Back to Achievement First (Achievement First’s “Not Meant as A Statement of Fact” Approach)

Many will remember when US Senator John Kyl said “over 90% of Planned Parenthood’s budget was used for abortion services when the real number is 3%.  When asked, his press office said that the Senator’s comments were “not meant as a statement of fact.”

In this case, Achievement First, the charter school management company that runs 20 schools in Connecticut and New York claims that where district schools fail, they do better.  Or, as they say, “when compared to their peers in traditional public schools in our same communities” they have done much better and deserve more of the money that was meant for the urban district schools.

There is a link to a recent Hartford Courant story at the end of this post – take a look at that after you complete this article.

Charter schools are an important educational model to consider as the education reform debate proceeds – but Achievement First does a great disservice to the charter school effort when it makes claims that something is a FACT when it is not.

Take for example;

Not that long ago, in a special report produced for public television, the host Clarence Page, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, stood in front of Achievement First’s Amistad Academy and said “All of Amistad’s students are chosen through the same lottery system as other public schools in New Haven. That means Amistad cannot skim high achievers.  It has the same student mix as any other New Haven school.

Dacia Toll, Achievement First’s Co- CEO and President added “We cannot hand pick our students.  We can’t out the ones that are the most challenging…it is important for us to play by the same rules.

And Doug McCurry, the company’s other Co-CEO and President said “we can’t look people in the eye honestly and say “we’ve been really successful.  Can you maybe think about doing what we’re going?”  Because the first thing they’re going to say is “you don’t have the same kids as we do.”  And then the discussion is over.  But we can say “yes we do.”

Achievement First’s claim is that it is succeeding where others have failed.  It is an impressive and powerful argument, and while many policymakers including Governor Malloy and members of the Connecticut General Assembly have echoed that message as their primary defense of shifting money from district schools to charter schools, the fact is – Achievement First’s claim is simply not true.

Achievement First DOES NOT educate the same range of students that district public schools do.  That doesn’t mean their charter schools are bad – far from it – what it does say is that their corporate officers are not telling the truth.

Data from the Connecticut Department of Education: Strategic School Profiles 2009 – 2010

District/School % Minority Students % Free/Reduced Lunch % Latino % ELL* % Homes where English is not the primary language
Hartford Schools 93% 93% 52% 17% 43%
AF-Hartford Academy 100% 68% 10% 5% 5%
New Haven Schools 87% 81% 37% 12% 28%
AF- Amistad Academy 98% 66% 35% 12% 12%
AF – Elm City Prep 99% 69% 21% 9% 9%
Bridgeport Schools 91% 99% 48 13% 40%
AF-Bridgeport 99% 67% 41 6% 6%

*ELL = English Language Learners (students who lack sufficient master of English to “assure equally educational opportunity in the regular school program as mandated by CGS 10-17e)

Achievement First schools are more racially isolated and educate a population of students that is significantly less poor.  The charter schools run by Achievement First include far fewer Latino students than are in the surrounding community, have far few students who are not proficient in the English language and far more students who go home to households where English is the primary language spoken.

Each of those variables correlate with lower standardized test scores and in each case Achievement First is pulling in the children who are most likely to do better on standardized tests and then taking the exclusive credit when they do better.  That is called skimming off the best students.

Achievement First and the issue of Graduation Rates:

Read through everything Achievement First has published for legislators or the general public and you’ll find no information whatsoever about the graduation rates at their high schools

What you will find is the impressive statistic that in 2010 and 2011, the senior classes at the Amistad Academy and Elm City Preparatory school achieved a 100-percent college acceptance rate. The number is very impressive and they deserve tremendous credit for that accomplishment but those documents fail to inform the reader that according to an Achievement First spokesperson “that acceptance into a four-year college is a requirement to graduate from our high schools,”

So of course they have a 100% acceptance rate because if you don’t get accepted to college you are deemed not to have graduated.

More importantly, Achievement First fails to say that along the way (from 9th grade to 12th grade), 51% of the class of 2010 and 2011 simply left the school.

We recognize how important it is to reflect the population that our districts serve,” Sharpe said. “We will do whatever we can working with the community to encourage more applications from that pool of parents. We’re not going to be passive. We’re going to be active.”

Link to Hartford Courant story: http://www.courant.com/news/education/hc-charters-support-malloy-0210-20120209,0,7200798.story

 

  • Jeff Klaus

    Jon,

    I know you said “not that long ago” but when exactly did Clarence page vist Amistad Academy? And of course, before you made your claim that Dacia Toll and Doug Mcurry lied, i am sure that you checked to see that the demographics of the school when he visited mirrored the results you referenced above, right?

    • PublicCharterMom

      Jeff,
      After reading this piece and ended up with the same questions.

  • jane

    Jon, lets be real with the stats…..tell me what is the percentage of students in zone 3 and 4 in hartford where achievement first hartford first opened and where there students were required to come from and lets go a little further and look at it again of families in that zone that had children of that age group….. and of those families how many filled out an application….choice mean a parent has to be looking for a better option …….so then the school moved and opened up on the school choice in hartford and I know this because this was for last year that I applied for my eigth grader who had been let fall through the cracks at the magnet school he attended….that when I filled the application for AFHA that I was told because the school was no longer in our zone that transportation would not be provided ….. I value education and would provide transportation because I drive and have a car but many do not ……you blame achievement first but transportation is the job of the district…..he ended up with transportation but we have to consider all the facts and not just throw stones…….the system is not perfect there is alot that needs to change but dont blame a school for not being diverse when reality …..the make-up of this end of hartford is black and then hispanic and alot of mixed my own race is mixed and unfortunately when filling forms I have a choice white black or latino and so my children are the same as are many of those in AFHA as in the other schools and well since most aplications say choose one or administrators choose one it is whatever they look more like. My point if we don’t fix the paperwork we can make it look however we want. So get real statistics or explain the reality of situaltions…..

  • PublicCharterMom

    Jon,

    Since the data is meant to show that Achievement First is doing something wrong I fail to see where this is. Where is the data that shows that Achievement First is reaching out exclusively to one particular race and/or families of a particular economic status?
    Here’s a better question: You say that Achievement First educates children that are significantly less poor. How much is this ‘significantly’?

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  • Prester John

    Semantics must be part of the coursework at AF! 100% college acceptance indeed!
    All AF and the other charter school programs are doing is an end-run around public education and the contentious concept of vouchers.
    While not a fan of vouchers I am really not a fan of private and quasi-public education,or church affiliated education…but to each his own. That said,do it with YOUR money,not mine.
    Dan Malloy’s commitment to public education can be determined by asking and answering one question.No matter the reasons (and you do not want to know!) did Dan send his three kids to private schools?

  • Jeff Klaus

    Prester, until public education offers real choices and options for parents and students, you can depend on lots of arguments about we spend our money. If you support the status quo structure and you don’t like criticism and innovation ideas, then let parents and taxpayers vote with their feet. Until then we will challenge the status quo every step of the way.

  • Allison

    Jeff, you have a choice. Either send your kid to private school, homeschool, move to a district you like, or get involved and make your school system work. Most of us opt for the last one.

  • Jeff Klaus

    We agree Allison. That’s precisely what I am doing!

  • Rob

    Jon,

    I admire your passion for education issues, and it speaks to your integrity that you don’t claim that Achievement First schools are bad – you just have issue with some of A.F.’s promotional statements. Too often, worthwhile arguments about the merits of charter schools descend into demagoguery when one side assumes the worst about the other. Thanks for staying level-headed – I’ll try my best to do the same.

    First, you’re right that some A.F. schools don’t serve the exact same range of students that district public schools do. At Achievement First Hartford Academy, for example, just 5% of students are English language learners. In Hartford as a whole, 17% of students are E.L.L. This difference is legitimate, and to be totally honest, it probably doesn’t hurt A.F.H.A.’s achievement scores. Achievement First doesn’t purposefully enroll fewer E.L.L. students, though. A.F.H.A. is in Hartford’s North End, a predominately African-American and West Indian part of the city. Hartford’s E.L.L. students are concentrated in other areas of the city (specifically in the South End, which has a large Puerto Rican community). Using words like “pulling” and “skimming” implies that A.F.H.A. purposefully denies enrollment to E.L.L. students. It does not. In reality, Achievement First Hartford Academy’s student population mirrors that of the North End, but not necessarily of the whole city. The same fact explains the large discrepancy between the percent of Hartford kids who live in homes where English is not the primary language (43%) and the percent of A.F.H.A. kids who live in such homes (5%). Again, this difference likely provides A.F.H.A. with a distinct advantage on the CMTs, but it’s not a result of enrollment manipulation – it’s just geography. In the first two years that the school was opened, it was limited to enrolling students from the North End.

    Second, you raise some legitimate points about Achievement First’s claim that 100% of their high school graduates have been admitted to college. This claim is true. It’s also true that students must earn admission to a college before they are considered to be “graduates.” You might think that this rule makes Achievement First’s graduation claims bogus – there’s merit to that argument. I’d just pose the question: what if every public high school had such a requirement? It wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Not every high school graduate would have to enroll in college, but they’d at least have to be admitted. To graduate, all students would have to reach a standard high enough to earn admission to a degree-granting institution. To be frank, if a student graduates from any high school in Connecticut without meeting that requirement, then a diploma from that high school isn’t worth much. Not every kid has to get into Yale, but they should at least be admitted to S.C.S.U.

    Lastly, it’s true that Achievement First is a legal corporation. It has two Co-C.E.O.s, a C.O.O., and a host of other acronym-holding leaders. I guess it’s not technically inaccurate for you to refer to Doug and Dacia as “corporate officers,” but that’s a pretty loaded label. I’m no ideologue, but when I read the phrase “corporate officers” in a blog post that supposedly documents organizational dishonesty, I can’t help but think of Enron and Lehman Brothers. Achievement First may be a corporation, but it makes no profit and has no shareholders. The bulk of its employees are teachers, just like any school district.

    • jonpelto

      Thank you for you exceptionally informative response. I may get back to you with some questions but your explanation is the most coherent and thoughtful I’ve ever heard.

  • Tom Burns

    Rob-
    What do Doug and Dacia make $$$$–in this non-profit organization?

    Just for transparency sake—–is it a teachers salary? Tom

    Please advise–I may want to open one of these schools

    • Rob

      Tom,

      Doug and Dacia make about $250,000 each.  Compared to a teacher’s salary, that’s a hell of a lot of money.  However, keep in mind that they’re both heads of a school system that handles thousands of kids.  Their equivalent role is that of district superintendent, not classroom teacher.  For the sake of argument, Hartford’s superintendent, Christina Kishimoto, earns $215,000 per year and a car allowance.  She’s also never been a classroom teacher, but Dacia and Doug have.

      Rob