A Look at Charter Attrition Rates

After WSMV and The City Paper ran stories on charter schools losing “struggling students” to zoned schools in time for TCAP exams, outrage has ensued among parents and charter advocates. While some parents are upset that charter students are being sent back into the school system weeks before the TCAP exam, some charter advocates believe MNPS mislead the news station because “their own scores must not be that hot this year,” “data was skewed & manipulated,” and that MNPS does not care about individual students.

After I read the WSMV article, I emailed MNPS to ask for the same information they gave the WSMV reporter. I received seven documents from the communications office including attrition rates for MNPS and some individual school reports of attrition 9 weeks before the TCAP. Though, after my first communication with the schools, I was told that MNPS and the principal from KIPP Academy met and the school system sent me an updated attrition document that was changed after their meeting. The numbers were a little different, but the top attrition schools were still the same.


The first chart shows charter schools leading the way in attrition. As others have noted, if you have a smaller set of students, your percentage is higher than larger schools if a few students leave.

But, as you can see from the chart, there are a lot of people leaving all schools, zoned schools included. For Smithson Head Middle, out of an 11th day enrollment of 324, 89 students left while they have taken on 8 students throughout the year. The number of 81 for attrition equates to a -25% attrition rate. They now only enroll 243 students.

For Boys Prep, they had a smaller 11th day enrollment of 100 students. The school lost 39 students, or 39% of their student body this year. They took on 16 students for an attrition of 23 students and a -23% attrition rate. They now only enroll 77 children.

When looking at KIPP Academy, a well known charter, nationally, for it’s high standards and performance, they had an 11th day enrollment of 337. We see that 64 left while 13 came to the school during that time.

KippWDWhile looking at the school specifically, you can see that 20 students left KIPP Academy nine weeks leading up to TCAP. All but one of those 20 students that left had been suspended multiple times. Eight of those 20 are considered “special needs disability” students.





LEAD Academy lost 20 students in the nine weeks leading up to TCAP. Fourteen of those students had been suspended during the year.









Drexel had 33 students leave within the nine week period, which means that over half of the exits took place within a 9 week period.





While more charter schools are on the way, we should be looking at attrition both in charter and in zoned schools. We need to keep more kids from changing schools. As many zoned schools see a large number of students leave their schools, I believe charter schools and zoned schools are different for one main reason: Charter students are not randomly chosen. While families zoned for schools aren’t technically randomly selected for their schools, it’s the best way to describe it. For charters, you have to go out of your way to attend the schools. Parents have to agree to longer schools day, to read to their kids, or other agreements along those lines. For zoned schools, it’s the exact opposite. The parents do nothing and the kids are sent to the school they are zoned to. So while many people are leaving zoned schools, it looks strange to see that parents would go out of their way to enroll their children in a new program to only move to a different school at a later time.


I wanted to show the numbers from my high school for two reasons. One, because there are many people coming and going from zoned schools, as I said earlier. Two, to show people that I attended a school with a graduation rate of 66.9% and a dropout rate of 19.6% the year I graduated. I hear continued arguments that those families who may come from nicer areas of Nashville should not have a point of view on this topic because they go to nicer schools. First, all families should be able to voice their opinions without getting attacked for where they live. I went to a school where over half of the students are considered “Economically Disadvantaged” and hallways were lined with gangs. Does that mean my opinion matters more than those who went to (fill in the school that you always site as being better than others)? No, they don’t.

When more people, both with children in the school system and not, care about our education system, it will get better. That is everyone’s goal here. We want the education of Nashville’s children to be better, some just want to get there a different way. The goal is still the same. But when people start attacking others based on where they live or where they went to school, you are undermining your whole argument. You want to give all students a chance to learn and succeed, but you won’t give all parents a right to express their ideas.

Let’s continue to talk about issues that are facing our education system. Let’s continue to meet and talk with people whose idea’s are different. Let’s continue to exchange ideas between us. Let’s continue to improve our children’s education. But let’s not continue the harsh tones and attacks that we all are doing. The only way to fix our education system is working together.

While I have written a post that may seem “anti charter,” (hint: it’s not) it doesn’t not mean I won’t work with charter schools to see what they are doing better than zoned schools. We can all question what zoned schools are doing or what charter schools are doing. The only thing we can do to help our education system is to be involved.

Here are a few organizations you can check out to get involved in your local education system.

State Collaborative on Reforming Education

TEA Teachers – Tennessee Education Association

Professional Educators of Tennessee

Tennessee Charter Schools Association


5 thoughts on “A Look at Charter Attrition Rates

  1. If the goal of charter schools is to “rescue” students from “lousy” schools, why are they not replacing every lost student with children on their reportedly long wait lists ? They would achieve their mission and make back lost revenue–money that some claim these charters cannot afford to lose. Is it because those who run the schools fear that the children they bring in mid year may not have the ability to get “good ” TCAP scores? Zoned schools do not have the option of not accepting children. If a child enrolls at a traditional school mid year, that school must take him/her regardless of academic ability or parental involvement. Therefore traditional schools do not have the same ability to “engineer” their student set as charter schools. Doesn’t seem fair to me.

    • No, what’s not fair Jen is that you have the ability (social, economic, and political capital) to ensure that your kids get a pretty good education, and many other families in Nashville don’t.

      If the MNPS public schools don’t work out, you’ll leave. Or you’ll move to Williamson Co. Or homeschool. Or private school.

      Life is not that way for MOST families in Nashville.

      It’s quite arrogant of those that have means and who have plenty of opportunity to ensure their own kids get a great education work so hard to limit the very FEW high quality public education options that other families in Nashville have.

      And no – the silly argument of your kid’s school somehow being affected by charters getting a small fraction of the overall MNPS public revenue doesn’t pan out at all (it’s pretty selfish thinking that isn’t accurate with reality).

      Your crowd doesn’t care for standardized tests anyhow, so why all this made up big stink about something related to test scores?

  2. Hunter, you pretty much proved Zack’s point via your comment. Have you ever met Jen? On what do you base your statements about her “means” or her decisions for her kids? Are you yourself excluded from having an opinion under your criteria? Nice try to change the subject from the alarming stats about challenging kids “leaving” charter schools, kids who presumably have little social, political, and economic capital. It’s sad that you cannot grant that those who worry that privatization will set up even further educational stratification might have legitimate concerns or even genuine motivations, and instead dismiss them with accusations of “arrogance” toward people you know nothing about. And then I’m sure you’ll call for collaboration and conversation instead of finger pointing. Collaboration = those who disagree with your vision staying on the receiving end of the punches?

    • It would be nice “Please” if you would identify yourself, rather than hiding behind some pen name, whoever you are.

      I have not met Jen, but have had some less than pleasant interactions with her on twitter.

      She comes across as very opinionated to me, without knowing how many charters actually function. She has also questioned the very intent and motivation of me and many charter leaders in this town, so I can’t say I’m ready and willing to accept many of her comments in a listening ear manner.

      Let’s talk about attrition. I’m not trying to change the subject. I’ve written 3 posts on my personal blog on the subject. But let’s be fair and have the discussion equally for all schools. And let’s not use manipulated data and formulas.

      Which ironically, I am for talking about the facts, but you Please, and Jen, seem to want to engage in some sort of McCarthyism so you can deflect the fact that…gasp…your neighborhood school might not be that great after all. So they conjure up a lot of drama focused on charters to distract people from the educational quality of 95% of students in Nashville.

      I too worry about the effects of privatization of public schools. Many of the curriculums, I-pads, etc, that the district purchases, which often end up being ineffective learning tools for students, are purchased from private vendors.

      So it seems quite hypocritical that you would likely be for purchasing I-pads, lots of “private services”, but then criticize charters as trying to “privatize” education (which in TN they are not).

      By law, charters are nonprofit orgs in TN, so they are designed to prevent the so called privatization you talk about. They’re out to educate kids. (again, your comment has questioned the fundamental intent of many people you don’t know, charter leaders and their governing boards).

      I was personally against this past session’s proposal to allow for-profit charters in TN. The for profit virtual school in TN is a joke, it should be shut down.

      So please don’t get on your virtuous high horse about privatization. That isn’t the issue. It’s another red herring that you and Jen want to throw out in the public so you won’t have to admit what we all know – there are far too many schools in MNPS that are failing students, and failing them miserably.

  3. Pingback: Summer Hot List on TN School Reform | Standing Together for Strong Community Schools

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