Contrary to some recent research, a new study finds that the percentage of students transferring late into KIPP schools is similar to that of other local public schools.
The study, released this month by the Princeton, N.J.-based Mathematica Policy Research, raises questions about recent findings indicating that KIPP schools are losing high numbers of students and not filling their empty seats—factors that might help explain the KIPP charter school network’s academic success.
“To be sure, KIPP’s success is not simply a mirage that is based on the results of a select number of high achievers who persist through 8th grade,” the researchers write in the new working paper.
“Nonetheless,” they say, “student flows into and out of KIPP schools remain of interest. Funders and policymakers wonder how much of the student population KIPP might grow to serve, and critics ask whether KIPP’s results depend on excluding students who are the most disadvantaged or the most difficult to serve.”
But while the Mathematica researchers found that the overall proportion of late arrivals—in other words, students who enter school in 6th grade or later rather than in 5th grade—at 22 KIPP middle schools is the same as in schools in their local school districts, they also found that KIPP admits a substantial number of late entrants in 6th grade, and fewer in 7th and 8th grades.
Serving ‘All Who Come’?
The researchers said they would continue to examine the flows of students into and out of KIPP middle schools. For example, they will examine the characteristics of late-arriving KIPP students separately from those who arrive in 5th grade. KIPP, the nonprofit Knowledge Is Power Program, has nearly 100 public charter schools across the country, most of which serve children in grades 5-8. A 2010 study by Mathematica found large, positive achievement effects at the schools. (“KIPP Middle Schools Boost Learning Gains, Study Says,” July 13, 2010).
But a study using aggregate data sets, not student-level data, conducted by researchers at Western Michigan University and released last month, suggests KIPP may not be serving the same kinds of students as regular public schools. It contends that 40 percent of the black males KIPP enrolls leave between grades 6 and 8. (“Study Stings KIPP on Attrition Rates,” April 6, 2011).
“KIPP is doing a great job of educating students who persist, but not all who come,” said Gary J. Miron, that study’s lead researcher.
In the new working paper, the Mathematica researchers found that KIPP schools actually have lower attrition rates for black males compared with regular public schools in the same districts.
Mr. Miron acknowledges in his study that he can’t prove that the overall shrinkage of cohorts of students from grade 6 to grade 8 was solely because of students leaving KIPP. (A Mathematica researcher suggested it could also be because of retaining students in grade, but Mr. Miron says the data do not show an enrollment bubble in the 6th or 7th grades.) Mr. Miron compared the proportion of students leaving KIPP “districts,” a group of schools in a school system, with the proportion of students leaving the surrounding district.
The Mathematica researchers, by contrast, compared student-level data from individual KIPP schools with other individual schools in their public school districts. Because the two studies use different comparison groups, Mr. Miron said, the findings don’t contradict.
Many urban schools lose lots of black male students. But in regular districts, Mr. Miron said, exiting students typically move to another school in the same district, which can be disruptive for receiving classrooms.
“The schools can’t say, ‘Sorry we’re not taking any students.’ ” Mr. Miron said.
A version of this article appeared in the April 20, 2011 edition of Education Week as Transfer Rates Similar for KIPP, Local Schools