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Examples of well-known (and regarded) charter schools: KIPP

In this report  we have identified several studies that looked across a range of states and employed a longitudinal approach. Yet, as also noted in the report, the overwhelming majority of charter studies have had a limited scope—focusing on one school or district, sometimes without directly comparable data between charter students and those at traditional public schools. Despite their limitations, these studies still may have value. They also frequently garner local, regional and, occasionally, national attention. As a result, they may resonate with parents, community leaders, and, inevitably, with local school board members and state school board associations. With that in mind, below is an example of a well-known charter school along with descriptive information and data on its operation.

KIPP Academies

KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) schools are free, open-enrollment, college preparatory public schools in nineteen states and the District of Columbia. KIPP currently has eighty-two schools serving approximately 20,000 students. A typical school day at KIPP is a long one, running 9.5 hours. Saturday and summer schools also are typical. Most KIPP schools are charters. Nationwide, 80 percent of KIPP students are low income and 90 percent are black or Hispanic.

As Jeffrey Henig of Teachers College at Columbia University notes, many consider KIPP “a prototype charter school operator” with considerable success. One of the longest operating schools is the KIPP Gaston North Carolina College Preparatory School, which opened in 2001 as a middle school for fifth through eighth grades in a largely rural area. The third KIPP entity to open nationwide, the academy has a school that operates from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m., offering time for additional classroom and extracurricular activities. Students also are expected to complete two hours of homework daily and attend classes every other Saturday. The school year starts in June, with three weeks of summer school. The school’s 2008 report card notes that across the local school district, 58 percent of seventh graders were at or above grade level in math. Among KIPP students, the rate was 93 percent. Similarly, while only 28 percent of district seventh graders were at or above grade level in reading, the rate for KIPP students was 81 percent.

In 2005, the KIPP school leader believed that graduates of the school needed more high school options and opened a KIPP high school that fall. In June 2009, 100 percent of the school’s first graduating high school class was accepted to four-year colleges and universities and obtained more than $2 million in scholarships. Eighty percent will be first-generation college students.

KIPP also has drawn considerable attention in New York City, where it operates six schools. At one school, 100 percent of seventh graders in 2008 were at or above grade level in mathematics while 99 percent achieved the same level in English Language Arts (www.kipp.org). Both rates are at least 40 percentage points higher than the typical level of achievement in the district.

KIPP has been subject to several external studies, many of which tout its benefits. As Columbia’s Henig (2008) noted in What Do We Know about the Outcomes of KIPP Schools, “The weight of the evidence suggests that students who enter and stay in KIPP schools tend to perform better than similar students in more traditional public schools.” Nonetheless, Henig notes that student attrition, where monitored, is high. Given the long school days plus Saturday and summer sessions, the school requires considerable buy-in from students, families, and staff. Few studies look “deeply inside” the KIPP process, Henig notes. Yet, he adds, “Those that do show that teacher enthusiasm is high but that demands on teachers are leaders are great, resulting in high turnover and an unrelieved pressure to find and train new people. The implication for the expansion and sustainability of the KIPP model are still not clear.” In at least one KIPP New York school, AMP Charter School in Brooklyn, teachers in January 2009 announced plans to organize themselves into a union, in part to address issues such as teacher burnout and turnover, and to gain a larger voice in school operations (Medina 2009).

Numerous independent studies have examined KIPP schools, most of them focused on individual schools or districts. In 2008, Mathematica Policy Research began a foundation-funded study to examine the impact of KIPP middle schools on student achievement and whether KIPP students are on a path toward college attainment and persistence. The project will include a randomized control trial involving “oversubscribed” KIPP schools where demand exceeds the number of slots available. Through a lottery, students will be assigned to a treatment group (attending a KIPP school) or to a control group (not attending a KIPP school).


This document was prepared for the Center for Public Education by Eileen M. O’Brien and Chuck Dervarics. O’Brien is an independent education researcher and consultant in Alexandria, Virginia. Much of her work has focused on access to quality education for disadvantaged and minority populations. O’Brien has a Master of Public Administration from George Washington University and a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from Loyola University, Chicago. Chuck Dervarics is an education writer and former editor of Report on Preschool Programs, a national independent newsletter on pre-k, Head Start, and child care policy. As a writer and researcher, he has contributed to case studies and research projects of the Southern Education Foundation, the American Council on Education, and the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, often focusing on issues facing disadvantaged populations. Dervarics has a Bachelors degree from George Washington University.


Posted: March 24, 2010


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