Opinion Blog

Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

How Cage-Busting Is Paying Off for KIPP

By Guest Blogger — February 27, 2013 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Note: Rick Hess is on sabbatical through May 6th. If you’re missing him, you might try to catch him while he’s out and about discussing his new book Cage-Busting Leadership (available here, e-book available here). For updates on when he might be in your neck of the woods, check here. Meantime, a tremendous lineup of guest stars has kindly agreed to step in while Rick’s gone and share their own thoughts on the opportunities, challenges, implications, and nature of cage-busting leadership.

Guest blogging this week is Mike Feinberg, co-founder of KIPP.

For me, cage-busting is a way of life... unfortunately, according to my wife. When Dave Levin and I created the first KIPP program in Houston with 47 fifth grade students at Garcia Elementary School in 1994, we were cage-busting within the system by extending the school day and putting our underserved students on a different life trajectory. Since then, KIPP has grown to a national network of 125 public charters schools in 20 states serving 41,000 students, 85 percent of them are from low-income families. Today I want to share some brand-new research that’s helping KIPP assess how we are delivering on our promises to children and families.

At KIPP, we firmly believe that what you measure matters. It’s not enough to break out of the cage; you also have to show that what you’re doing outside the cage is working. KIPP has always welcomed independent research into our model and methods. But five years ago, we took an even bigger step into the world of data and analysis.

In 2008, Mathematica embarked on a multi-year study of KIPP middle schools nationwide. Our rationale for green-lighting this study was simple: we wanted to understand what was really going on in our schools, and share it transparently with the public. We chose to work with Mathematica because we knew they would dig deeply into all of KIPP’s results--the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Now, in a new report--just released this morning--Mathematica has dug deeper into KIPP’s results, looking at achievement results across 43 schools and four academic subjects, using new methodologies and research tools. Mathematica found that:

- KIPP produces achievement gains across all middle school grade levels and academic subjects. Mathematica looked at nearly double the number of schools as they did in their 2010 report, and double the subjects. They found that KIPP’s gains are consistent across all years of middle school, and across every subject studied.

- KIPP’s academic results are substantial. Not only are KIPP’s students making gains in middle school math, reading, science, and social studies, but the gains they’re making are large enough to significantly close race and income based achievement gaps.

- The matched comparison design produces estimates of KIPP’s achievement impacts similar to estimates of the same impacts based on an experimental, lottery-based design. The lottery analysis was able to account for factors like student and parent motivation, since every student in the sample was equally motivated to sign up for the lottery.

- KIPP’s student gains hold up on low stakes national tests. The academic gains KIPP kids showed on the state tests were repeated in the national norm-referenced tests, meaning that KIPP is not “teaching to the test.”

-KIPP schools are not creaming the most able students. When it comes to prior achievement, KIPP students tend to enter 5th grade with test scores that are lower than the average for neighboring elementary schools.

Mathematica is also providing us with crucial information about where we need to improve. The researchers reconfirmed that we are enrolling lower numbers of students receiving Special Education services and students who have limited English proficiency than district schools - not dramatically lower to alter the findings above, but one of our key internal questions at KIPP is: are we serving the children who need us the most? Any data points where we are even slightly under is something for us to flag. Mathematica’s drill down into our achievement data also showed that our students’ gains are higher in math and science than they are in reading or social studies. These are two issues we can now focus on with clarity, and apply our spirit of cage-busting to try and find new solutions.

With all that said, the part of this report that has the most fodder for cage-busting leaders is towards the end, where Mathematica looks at the factors that make schools successful.

Mathematica noticed that some KIPP schools produced bigger academic gains than others. They identified two characteristics common in our most successful schools. The first is leaders who set strong, cohesive behavior standards, so that students know what is expected of them. The second is time spent learning. Although all KIPP schools have extended days, some have longer days than others; the KIPP middle schools with the largest impacts are not those with the longest school days, but instead are schools that spent relatively more time on core academic subjects.

There are lessons here not just for KIPP, but also for our district counterparts in the communities we serve. School districts can adopt elements of our most successful schools by giving principals more autonomy to establish healthy school cultures and to expand the school day to include more time for learning math and reading without having to sacrifice the other core subjects or the co-curricular classes. School districts in the Houston area are starting to do just that, as they realize that life outside the cage is preferable. Houston ISD has taken a competition-at-all-costs approach and has lengthened the school day and year in their chronically failing schools to try to emulate what KIPP, YES, and other cage-busting, high performing schools are accomplishing. Other Houston districts, like Spring Branch, Aldine, North Forest, and Galveston, have taken cage-busting one step further and are partnering with the cage-busters to start schools together and so they can start cage-busting themselves.

We will have really reached a cage-busting milestone when we give all public schools - charter and district schools - the freedom to set children up for success in college and in life, and when cage-busting will be a confusing term, given all that remains is some scrap metal from the old days.

-- Mike Feinberg

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP