School Choice & Charters Report Roundup

KIPP Success Cited, With Caveats

November 10, 2008 1 min read

A review of research on the high-profile KIPP network finds promising academic results compared with traditional public schools, though it argues that “popular accounts” have at times overhyped the schools’ apparent success.

Students who enter and stay in the Knowledge Is Power Program schools tend to perform better than similar students in regular public schools, says the report by Jeffrey R. Henig, an education professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. And, he writes, the difference “does not appear to be attributable to a selective admissions process.”

But Mr. Henig cautions that student attrition, where it has been monitored, is “high and seemingly selective,” with those who leave the schools tending to be lower performers than those who stay. Still, Mr. Henig, says “the evidence does not ... suggest that attrition fully accounts for the observed KIPP advantage.”

The new report, which looks at seven studies, was jointly published by the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder and the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University in Tempe.

The KIPP network currently includes 66 mostly charter public schools in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and serves more than 16,000 students. Most KIPP students are members of minority groups from low-income families.

“Overall, the balance of the evidence suggests something positive happening at these sites,” Mr. Henig writes, “although not of the magnitude and cumulative nature that some popular accounts suggest.”

The report says most of the studies look at KIPP schools in their early years and at students in their first or second year of enrollment. Studies that follow cohorts over time seem to show that the academic gains persist, the report says, though it also says there is no evidence that the early gains grow into progressivley higher gains in later years.

Beyond attrition, the report also raises concerns about the high demands placed on KIPP teachers and school leaders, which have tended to produce high staff turnover. This raises questions, the report says, about the expansion and sustainability of the KIPP approach.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 12, 2008 edition of Education Week

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