High attrition, public funding fuel KIPP results, study finds
High levels of attrition, selectivity and government funding have positioned Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools as academic leaders, according to a national report published Thursday, which found that the charter network’s lauded outcomes in recent years have been a result of serving a distinct population of students while receiving high amounts of public funding.
The report was published by Western Michigan University, and jointly released by Columbia University, in addition to the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education. The study looked at “What Makes KIPP Work: A study of student characteristics, attrition and school finance,” basing its conclusions on publically available federal and local data.
KIPP runs two schools in Baltimore. The Knowledge Is Power Program opened the Ujima Village Academy, a middle school, in 2002. In 2009, KIPP opened an elementary school, KIPP Harmony Academy. Both are located in Northwest Baltimore, serving very low-income populations, and are among the best schools in the city.
But nationally, the report found, on average about 15 percent of students drop from KIPP cohorts every year, compared to 3 percent in public schools. Moreover, between grades 6 and 8, about 30 percent of KIPP students drop off of the rolls. The attrition rates in the report, which did not compare KIPP's attrition to similar schools in the district, or in neighboring districts, showed a "tremendous drop off" said the report's lead researcher, Gary Miron.
A very high number of students who disappear from the cohorts are African-American males, the report found. However, KIPP does serve primarily African-American students.
The report also concluded that KIPP's high outcomes, when compared to public schools, could be a result of serving significantly less special education students, and English language learners—two populations that are more prone to be less competitve academically and more expensive.
Steve Mancini, spokesman for KIPP, said Wednesday that while the organization welcomes being the subject of objective and rigorous assessments, the organization “rejected the core conclusions that the report is making” about the network’s success being tied to weeding out students--particularly because it did not compare attrition rates to comparable data of other schools.
Mancini said that KIPP received the report around noon Wednesday, about three days after national media--including the Baltimore Sun-- had received it, and didn’t have time to comb through it. But deep spot-analysis of some sections of the report showed “factual misrepresentations,” he said.
The report, which has countered recent studies on the highly lauded charter network, cautioned that KIPP’s program won’t be a viable model for the country to improve public education. Miron, who called KIPP the "darlings of the feds" said the study's results should raise questions because, according to report, the charters receive more in per-pupil revenue from federal sources ($1,799) than any other group.
Researchers also found by using a federal dataset on school finance, that for the year 2007-2008, KIPP received more per-pupil public revenue ($12,731) than any other comparison group. "Charter schools don't generally receive more than public schools, but KIPP does," Miron said. "It's remarkable."
But KIPP vehemently challenged the report’s conclusion that it generated about $5,760 per-pupil in private funding, another finding that researchers called surprising, but that Mancini called “sloppy research.” The number was based on reviews of the organization’s nonprofit filings from the IRS, but Mancini pointed out that the report based its conclusion on a subset of 28 schools, as opposed to the 56 that were operating during 2007-2008, the years of study.
“That number is just too high,” Mancini said. If researchers had factored in all of the schools operating, the per-pupil expenditure would have dropped by about $2,000, Mancini said.
More importantly, " the report fails to acknowledge that KIPP and others turn to private funding to compensate for the inequities in public funding on several fronts – capital expenses, start-up costs and general operating costs," Mancini said.
KIPP Baltimore schools were recently the source of a controversial debate in the district after it went head-to-head with the Baltimore Teachers Union for a long-term agreement on how it would pay its teachers for its mandatory extended school days. The organization, which has served students in low-income Northwest Baltimore, said it wanted to plant its roots in the city and buy a building.
The organization said it would have to close its doors on June 30 if they had not reached a sustainable agreement.
The debate divided the city education community, as many thought it to be an embarassment if the high-performing KIPP charters--there are 99 across the country--couldn't function in Baltimore. After nearing a battle in the Maryland General Assembly, KIPP was able to come to a 10-year-agreement with the union.
It should be noted that Gary Miron has done research for the American Federation of Teachers, the parent-company of the BTU.