School & District Management

KIPP Students Found to Have Edge in Academics But Not Attitude

By Liana Loewus — September 22, 2015 4 min read
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A new study of KIPP, a large charter network serving mainly low-income black and Hispanic students, finds that its schools continue to have a positive impact overall on student achievement, and yet they show no effect on student motivation, engagement, or behavior.

The findings echo previous results, which determined that the charter schools outpace traditional public schools in achievement gains.

Elementary and middle school students at KIPP, or Knowledge Is Power Program, schools had significantly larger gains in reading and math than their peers at non-KIPP schools, according to the study commissioned by KIPP and conducted by Mathematica Policy Research.

In high schools, achievement results were mixed. The impact was statistically significantly positive for those students who were new to KIPP. But for students who had attended a KIPP middle school, going to a KIPP high school did not have an added benefit.

The KIPP network has expanded rapidly in recent years, going from 45 schools in 2005 to more than 180 schools serving 70,000 students today. In 2010, the KIPP Foundation received a $50 million federal Investing in Innovation, or i3, grant, which allowed it to double the number of students it served over five years. The study released last week, the final report in the long-running Mathematica evaluation funded under i3, aimed to see how the expansion affected school quality.

“As KIPP has scaled, the network has continued to demonstrate the kinds of positive impacts demonstrated in previous studies,” Christina Tuttle, the report’s lead author, said in a Sept. 16 webinar.

Scope of Research

For this latest study, the researchers gathered data from eight elementary, 43 middle, and 18 high schools using a combination of lottery-based and quasi-experimental designs. They looked at results from state-administered assessments, assessments from researchers, and student and parent surveys.

At the elementary level, the impact of getting into a KIPP school was, after two years, equivalent to improving a student’s score on a reading test from the 78th to the 84th percentile. In math, KIPP elementary students scored at the 68th percentile on a calculation test, compared to their non-KIPP peers, who scored at the 58th percentile.

Critics of KIPP have long said low performers and students who lack parental support tend to drop out or not enroll, which inflates the charters’ scores. For this study, students who were chosen by lottery to attend KIPP schools but did not enroll or left midyear were counted as KIPP students. Those who entered the lottery but were not chosen constituted the control group. The aim was to ensure “that treatment and control group students are similar at baseline,” the report says.

For middle school, the researchers were able to look at student achievement over 10 years. They found that, overall, KIPP middle school students improved more in math, reading, science, and social studies than their peers at non-KIPP schools.

The impact of getting into a KIPP middle school was equivalent to a student moving from the 37th to the 44th percentile in reading over two years. In math, it was equal to going from the 40th to the 50th percentile.

But the size of the impacts in math and reading declined from 2005 to 2014. “Undoubtedly, the largest impacts occurred in the earliest years of KIPP,” said Philip Gleason, the principal investigator. The effect size peaked in 2006 and fell, yet remained statistically significantly positive, from there.

During the five years of the federal i3 grant (2010-2014), the number of schools expanded rapidly but the effect size “remained fairly steady,” noted Gleason.

“I think it shows that organizations like KIPP can grow pretty substantially while maintaining quality,” said Chris Torres, an assistant professor of educational leadership at Montclair State University in New Jersey. He was not part of the study but has researched charter organizations like KIPP. But he cautioned against holding up KIPP as a model for all schools, given its longer school days and demands on teachers.

KIPP high schools provided an academic boost for students who were new to the system, but not for those who had attended KIPP middle schools. The researchers noted that a large proportion of students who attended KIPP middle schools but not KIPP high schools went to other college-preparatory private, magnet, or high-performing charter schools.

No Motivation Effects

Perhaps the most surprising finding from the report was this: KIPP schools had no statistically significant impact on most measures of student motivation, engagement, behavior, or educational aspirations.

KIPP schools are known for their efforts in character education. (Their motto is “Work Hard. Be Nice.”) They also emphasize college preparation.

“Either they aren’t accomplishing what they intend to accomplish, or they’re affecting achievement in spite of not affecting the things they feel are critical to achievement,” said Torres.

The data on behaviors and attitudes were gathered through parent and student surveys. Researchers asked about students’ academic confidence, grit, self-control, illegal activities, how much time they spent on homework, how much effort they put into school, and other behaviors.

The researchers said one explanation could be reference bias—that KIPP students are comparing themselves to other KIPP students.

“The standard at KIPP for hard work is candidly a lot higher than at a typical school,” said Steve Mancini, KIPP’s director of public affairs. “It may be that the bar in the comparison group of schools is just not as high.”

Scan this tag with your smartphone for a link to “Understanding the Effect of KIPP as It Scales: Volume I, Impacts on Achievement and Other Outcomes.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 23, 2015 edition of Education Week as Study: KIPP Confers an Edge in Academics But Not in Attitudes

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