Doing the Math on Success Academy’s First Graduating Class
It’s impossible to build something new — especially when you’re completely rewriting expectations, as we are — without provoking some criticism. But even so, we’re a little confused about one argument that just keeps resurfacing.
There are some very old narratives about what children of color are capable of achieving. Success Academy founded its first school 12 years ago to offer a world-class education to children who had been denied that for generations. We created an opportunity for children of color to write a new narrative, and they have been making history ever since.
Earlier this month, 16 Success Academy scholars from Harlem and the Bronx walked across the stage at Alice Tully Hall and received their high school diplomas. All of them are accepted into college, including selective schools such as MIT, Emory, and Tufts.
We’re incredibly proud of them! Yet we’ve been asked repeatedly: “You only had 16 graduates and you started with 72 kids? That means you ‘lost’ a lot of them!”
But this just isn’t true. Let’s do the math:
Below is a chart showing attrition over time for the students in this founding cohort of scholars (each year refers to the summer preceding the academic year and the academic year itself).
There are 7 students from this cohort who were held over and are thus not seniors; they are currently enrolled at SA High School of the Liberal Arts.
So, how much student attrition should one expect over this time period? We can estimate the answer to that question using research by Beth Fertig and Jenny Ye from WNYC. These reporters obtained annual attrition rates both citywide and by geographic district for “non-exit” grades (in other words, excluding transitions between fifth and sixth grade, as well as eighth to ninth grade, when most students move on to a new middle school or high school).
Excluding those exit grades, our founding class at Success had an average attrition rate of 6%, compared to 13% for New York City overall and 18% for Central Harlem.
Factoring in the exit grades, our founding class had an average attrition rate of 9% — that’s still significantly below the city’s levels.
If you do the math, factoring in what the WNYC data showed about attrition for elementary, middle, and high school grades, a hypothetical group of 72 first-graders at a typical district school serving kids through Grade 12 would be expected to have about 11 students remaining by the time they were ready to graduate. Compare that to the Success total: 23 students remaining, 16 of them graduating seniors.
We understand it’s difficult to imagine what attrition “should” be when we’re talking about a period as long as 12 years. But the data is clear. While our families sometimes move away, or even sometimes choose a different school for their kids, they don’t do so any more often than a typical district school family. In fact, they are less likely to leave.