Are Large Numbers of Students Leaving the Charter School or Corbett School? No. by Randy Trani

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Lately, a small number of well-intentioned community members have shared some things with me and with the school board which are deeply troubling. To some it appears that perhaps students are leaving Corbett in large numbers in search of a school environment which is more supportive – or at
least different – from the one we offer here. This bothers me. If it’s true, then there is something dramatically amiss in our school. Serving all Corbett kids to the absolute best of our ability stands at the core of our mission and it’s my job to discover the truth.
So, are Corbett kids leaving our district in large numbers? No. Here are the facts.
Are Large Numbers of Students Leaving the Charter School or Corbett School?
An exodus of students from the district will sound familiar to those with memories long enough to recall the state of the District 8-18 years ago. Back then far more students left the district than ever wanted to come to Corbett. Those really were the bad old times because during those years
Corbett spent more money per student than most districts while simultaneously posting some of the lowest achievement scores in the state; the polar opposite of our current situation. It is no wonder people were pulling their kids from school during those years. But, this is simply not the case now.
A little bit of educational jargon has to make its way into this examination. Student mobility rate is a measure of the percentage of students that leave a district each year. The reality of the world is that people move and lives change. Some types of schools have a higher mobility rate than others.
Schools with extreme poverty have high mobility rates. Charter schools have higher mobility rates than schools with similar demographics. Mobility rates of 15% are common in schools around Oregon.
The US General Accounting Office has also reported findings that indicate that a 15% mobility rate is typical across the country. If you’re interested you can read their report at the following web site:

This quote from that web site summarizes some trends about mobility rates:
“A U.S. General Accounting Office (1994) study found that 40 percent of 3rd grade students in the United States had moved at least once between 1st and 3rd grade; 17 percent of those students had changed schools at least twice during that time. More recently, Rumberger (2003) analyzed 1998 data and found that 34 percent of 4th graders, 21 percent of 8th graders, and 10 percent of 12th graders had changed schools at least once in the previous two years. Fourth grade students in poor families were much more likely to have changed schools in the last two years (43 percent) than were students in nonpoor families (26 percent).”
This information supports the general assertion that an average mobility rate is around15%.
With a mobility rate of 15% in the back of our mind lets look critically at what is happening in the Charter School and Corbett School.
Corbett Charter School Statistics
Corbett Charter School has about 320 students this year. Since the start of the year a total of 26 students who were originally enrolled in the Charter no longer go to the Charter School, about 8.5%.
This does not mean that Corbett Charter School has lost about 8.5% of their population? If so, that seems high! Since the start of this year Corbett Charter school has enrolled 20 students who were not enrolled at the start of the year. So, 26 out plus 20 in, makes the net out of Charter student exodus just
6 students. It is not fair to characterize 6 out of 320, or 0.3%, an exodus…but those are the types of phrases I am hearing.
It is entirely possible that some of those people left the Charter because they were not satisfied with the experience they had at the Charter. This is the nature of charter schools. They are schools of choice, which is one reason why charter mobility rates are higher than other school’s mobility rates. It is also entirely possible that the 20 new students who were enrolled in Corbett Charter were extremely satisfied to get into a school that currently has a waiting list of more than 150 students for next year.
I am not a spokesperson for the Corbett Charter School. The only reason I am addressing these rumors is because they have been quickly followed by the assertion that “In district kids are leaving the district in droves just like the Charter.”
Corbett School In-District Student Statistics
This year 43 resident students who started the year enrolled at Corbett are not enrolled at the end of the year. The have left for a number of reasons. Most have had families that moved, some have had deaths in the family, some have dropped out, some have become ill, and some have opted out of Corbett in favor of schools elsewhere. That means Corbett’s mobility rate is just 7%, or about half what is considered normal. That’s encouraging. But we can not forget the other half of the equation.
Since the start of this year 43 students have left the district but 54 new students have enrolled! In other words Corbett School has GROWN by 11 students since September.
Still, 43 kids left the district! While I’d feel pretty comfortable claiming that serving the needs of 93% of population was a pretty successful rate, I’m not satisfied. How many of those student that left the school still reside in Corbett and are now attending somewhere else? How many of them are transfers out?
This year 8 families , representing 15 resident students, requested transfers. I have signed, and will continue to sign, every transfer request. It is the right thing to do. Many times in public meetings I have addressed this issue and reported that there was no mass exodus of students out of Corbett via
the transfer process. I have described the transfer rate out of the district as 3%. Some, have insisted that “if that number was ever accurate it surely is not now.” I admit the number, 3%, was not entirely accurate. It is lower than that, in fact about 2.5%.
But, once again this is only half of the transfer equation. This year we currently have 11 students attending Corbett from other districts via the transfer process. I approved 15 resident students to leave and 11 non-resident students to attend Cobett School. We are down a total of 4 students via the transfer process. However, there is still one more part of the transfer process we need to look at.
How many students have made requests to attend Corbett School via the transfer process and have been denied by their home district?
This year 13 non-resident students have requested a transfer to Corbett School and been denied the opportunity to attend. IF they had been approved our total transfer in population would be 24, compared to the 15 that I have approved to go out of district, or a total of plus 9. No matter how you slice it Corbett School has more kids now than it did at the start of the year. But if this is so, then why
do the bad news stories persist? Why do we continue to hear testimonials and read blog posts describing an exodus of students leaving our school? I believe it’s because individuals have a different – and more limited – perspective on the overall situation.
Individual Stories and Vantage Points
I am afraid that shows like Jerry Springer, Cops, Divorce Court, and often times the Nightly News are addictive to people, because bad news is often more fun to propagate than good news. You may recall that this year we had some theft in the middle school. Within hours a local TV station was out to cover the story, but when Corbett took second place in state band, there was no mention. When
Corbett had the lowest drop out rate in Multnomah County, no one sent the cameras. When Corbett appeared as one of the top 20 schools in the nation last year and again this year there were no cameras.
I am not sure why this is so, but it is! Bad news is more popular than good news.
Individuals have a different vantage point regarding school news than the people who work in the school. Individuals know and talk with just a few families. School employees know and talk with dozens of families each week. Often, when an individual talks to an unhappy family which has left
Corbett it might seem to that individual that MANY families are unhappy. Bad news travels faster that good news, and very quickly a bad news story like that spreads far and wide. But the truth is, we hear far more good news than bad news. We have context, we have multiple vantage points. We hear when
15 people transfer out (only a few of which are unhappy), but we also hear when 24 people want to transfer into the district! We hear when people move from Lincoln City and live in an RV all year to be able to attend Corbett School. When local residents stop sending their kids to expensive private schools to enroll them in Corbett School we get to hear that as well.
Final Analysis of the Ebb and Flow of Students Into and Out of Corbett
Here’s the truth: students are not leaving Corbett School or Corbett Charter in large numbers.
In fact, the mobility rate of both schools is very low. More students have enrolled in Corbett School this year than have left this year. Transfer out request rates are low, less than 3%, and we have far more transfer requests in than transfer requests out. Far more people want into the Charter than can fit.
Bad news spreads quickly, but it is not all the news. In fact focusing on only the bad news is not even accurate news! I am afraid the news is far more boring than something is amiss at Corbett. The boring good news goes something like this…….
Corbett is a destination district. More people want to come here than are able to find a way into the district. There is no school that is a perfect fit for every student, so some students look elsewhere to go to school…but these students are the exception not the rule.

Rumberger, R. W. (2003). The causes and consequences of student mobility. Journal of Negro Education, 72(1), 6–21.
U.S. General Accounting Office. (1994). Elementary school children: Many change schools frequently, harming their education. Washington, DC: Author.