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September 17, 2008

Can KIPP's success be replicated?

We've talked before on this blog about the reasons for the success of the 60-plus schools in the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP, which runs Baltimore's highest-performing middle school. Now, the research group SRI International is releasing a three-year study of KIPP schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, analyzing why their students outperform their peers in other public schools. The study, commissioned by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, cites four factors: 1) a culture of high expectations; 2) more time in school and more support for struggling students; 3) a focus on tracking student progress and careful instructional planning; 4) a philosophy of continuous improvement, where school leaders and teachers often revise their strategies.

We've seen all these things before at KIPP Ujima Village in Baltimore. To me, the more interesting question that the study poses is not what causes KIPP to be successful, but whether its success can be replicated on a large scale. And its answer to that is maybe not: It's a lot harder when the students and parents aren't choosing to be at the charter school, making a commitment to do the work. It's a lot harder when teachers aren't choosing to work many extra hours and be available for their students around the clock.

It's not that KIPP students are coming in more able, as is often alleged. In fact, the report found that the Bay Area KIPP schools tend to attract lower-performing students than the traditional public schools in their areas. Perhaps these students and their parents feel desperate that the traditional public schools aren't working for them. In any case, they're choosing to be at KIPP.

The report concludes that KIPP's experiences "don't directly map onto those of other schools and districts," but they demonstrate a lesson relevant to everyone: "High expectations and hard work pay off. There are no shortcuts."

The study's findings are similar to those of another report released in by Johns Hopkins researchers about KIPP Ujima Village last year. An article we wrote about the report at the time said KIPP was transforming the lives of its students, but "translating the methods and successes of KIPP to other middle schools in the city probably would be challenging and costly."

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Charter Schools, Study, study!


So, we needed two different studies to tell us what educators already know--Learning is hard and requires commitment and hard work on all sides of the equation. What a surprise!

One of the key points here is choice: when parents and students make an active choice to attend a charter school like KIPP Ujima Village Academy, they are vested in that school. They feel they have a voice and have taken an active step in finding the best education for their child. This is what makes charter schools so valuable, the fact that education does not have to be a passive act for so many families. KIPP and other charter school programs open the doors for opportunity; scaling these programs is a question of finding the right teams to do the hard work that make these programs work.

I find it interesting that cost is mentioned as a limiting factor. I would be interested to know what the financial impact is on staffing a school that has such extended hours. I would then like to know, if adding minutes of instructional time is a major factor (I assume that what teachers do with the extended time is also a major factor), if this system (BCPSS) is offering incentives for schools to extended their minutes of instruction. I would also like to know if the union could be bold enough to push for more instructional minutes for extra pay.The financial burden to a school that wants to offer extended day, especially when all schools have been moved to "fair student funding", is huge and is in fact a dis-incentive to offer more instructional minutes.

What do others think? Would you trade time for money if it meant greater success?

The answer is NO... that question was poised years ago and the answer then, as it is now is no. every year KIPP has to seek additional funding to keep it model alive. Although sucessful it is a "special" case. More important is the question, is any thing being learned from all the charter schools. NO..Each has become a island in a dying sea with little to offer the masses.

If nothing else the charter schools have shown that principals can manage a whole lot more than they've been given credit for in the past. Isn't that the concept behind these budget changes? I'm not sure if all principals and all schools are going to step up to the challenge, but the successful schools are going to be more charter-like in the future.

And "dying sea"? Please - test scores have gone up and I've seen some really positive attitudes in my kids' schools.

KIPP does a lot of very good things and they have some very talented teachers and good leadership. As for replicating what they do, the number one thing all of us should look at when when we think about KIPP is the issue of attrition. This issue is something that the recent report about KIPP, which was funded by Abell, touched upon, and it is something that it is immediately evident when you take a good look at KIPP's data. According to the MSDE website, for example, KIPP tested 107 5th graders last year in reading, 78 6th graders, 62 7th graders, and 55 88th graders. This loss of students here is just remarkable.

Now, it is true that there is a loss students in most middle schools in our city. KIPP, however, is (as Dave Miller points out) a school of choice, and so that should, in theory at least, mitigate some of the attrition that we see in other zoned middle schools.

The other thing to consider here is that when there is replacement of students at KIPP, in grade six for example, kids are tested in and must be at grade level. So, after grade five, the only kids entering the school, generally speaking, are on or above grade level. This is something that simply can't or shouldn't be replicated throughout the city.

Please don't take this post as a negative one. KIPP, as I said, does very good things and works for many students and families. But the issue of replication is tossed around too quickly and before we start asking why other middle schools haven't been able to replicate KIPP we also might ask ourselves why, in Baltimore at least, KIPP has struggled to replicate itself? The answer to that question is complicated indeed, as are most things surrounding the KIPP model.

Good points Will. A higher attrition rate is expected when you have such high standards. For many it's just too big of a jump.

I hung out with a teacher from our school who taught at KIPP last year. She had great things to say about the school, but, from a teacher's perspective, the workload is so high that you're bound to burn out after a couple of years. They capitalize on young idealistic teachers who likely don't have a family of their own to deal with because it's just too big of a commitment. One challenge KIPP faces is not necessarily high teacher turnover, but not being able to retain teachers long term.

This brings up a question I often struggle with. With all of the improvement in the BCPSS the acheivement gap is still massive. It seems the only way to close it with inner city kids is with a monumental effort from teachers and administrators. Sometimes I lament that we have to be martyrs to really make the difference, and such an effort isn't sustainable. Hope I'm wrong!

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