School Choice & Charters

KIPP Schools Enroll Fewer ELLs and Special Ed. Students

By Mary Ann Zehr — April 01, 2011 2 min read
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A new study by Western Michigan University researchers is the second study I’ve written about this school year that has found that charter schools in the KIPP network enroll a smaller proportion of English-language learners and special education students than the school districts they draw from.

During the 2007-08 school year, the new study found that 11.5 percent of KIPP students were ELLs, compared with 19.2 percent of students in their local school districts. The numbers for special education students showed an even wider gap for that school year; 5.9 percent of KIPP students had disabilities, compared with 12.1 percent of students in the local school districts.

A comprehensive study by Mathematica Policy Research released in June, while using a completely different set of data, also concluded that ELLs and special education students are underrepresented in KIPP schools.

To be considered a model to be widely replicated, wrote the researchers from Western Michigan University, KIPP “needs to recruit and serve a reasonable share of students who are more costly to educate, especially students with disabilities and students who are not native English speakers.”

Statistics provided to me yesterday by Steve Mancini, the public-affairs director for the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, show that the network has increased enrollment slightly for ELLs since the 2007-08 school year, from 10 percent to 14 percent. Steve reported a slightly higher proportion of special education students for the 2007-08 school year than was reported in the Western Michigan University study, 8 percent instead of almost 6 percent. The proportion of special education students in KIPP schools is still 8 percent this school year, according to the data Steve provided.

Steve said in an e-mail that KIPP has been “highly effective” in educating children with disabilities. He cited a 2010 working paper on a KIPP school in Lynn, Mass., that shows that student test score gains at that school have been largest for special education students and ELLs. I’d like to explore, when I get a chance, what other evidence KIPP might have that its schools are “highly effective” with these two populations of students other than this one line in a report about a single school.

KIPP isn’t the only charter school network found to enroll fewer ELLs. While a national study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO, at Stanford University has found that on average charter schools enroll about the same proportion of ELLs as traditional public schools do, other analyses have show that in certain states or pockets of the country, such students are really underrepresented in charter schools.

For more about how charter schools can reach out to ELLs, see the story I wrote on this topic for Education Week last September.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.