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March 31, 2011

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.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:57 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Charter Schools


Did we really need this study to realize this is happening? In the recent debate KIPP touted that their teachers are the highest paid in the city. This would mean that teachers in a 300 student middle school get paid more that teachers in a 1000, 2000 student high schools.

Nationally KIPP is a 99 school 27,000 student network. How about comparing that to say, Carroll County which also has about 27,000 students? That hi-poverty thing does not always mean low-performing in respect to individuals (I would hope).

Or to compare apples to apples compare KIPP to BSA which has a foundation that is transparent in its function as a funding raising arm of the school. KIPP national got $50 million. That comes to an additional $1800 per student.

There is a place for KIPP in the portfolio of school choice BUT we must be careful not to hang any hats on this model when time and time again it has been shown that it is not a easy model to replicate.

Also I hope someone in Baltimore is paying attention to the repeated rejection of charters in Montgomery county. It could lead to an interesting battle where as the charter coalition from Baltimore pushes for greater state wide access, the anti-charter advocates from Montgomery hold fast to local control.

From personal experience, it's true that attrition is higher for KIPP students compared to public schools. I like this story as a way of framing it:

A successful man who ran the company that made the best blueberry jam in New England was speaking to a bunch of public school educators describing to them how schools need to be run more like a business. A teacher raised her hand and said, "Sir, thanks for your presentation. I have just one comment. In your company, if you come across a bad blueberry in your business, what do you do with it?"

"Well, I throw it out." he said.

"As a teacher, this business model doesn't apply. We have to teach whoever walks in the door as long as they have proof of residency".

Of course KIPP schools will have better test scores. Combine high middle-school attrition rates with the rigorous nature of their program and you get achievement. Good for them.

But try applying that to public schools. The staff burn-out rate at KIPP schools is very high. Staff members have to be workaholics in order to adhere to the model. That's great if you into that, but a lot of educators strive to have a work/family balance and the KIPP model makes teaching a priority above family and social engagements. Achievement is great, but I question the sustainability of the model. Plus, I don't think test scores are as valuable to education as politicians do. Sustainability is important - how are we going to entice good, smart people to become teachers in public schools? Let's be honest, charter schools have a place in the debate but the playing field is not level. Public schools are teaching the kids that drop out of KIPP because it is too much for them.

Of course these are the reasons that KIPP is successful. I work in a city school.Maybe 10-15 of our 400 students would be allowed to enroll and or remain in a KIPP program. What about the other 95%? This is why charter schools are not the answer.

Students with disabilities aren't included in the testing scores for the purposes of comparative scoring. AYP is separate with IDEA. How in the world could the study authors not know this?

To say that this report is agenda driven would be redundant. This thing has the NEA's fingerprints all over it.

There are no bad blueberries. Welcome to our Lake Wobegon society, where all students are above average.

No surprise. It's no secret that one significant reason schools that restrict enorllment out-perform standard public schools is that if you misbehave or don't cut the academic muster, you don't get in! or you get kicked right out. The blueberry quote above analogoy is quite fitting; and not every poor-performing, ill-behaved student is Special Ed; most selective schools only allow the very best in. Public school gifted classes, which also exclude enrollment, score just as well and/or better thant their private school counterparts.

KIPP has simply learned strategies that public schools have employed for years. We neither know what is really going on in public or charter schools. Based on over 3 decades of experience, I can promise you that what achievements are expoused are largely twisted statistics and exxagerations (and downright cheating).

Covering up is the skill most honed by public and charter schools, probably throughout the country, but certainly here in MD.

I'm a little bit confused about the statement: "on average about 15 percent of students drop from KIPP cohorts every year, compared to 3 percent in public schools." KIPP schools serve very different populations than public schools in general. Wouldn't it make more sense to compare KIPP's 15% drop to the drop seen in the types of communities that KIPP serves, where student mobility is high? I highly doubt that Baltimore City's rate is only 3% for grades 6-8.

I don't know enough about KIPP to remark on its effectiveness, but I do know a little bit about statistics, and I'm concerned that this report is making false comparisons.

Just reread the post and saw that Erica does, in fact, mention that the KIPP's attrition rates were not compared to similar schools.

However, based on some of the comments above, I'm sure I'm not the only person who needs to work on reading carefully!

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