The KIPP success story | Arkansas Blog

The KIPP success story

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We talk a bit about charter schools here. I resist the sentiment that if something is a charter school it must, by definition, be better than regular public schools, particularly since no study yet indicates as much. What's more, if you put kids already achieving in a charter school, it should be no surprise that they keep achieving. But the KIPP charters have been another story. They've targeted kids from groups prone to education failure. They report progress as measured by test scores.

But do they really 'work'? An in-depth study is underway. But on the jump is an interesting summary of some points to consider on the KIPP schools, which are slated for expansion in Arkansas. A brief from an education reform and charter schol expert at Columbia University, written for a school study center at the University of Colorado, says some KIPP claims are exaggerated. Evidence, at a minimum, is incomplete on their performance, if promising. He urges cautious optimism. Kids who enter KIPP schools and stay do seem to do well. But what of those who leave? Had they been included in KIPP results, how would the record look? He also points to such issues as teacher burnout from the job's demands and questions about whether the KIPP schools' longer days have  produced evidence of gains.

It's important to note that the writer isn't trashing the KIPP schools, only urging careful consideration of the record.

I'd say the same to the state Board of Education as it madly crams charter schools into Pulaski County. It has provided white flight options for white students when, for example, NCLB tests show not a single school in the LR District failing to meet proficiency for white students. Black students are another, sadder story.

The mention of the state board reminds me again of Dr. Naccaman Williams, a state Board member who's paid in private life by the Walton Family Foundation to promote charter schools. He's a walking ad for charter schools in board meetings and seems unwilling to accept the possibility that public schools can -- and do -- exceed charter performance. He also is a walking conflict of interest, voting for charter proposals in which his employer has invested money. He refuses to discuss his conflict of interest. He and his financiers wouldn't tolerate a similar conflict from someone on the other side of the philosophical divide, I'm sure.

TEMPE, Ariz and BOULDER, Colo. (November 10, 2008) -- With its reputation for high standards, highly committed teachers and longer school days, the non-profit charter school provider KIPP has been widely hailed as a model for urban education. A new policy brief concludes that available evidence indicates that KIPP is indeed providing good opportunities for its students, but it also warns that some claims are exaggerated, the current evidence incomplete, and policymakers should proceed with cautious optimism.

The policy brief What Do We Know About the Outcomes of KIPP Schools? is written by Professor Jeffrey R. Henig, an expert on urban education reform and charter schools at Teachers College, Columbia University.

KIPP, short for Knowledge Is Power Program, operates nearly 50 charter schools in the U.S., including ones in Washington, D.C., Houston, and New York City. KIPP schools have drawn praise for their work with urban, poor and minority students. A large-scale study of KIPP using a randomized design is underway, but it is not expected to be completed for five years. Because policymakers and others are already looking to the KIPP model for guidance, Henig's brief takes a close look at the seven strongest existing studies, which together offer several important insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the model.

Henig's brief presents several positive findings:

•  Students who enter and stay in KIPP schools do tend to perform better than comparable students in more traditional public schools.

•  The better performance does not appear to be attributable to selective admissions.

•  KIPP students tend to be minorities, and many have performed poorly in previous schools.

But the brief also raises at least two serious questions:

•  KIPP student turnover appears to be high and "selective." Those who leave tend to be lower-performing students to begin with and to have performed less well while at KIPP. "Such attrition, if it were taken into consideration, would reduce the size of gains in reports that simply compare KIPP eight graders with those in their host districts," Henig writes. But the evidence, he adds, is not enough to suggest that attrition alone accounts for the academic advantages that KIPP students appear to enjoy.

•  While the enthusiasm of KIPP teachers is high, heavy demands on them and on KIPP leaders tend to promote high teacher turnover "and an unrelieved pressure to find and train new people," Henig writes.

Henig notes that the extended-day policy at KIPP schools -- 9.5 hours per day, plus summer and Saturday classes -- has attracted a great deal of attention. But hard evidence does not yet link KIPP's longer school day to the program's success. Moreover, attempts to transport this part of the model to other schools may be met with objections from many parents and taxpayers.

Henig recommends that KIPP be treated as a model worth studying. However, at this point he does not recommend treating it as a prototype or a substitute for broader, systemic school reforms. It offers "a possible source of information and guidance" to education policy questions. But, he concludes, "policymakers and others should have realistic expectations. There are significant unanswered questions about how expansion might affect outcomes, especially in relation to the difficulty of sustaining any gains attributable to KIPP's heavy demands on teachers and school leaders."

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