Amistad Sends 30 To College, “Loses” 23

Melissa Bailey PhotoSixty-four freshmen started the Amistad charter high school four years ago. On Wednesday, 25 of them prepared to get high school diplomas and head to college along with five other new classmates.

It was a day of inspiration, celebration—and reflection on what it means to measure the success of a public school.

The event took place at Yale’s Woolsey Hall, where students from the Achievement First network of charter schools gathered for a fourth annual “senior signing day,” where seniors at Achievement First Amistad High School announced their college choices before their families and younger peers. The day came with dramatic stories of overcoming death in the family, gangs and gun violence.

For the fourth year in a row, the high school, which serves 316 kids from Bridgeport and New Haven, announced a “100 percent college acceptance rate.” This year, that means all 30 seniors are headed to college, to schools ranging from Gateway Community College to the Ivy League.

The “100 percent” figure does not give the full picture for the whole group of kids who entered Amistad four years ago. Data show that for nearly one of them who walked across the stage Wednesday, another was “lost” along the way. Students “lost” to Amistad include one senior who withdrew in March to attend adult education.

New Haven Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Garth Harries applauded Achievement First for the nuanced way it is examining the problem, with careful attention to the reason for each transfer.

Harries said the data highlight a challenge for the charter network: “Given the place that Achievement First operates in the portfolio as a hardcore college prep program that is extremely rigorous, both by academic and personal development standards, what are they doing to react to and think about that level of loss from their class and their cohort?”

The figures reflect a larger debate about how to measure the success of a school, and Amistad’s role in serving a portion of the city’s 20,000 public school kids. The debate has taken place with ferocity in New Haven ever since Achievement First opened its first school, Amistad Academy, in 1999. Achievement First now runs 22 charter schools in the region, including five in New Haven; students are admitted through a public lottery. In the past decade and a half, Achievement First schools have gained national attention for helping low-income minorities succeed at higher rates than traditional public schools. Critics argue that because of the academic rigor, approach to discipline, and highly regimented school culture, Amistad’s model works only for certain kids. Wednesday’s event begged the question: Does Amistad produce college-goers, or screen for them by shedding kids who are not on the college track?

Who Made It

In speeches before hundreds at Yale’s elegant Woolsey Hall, students shed some light on that question in personal narratives. Far from being heirs to the Ivy League, they described confronting many of the same personal and academic challenges that other low-income kids face across the city. The stories came from 30 seniors, five of whom have been in high school for more than four years.

Fabian Talton (at left in photo) said he came close to quitting Amistad his junior year, when his father died. He fell into a slump. “In class, I would barely take the time to read the words on the paper,” he recalled.

“I thought Amistad was too much for me, and I wanted to leave,” he said. “But his death, and my mom’s encouragement, kept me motivated.”

Orane Fraser (at left in photo), 19, described being stabbed at age 14 because he was a member of the Crips gang.

“At times I felt like there was no hope,” he said. He was “ready to quit” during freshman and sophomore years, he later elaborated. After “watching my homeboys die,” he said, “I came to the realization that I had to change my life.”

“I grew up in a place where drugs and gun violence were the norm,” said Markese Wright. “I watched other teens, and some very close friends, friends I call family, victimized by violence.” Markese proudly announced he is headed to Franklin & Marshall College.

What happened to the kids who didn’t walk across the stage Wednesday?

Of the 64 students who entered Amistad High in 2009 as freshmen, plus two who joined the group after freshman year, 25 are graduating this year and heading to college; seven were retained and plan to graduate high school next year; and 34 withdrew from the school along the way, according to Achievement First spokeswoman Amanda Pinto.

Of the 34 kids who withdrew, 11 transferred for reasons Amistad considered “acceptable,” such as moving out of state or to a competitive private school. Another 23 were considered a “loss,” meaning they transferred out for reasons the school deemed unacceptable, such as behavior problems or trouble adjusting to school culture, Pinto said.

Who Didn’t Make It

Why did they leave?

An internal report Amistad released at a board meeting Wednesday gives some insight. The report doesn’t account for all 34 kids, but it gives a sense of why kids across all grades left the school this academic year.

So far this year, 15 of 331 students have transferred out, mostly from the 9th grade, a 3 percent attrition rate, according to the report. Six left for reasons the school deemed “acceptable”; nine left for reasons the school deemed unacceptable, such as transferring to a district public school, which counts towards the school’s internal attrition rate.

Amistad High School [AHS] lost two seniors this year, according to the report.

One student with special needs left the school in December. “Student has been at AHS for 7 years,” the report reads. “She has repeated multiple times. She had an IEP [an individual education plan for special education] and was provided with numerous interventions and accommodations. She is 19,” and is moving out of New Haven.

Another student left on March 20. “Despite school efforts, [student] was still struggling to pass his courses. [He] will transfer to adult education to complete the two remaining credits he needs there,” the report reads.

The first student’s departure was considered “acceptable”; the second was not.

Amistad High keeps detailed records of why they left the school, but not what happened to them after that (whether they ended up graduating or going to college), according to Principal Chris Bostock (at right in photo).

Bostock said some students transferred out along the way because of the school’s academic “rigor.”

“It’s just hard,” he said. “We’re asking them to get up earlier, stay at school later, do more homework,” and meet high standards on their work.

Here is a sample of reasons students in grade 9 to 11 left Amistad High within the past year:

“Acceptable” Departures:
• Moved to Hamden (and therefore lives outside the school’s attendance zone).

• “Mother concerned about bus stop (drop-off) and her not being able to keep an eye on her daughter in an unsafe neighborhood.”

• “Student had significant behavioral struggles in and out of school. AHS facilitated many meetings, interventions and supports. Mother agrees that her daughter was given multiple opportunities but prefers to seek a therapeutic setting through NH courts.”

• “Student has several mental health issues that must be addressed at another location.”

Unacceptable Departures
• “Mother wanted to withdraw [student] due to restrictive school culture.”

• Mother wanted to keep daughters in the same high school.

• Mother “unhappy with AF middle-school experience and unwilling to keep her at AHS.” The student transferred to Metropolitan Business Academy, a city magnet school.

• Student “was seeking more AP and early college courses even though he had access to them here. After a visit to Hillhouse [High School], he decided to withdraw” from Amistad High.

• Student “was expelled earlier in the year for distributing alcohol in school. Mother loves AHS, but feels the need to be closer to her daughter” for her daughter’s health.

• Parents “stated that the great amount of homework interfered with their ability to have meaningful family time.”

• “Parent felt that school was not challenging her daughter and was bringing out the negativity in her.”

Principal Bostock said Amistad is closely tracking the school’s attrition rate, with a goal of keeping it under 5 percent per year. “We go to great lengths around that,” he said. He said the school is doing better to meet the needs of kids in special education.

“Ultimately, a school that has high levels of achievement,” but also high levels of attrition, he said, “is not a good school.”

“Unless 100 percent of our kids are walking across the stage the first time through”—in other words, graduating from high school in four years—“we’re not satisfied.”

Rebecca Good, principal at Elm City College Prep Middle School, said one common reason for losing kids is that they don’t want to be held back in school. Her school lost 10 percent of kids last year, in large part for that reason, she said. Families find out that if they withdraw from Elm City, “they’re able to get into their ‘right grade,’” instead of being held back, she said. “We can’t compete with that.”

The same dilemma faces any school that raises expectations for promotion, such as High School in the Community, where a mom recently threatened to withdraw her child if the school didn’t move her daughter from freshman to sophomore year.

It’s hard to compare one small high school to New Haven’s 20,000-student school district, where kids who leave one school of choice get absorbed elsewhere in the system.

The most even comparison between the two systems is the graduation rate.

Amistad High had a 75 percent four-year cohort graduation rate last year. A state report card shows Amistad High with a 58.6 percent four-year cohort graduation rate in 2011, the most recent year available. Achievement First spokeswoman Amanda Pinto said the rate rose to 75 percent last year, which would put it just above the New Haven public schools rate of 71 percent..

New Haven has made strides towards a more honest way of counting of dropouts and graduates than the way it used in the past. Ahead of the state, New Haven began three years ago to revamp its graduation rate to reflect which kids transfer in and out of the school, instead of just looking at the freshman class. Students in adult education are considered dropouts. As part of this process, the district tracks whether departing students are continuing education.

But unlike Amistad, the district does not place a value judgment on the reason for their transfer—i.e., whether New Haven should have hung onto that kid—according to Harries.

He said Amistad’s method of doing so is an “impressive” first step to addressing the problem.

Amistad senior Shehu Muhammad (at left in photo) said he found inspiration to stick with school from his mother. Every time he thought he had a lot of work, he looked at his mother, he said. His mom, Khadijah Muhammad, went back to college at age 40, while working several jobs and caring for four kids. She just earned her associate’s degree from Gateway last week.

Muhammad, president of the parent leadership council at Amistad, said she has put all her four kids through Achievement First schools. At a certain point, she said, her kids protested, “I don’t want to go back! It’s too hard!” But she made them stick with it.

She reasoned that some parents may withdraw their kids from Amistad because their kids protest, and “they don’t want to fight their child.” Other parents have not “bought in” to the Amistad model, she said. Muhammad swears by the model, in part because it resulted in her son heading to college in the fall. Muhammad was one of many beaming parents and relatives at Wednesday’s ceremony.

City cop and community activist Shafiq Abdussabur (pictured, with his daughter, Salwa) cheered on his son, Ismail ...

... who is heading to Central Connecticut State University to study engineering.

Winfred Rembert, the renowned leather carver from Newhallville, showed up to support his grandson, Winfred Rembert III, who will be heading to the University of Pennsylvania in the fall.

Winfred is one of four students who will be attending Ivy League schools; others are headed to Brown and Princeton.

Amistad High has hired two full-time “alumni counselors” to work with Amistad alums as they go through college, according to Principal Bostock. The school provides them a book scholarship and in return, retains the right to track their college transcripts. The first graduating class from Amistad High, the Class of 2010, is set to graduate from college next year.

Wednesday’s ceremony won’t mean anything if kids don’t stick with college, he said.

“Our number one goal is that every kid who starts with us finishes with a college degree.”

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posted by: Bill Saunders on May 30, 2013  3:34pm

It is interesting that the ‘unacceptable transfers’ are being used to blame students rather than to highlight Amistad’s ‘systemic failures’.  Classic cherry picking.  Achievement First certainly has a glut of administrator’s to cook data.

posted by: As2girls on May 30, 2013  3:43pm

AWESOME!!!  I love the Amistad model.  My daughter will be graduating from college in the Spring of 2020…(she is currently in the 9th grade)  GREAT JOB….KIDS FIRST

posted by: urban ed on May 30, 2013  4:05pm

Wow. Nice article, Melissa. A lot of food for thought. Some random ones:

A 50ish% completion rate puts Amistad on par with the traditional comprehensive high schools of 50+ years ago. Like those old-time schools, it works (well) for those for whom it works, making it an important part of the portfolio, as Garth says. But not replicable to scale and not a single answer to the problems that plague urban education.

Hopefully, all those successful seniors will be able to pay for all that college without bankrupting themselves, and will earn degrees that lead to fulfilling jobs and lives. There are, however, other ways to do that, which we ignore at our peril.

It is not surprising to me that parents pull kids out due to the culture and the rigor. In public schools, I have had to explain the concept of ‘credit’ many times to parents who firmly believe that promotion is chronological only. Must be worse at Amistad where earning that credit is surely harder. I have no idea what Amistad does for parent orientation and education, but perhaps they’ll need to step that up if they want to increase their numbers.

In any case, I’m glad they’re frankly looking at the issue. And of course, Congratulations to the Graduates!

posted by: taodhdaodh on May 30, 2013  4:52pm

First, this was a really well reported article. Many thanks for that. To Bill Saunders, I’m not sure your interpretation of the “unacceptable transfers” label is correct. My understanding is that Amistad views the unacceptable transfers as *its own* failures, not the students’ failures. That’s why Garth Harries thought it was impressive. It’s true that any boasting of a 100% graduation rate is baloney, but I’m not sure Amistad is really doing that here.

posted by: Brutus2011 on May 30, 2013  5:28pm

I am happy for the graduates and their families. 

I am an opponent of charter schools in general,however the good ones do offer families a choice to unruly public schools where the school and class environments are deleterious to learning. 

I am sending my soon-to-graduate 8th grader to a small public charter near SCSU and I am very hopeful that her formative secondary school years will find maximized academic and social growth—what all parents want for their kids.

And even as I work to defeat the privatization of public education, I am grateful to have a choice to ensure that my child is not doomed to have her educational experience degraded by those whose needs outside of school go unmet.

So, congratulations to the graduates and I hope they repeat this final experience four years from now.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 30, 2013  5:28pm

The question one must ask is are they ready for college?Show me the data on How many students who come from Charter Schools Drop out of College and aslo show me the data on how many Graduate from College.

posted by: As2girls on May 30, 2013 3:43pm
AWESOME!!!  I love the Amistad model.  My daughter will be graduating from college in the Spring of 2020…(she is currently in the 9th grade)  GREAT JOB….KIDS FIRST

love there model Check this out.

Former Achievement First parents speak out!

posted by: Anders on May 30, 2013  5:55pm

Lets look at the numbers objectively. The class initially 64, with 5 new comers, making 70 students total. Saying 30 are going on to college and there was a 100% acceptance rate indicates only 30 out of 70 graduated this high school, an appalling record. With 30 going to college out of 70, this indicates 42% of the class are going on to college, against a national average of about 50%. Altogether this is an abysmal performance. That said, my hearty congratulations to all who have graduated and are college bound. Having beaten a system that is so heavily weighted against you I am sure you will all do well in life.

posted by: Bishop on May 30, 2013  6:35pm

@Anders: You make a massive assumption in your math: that ONE of the students who left the school actually went on to college. That seems like a pretty big assumption. A really interesting study would be to compare whether going to an AF school at any point indeed makes a student more likely to attend college REGARDLESS of where they finish high school. I’d also love to know what percentage of NHPS students start college (the city has said their college graduation rate is around 29% in six years). Either way, you’re comparing apples and oranges. The national college graduation rate applies to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. If AF students beat the national 46% college graduation rate, there’s clearly something going on that’s right in there. The national average for low-income students is 8% in SIX years. Instead of bashing charters who are at least trying to do something right, perhaps we should be more angry at THAT number.

@Threefifths: Given how open AF is being about their data, why don’t you ask them? You seem to hurl a lot of aspersions at charters by pulling up the same 2-3 websites regularly, how much time have you spent in an AF school? With AF students? With AF teachers?

posted by: ElmCityVoice on May 30, 2013  7:02pm

Many people have felt put down by Amistad. Many of us have been made to believe that we are not good teachers, administrators, parents. Achievement First has a huge lobby and receives funds from outside funders and grants that our high schools don’t have. It’s very interesting to see these scores. I’m really excited and happy for the students who have graduated. But at the same time I’m incredibly sad for the young people who have not. This is a sad and shocking report.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 30, 2013  7:20pm

Not so fast.

Another “Big Lie” from Achievement First: “100 percent college acceptance rate.”

posted by: Bill Saunders on May 30, 2013  7:41pm

How many of these scholars qualified for the New Haven Promise?

posted by: anon15 on May 30, 2013  8:18pm

First of all - CONGRATS to all of the graduates.  It is so wonderful to hear that they are all going off to college this fall.

Anders- It looks to me like Amistad is claiming a 100% acceptance rate into four year colleges and universities not a 100% graduation rate.  Those are two very different things.  Also, we don’t know what happened to the students who chose to leave the school.  It is likely that many of them are graduating this year from other NHPS so your analysis of the numbers is not fair.

These students and their teachers should be applauded for this incredible accomplishment!

posted by: Bill Saunders on May 30, 2013  8:41pm

taodhdaogh (wow, that’s a tough nickname to pronounce!)

I had a friend who substituted at Amistad for one week last year, and her reports of the public, shame-based discipline techniques employed only echo the concerns and reports that 3/5’s often cites. 

However you want to characterize these ‘transfers’, I am sure there are good number who just felt too shamed, blamed, and bullied.

And I 100% vote for some real metrics
When it comes to progress in the educational system, the spin is always dizzying…...

posted by: urban ed on May 30, 2013  9:15pm

Anders: Don’t know if I’d use judgmental words like ‘appalling.’ Like its forebears of old, Amistatd is doing exactly what it was designed to do: Sort kids into college-going, and non. The part that’s concerning is that its designers and leaders seem not to know exactly what they have built.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 30, 2013  10:20pm

posted by: Bishop on May 30, 2013 6:35pm

I found the Data.You need to take a look.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 30, 2013  10:26pm

posted by: Bishop on May 30, 2013 6:35pm

@Threefifths: Given how open AF is being about their data, why don’t you ask them? You seem to hurl a lot of aspersions at charters by pulling up the same 2-3 websites regularly, how much time have you spent in an AF school? With AF students? With AF teachers?

I do not have to.I know teachers who used to work there and parents who had children in AF.Do they still make students wear the different Shrits as punishment.Do students still have to follow the teachers every move with there eyes.

posted by: myhood on May 30, 2013  11:11pm

Hate to have to state the obvious, but when you cherry pick 64 students out of 20,000 in the district, and you only manage to get 30 of those students across the finish line, you should not be bragging.  No Language barriers; no kids coming in midterm; discipline issues sent back to the district; mandatory parent participation; no teachers union to deal with; and only 64 kids,  AF has got some ‘splaining to do.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on May 31, 2013  3:44am

The New Haven Independent continues to be the PR arm of the Achievement First Company, spinning its lies and attempting to fool the public about this sham of an educational institute.


Threefifths:: Thank you for “pulling up the same 2-3 websites regularly”. The only way a big lie told repeatedly can be challenged is with the truth told repeatedly.

The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee

posted by: ElmCityVoice on May 31, 2013  7:35am

Now that we know the dirty numbers, we should ask why does the NHBE send our best candidates to The NHPS-AF Residency to be trained in how to be a principal? Like those people know? What strategies at Amistad to we want principals to learn? To have a drawer filled with “you’re bad” T-shirts for kids who don’t behave? To throw out kids who are a challenge? Not only that but New Haven taxpayers are PAYING for this service. What’s wrong with this picture?

posted by: Proud New Havener on May 31, 2013  10:07am

There’s a lot of back-biting going on. The fact is, Amistad does a great job of motivating their kids and is shaking up things in the school system. My only concern is that the cost of this type of achievement will be burnout among the kids and teachers.

posted by: pioneer on May 31, 2013  2:04pm

Yes, threefifth’s answer the question put to you by Bishop and add to it parents in general. Who have to send their children/family members to failing schools with stats of 13% in writing, 13% reading and 33% in math. Quoted by Gov. Malloy at Wilbur Cross High School Public Forum. What hope of graduating do they have, what are you doing to change that, other than comment on what might work for parents that got lucky in the New Haven Public School Lottery.
Cherry-picking, NOT! You are only putting down a system that AF did not put in place , they just follow it.
Having great expectations are being lost in our communities everyday. Our grandparents taught us that. What a shame to forget our first lessons of striving for freedom/ always trying to show we can be better yet like CRABS IN A BARREL, the students at AF Schools still have to deal with haters. Can’t please everyone. IT IS AND HAS ALWAYS BEEN PARENT CHOICE and that is who fills out the lottery forms.
Thank you Brutus for bring up the 8% vs. 49-50% at AF schools. It would be great to know where all of the students are that have decided not to continue with AF but again by choice some do and some don’t. Wherever they are I pray for much success and happiness and know that they can do great things if they want to. They have to believe in themselves and go get it, I believe that will and some have. For some still searching it’s okay a dream stays alive as long as you want it to, so keep dreaming students and soar.
Amazing how so much to say about the imperfections of AF Schools, yet the reality is if the traditional public schools were at 49-50%, who knows maybe the AF Network would not have to have been developed at all.
Lastly, so much talk of how much money comes from outside funds. Well if AF Students were EQUITABLY FUNDED,  25% of the funds needed to be applied to the $.75 on the dollar that they recieve per pupil. Let see $9400 and 49% going to college vs. $10,500 and 8%, I like AF odds better.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 31, 2013  2:11pm

posted by: Proud New Havener on May 31, 2013 10:07am
There’s a lot of back-biting going on. The fact is, Amistad does a great job of motivating their kids and is shaking up things in the school system. My only concern is that the cost of this type of achievement will be burnout among the kids and teachers.

You need to read the webiste on my post.

posted by: Bill Saunders on May 31, 2013  2:21pm

And this is a good article too,

posted by: pioneer on May 31, 2013  6:28pm

One correction to previous statement that I made. Those AF Students receive $9400 per pupil and graduates 49-50% of the students initially enrolled. That is against traditional NHPS that receives $13,500 per pupil and graduate 8% of the students. Yes, I still like the AF odds and that will have to be my choice if I win the lottery.

posted by: pioneer on May 31, 2013  8:25pm

I thank you for the links, I have listened to them and read them. As a parent, my heart goes out to the parents that had those issues and commend them for advocating for those that could not. I am speechless as to the content. Again thank you, for with the advent of new knowledge there must be change.

posted by: CreatingUrgency on June 1, 2013  11:44am

Pioneer: One of the things charter schools claimed (when legislating FOR charter schools to be approved by the legislature) was that they could do it better much cheaper.

And it looks like they can’t.

However, Amistad does NOT claim that they need MORE money to increase the graduation rate. So that is moot.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 1, 2013  10:54pm

Charter schools from the beginning have been a scam.They are losers academically and have zero transparency.Cherry picking parents and students,not dealing with behavioral problems,low performers,ESL and special education.It is all about destroying public education so they can move in and get the money bag like Judas.

posted by: ElmCityVoice on June 2, 2013  9:58am

Charter schools originally were meant to be initiative ways to find new strategies for teaching and learning. Achievement First is not a charter school. It’s a public, more private, business that has schools all over this state, NY and now trying to RI where they are not wanted. Why would the public want an even LESS transparent educational system? The fact that Amistad was not able to make significant (if any) progress with our high school students is amazing. Remember, they merge their middle school kids into the high schools so now they have the same kids for 8 years. You’ve got to ask yourself, what is their motive? Is it that our kids are just statistics that haven’t worked out as planned on the spreadsheet? Why we have any interest in these people amazes me. Wouldn’t it make more sense to put out money into a system where ALL our kids attend and work to make that great? Charter schools were created to disseminate “great practices” whatever that means. How about developing and supporting our own teachers’ great practices?

posted by: Seth Poole on June 2, 2013  2:27pm

Thank you Melissa for such an informative article!  So may questions that parents have about Achievement First schools were answered here.

Ultimately, it is the parents as their children’s primary educators who should assume responsibility for their academic and social development.  Schools should be partners and rrespectedas such.  They should not be shouldering all of the responsibility for the educating of our young people.  Take the televisions out of the kids bedrooms and start taking bi-monthly trips to our local libraries with your children.  Wake up people.

posted by: ElmCityVoice on June 2, 2013  3:40pm

Seth P. Good idea. Do you have a large SVU to take some kids whose parents are working two or three jobs and are unable, not unwilling, to take their kids on educational excursions? Now that would be real community caring.

posted by: formerNhresident on June 2, 2013  5:57pm

One does not need to pile up in a car and drive anywhere.  Educational opportunities and teaching moments are plentiful. From reading signs posted on city streets to counting numbers of the houses on the street you live. Involving your self in your child’s learning process is a cheap and novel concept. If you were to do a sample survey of the failing kids in the NHPS the majority of them come from single parent homes where mental health, substance abuse,  violence and poverty override the educational needs of the child.

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 3, 2013  1:05pm

Elm CIty Voice,

I believe one reason New Haven is complicit in this charade is the fact that AF was founded by Yale Law Students, and it is a great subject for chart-filled analysis from Yale Manangement Students. Final and Complete.pdf

Watch, as the wagons continue to circle.