Does CA charter deserve strokes or pokes for its attrition rate?

By Caroline Grannan

Parents Across America founding member, San Francisco

Blogger Alexander Russo raised some questions about happy-talk PR by a K-12 charter school in Lodi, Calif., which put out a press release announcing that its first cohort that started at the school in kindergarten is now graduating — with only eight of the original 60 kids still at the school. Russo questioned whether that attrition rate at Aspire Benjamin Holt College Preparatory Academy should be discussed.

Well, I’m the queen of exposing charter school attrition, but I can see too many potential factors at work to criticize the attrition between kindergarten and grade 12 in this case. I don’t know when the school’s middle and high school opened, for example — what if it wasn’t clear that it would ever expand to middle and high school and only the boldest risk-takers chose to stick around?

But there’s still an attrition story here. I looked at the numbers for the middle school and high school grades. The three middle school grades are considerably larger than the high school grades and change very little between grades 6 and 8; then there’s a sharp dropoff to grade 9. Not knowing what the story is there, I decided not to look into the drop from grade 8 to grade 9, but to focus on grades 9-12.

I examined four years’ worth of class cohorts, and here’s the real story:  The attrition rate (students who left and were not replaced) is nearly 40% for the Class of  ’12, and higher for the previous three classes. The Class of  ’09  lost an eye-popping 64.41% of its students and didn’t replace them. Perhaps their “good news” spin could be that the attrition rate has fallen below 40% for the first time with the Class of ’12, but that’s nothing to boast about.

By the way, Lodi (made famous by Creedence Clearwater Revival) is some 65 miles east of San Francisco, where the Central Valley meets the Sacramento River Delta, in a fairly depressed area. The school has about 36% free/reduced-price lunch students, compared to 61.9% for the greater region, San Joaquin County.

Aspire Benjamin Holt College Preparatory Academy, Lodi, CA

High school graduating class of 2012: From grade 9 to grade 12, this cohort lost 39.03% of its students.

Grade 9 08-09 school year 82
Grade 10 09-10 school year 72
Grade 11 10-11 school year 59
Grade 12 11-12 school year 50

High school graduating class of 2011: From grade 9 to grade 12, this cohort lost 42.26% of its students.

Grade 9 07-08 school year 71
Grade 10 08-09  school year 60
Grade 11 09-10 school year 49
Grade 12 10-11 school year 41

High school graduating class of 2010: From grade 9 to grade 12, this cohort lost 46.27% of its students.

Grade 9 06-07 school year 67
Grade 10 07-08  school year 54
Grade 11 08-09 school year 44
Grade 12 09-10 school year 36

High school graduating class of 2009: From grade 9 to grade 12, this cohort lost 64.41% of its students.

Grade 9 05-06 school year 59
Grade 10 06-07  school year 44
Grade 11 07-08 school year 30
Grade 12 08-09 school year 21
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