or a 2 on an AP test in any subject. Meanwhile the handful of City on a Hill students who took AP tests on the fiercely urgent STEM subjects of calculus and computer science scored too low to record any score.

One thumb way up
Reader: savor these tidbits, and, while you’re at it, spend some time perusing City on a Hill’s sub par SAT data too. But know that this is likely the last you’ll hear of it. After all, in a fact-free environment why have any discussion about whether a charter high school that alleges to be preparing kids for college is actually preparing kids for college? I vote that we let City on a Hill open another school. Aw hell—let ‘em open two schools. Did I mention that college readiness is the civil rights issue of our time?

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6 thoughts on “Where Chahter Rhymes with Wicked Smahter

  1. “COH officials are predicting that 65% of the students at the new charter high school will leave the school before their senior year”.

    This is actually a reasonable estimate, based on their history:

    http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/profiles/student.aspx?orgcode=04370000&orgtypecode=5&

    Here are some recent examples of attrition at this school between 9th and 12 grades:

    Class of 2013:
    9th grade: 130 students
    12th grade: 47 students
    Attrition: 63.8%

    Class of 2012:
    9th grade: 99 students
    12th grade: 38 students
    Attrition: 61.6%

    Class of 2011:
    9th grade: 86 students
    12th grade: 50 students
    Attrition: 41.9%

    Class of 2010:
    9th grade: 115 students
    12th grade: 48 students
    Attrition: 58.3%

    Class of 2009:
    9th grade: 107 students
    12th grade: 46 students
    Attrition: 57.0%

    Class of 2008:
    9th grade: 118 students
    12th grade: 48 students
    Attrition: 59.3%

    All classes:
    9th grade: 1,249 students
    12th grade: 600 students:
    Attrition: 51.9%

    Yes, in its history, this school has “lost” 51.9% of its 9th-graders before 12th grade.

    Note that I didn’t say “before graduation”. The 12th-grade figures above are counted on October 1st of the 12th-grade year. This data does not reflect any students who are “lost” during their senior year.

    • In other words, you’re saying that City on a Hill should open three schools? Or perhaps four? It seems unfair to imprison so much excellence within a single, innovative structure. Thanks for writing!

      • The facts speak for themselves; any school* with such consistently high attrition simply must be an Academy of Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.

        * = Amend that to “any CHARTER school”, as a district school with such attrition would be up on civil rights charges right quick.

        Unfortunately, City on a Hill is not the champion in charter-school attrition; it falls well short of these storied Attrition Academies:

        Berkshire Arts & Technology (65.9%)
        Phoenix Charter Academy (63.1%)
        Community Charter of Cambridge (60.0%)
        Match Charter (54.6%)

  2. Pingback: Headlines, 2/26/2013 | EdGator

  3. I do LOVE this kind of data blindness. Just let the politics of bleached white teeth Admin play out and put the data aside. Let the theory and myth replace the hard facts, and talk about “saving the children” until your mouth goes dry and you need to sip imported mineral water as provided in the board room.

    Importantly, you must pad your salary at the top while simultaneously cutting costs everywhere else. Without this essential component of the City on a Hill success model, the whole program would grind to a halt. Unless your executive director and underling (how many times has he been fired? and who saves him each time?) are making big big money, no one below them can ever survive. Need paper and pencils? Sorry, we’re out of money — oh and I need to go cash my bonus check now that you mention money. Need a raise? Sorry, we have to cut costs. Oh but I do need to renegotiate my salary to be more than double the highest paid teacher, now that you mention money. You lost your key to the front door? Sorry, that will be a month’s pay out of your pocket even though it costs us nearly nothing to rectify the situation.

    Spend at the top, slash everywhere below. A model worth replicating for sure, right?

  4. Interesting, let us keep walking down this path. The path of politics, greed, fancy rhetoric with empty meanings, impressive college degrees coupled with major ignorance of what happens outside in the real world. “Don’t believe in Luck, its hard work that pays off”, so they say…then why the waste of salaries at the top, who is “working” hard there? It is worth mentioning City on a Hill, as known as “Plantation on the Hill” by students, parents and its community, not only manages to successfully keep the drop out rate high but also drives out most of their male, black students. Take a look at the last few graduating classes, we may have an all girls school in disguise? “Leadership” at the school means two individuals who have been there forever, just do what they want, say what they want, scare and intimidate who they want and ruin the lives of hard working people just to save their own overinflated salaries. Teachers have taken cuts in their budgets for years and years but look up the data, these two “leaders” have received huge pay hikes despite the cuts – and don’t forget the bonuses made even when the “goals” are not met. The board members are useless when it comes to actually managing these “leaders”. All on the taxpayer’s dime. Sad – us teachers and students deserve more.