How can successful public charters bridge achievement gap?
Today we wrote a story about KIPP Ujima Academy, one of the most successful charter schools in Baltimore, stopping a practice that raised the eyebrows of some of its fellow public schools and city schools CEO Andres Alonso.
Since 2003, the school had giving an entrance placement test to rising sixth graders who sought to transfer to KIPP after completing fifth grade at other schools. If the transferring sixth graders failed the test, they'd have to repeat fifth grade at KIPP in order to enroll at the public charter school.
KIPP's position was that they did not believe the test to be a barrier to enrollment, but used it to provide a foundation for students to be successful. Still, it's a foundation that no other public charter in the city--no matter how high its performance-- had the luxury of providing.
"The kids come as is," Alonso has proclaimed, and schools have to rise to the challenge.
KIPP Ujima, part of a national network that has drawn some criticism for high attrition rates, stopped giving the test for this coming school year, per Alonso's request. They understood the perception that the test could repel families.
But the issue isn't so black and white. There is no doubt that KIPP Ujima has provided a stand-out education to some of the city's most underserved student populations--which is why this entrance exam made for an interesting debate.
KIPP has managed to put hundreds of children--many below grade level and low-income--on an impressive and accelerated path to success through its distinct rigor and school climate. It is also among a handful of charters in the city who allow students to come in after the initial point of entry, which for KIPP is fifth grade. And many of the students who tranfer in sixth grade are at least two grade levels behind. The difference of the levels can be so vast, that students could arguably be set up for failure.
So, how do successful public charter schools bridge the gap between the students they set out on an accelerated path, and the ones who have so far to go to catch up?