KIPP charter grads finish college at higher rates than their peers

By Jay Matthews

The first study of the long-term impact of the KIPP charter network, with 280 schools and almost 120,000 students in 21 states and D.C., reveals that students who attended a KIPP middle school and a KIPP high school were nearly twice as likely to complete a four-year college than a sample of similar students who did not attend KIPP.

The report by the Mathematica research group will do little to end the political battle over charters, considered by critics a drain on our education system. Charters are publicly funded, privately operated schools open to all, with admission usually determined by random lotteries. I am impressed by the Mathematica results in part because 88 percent of KIPP students are poor enough to qualify for lunch subsidies and 94 percent are African American or Hispanic.
In the last 20 years I have visited 42 KIPP schools, written scores of articles and columns about the network and wrote a 2009 book about it, “Work Hard. Be Nice.” It included the life stories of the network’s two founders, Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, and two amazingly creative classroom teachers, Harriett Ball in Houston and Rafe Esquith in Los Angeles, who showed the two KIPP creators many of the methods that led to success.

I pointed out KIPP’s excesses and flaws: It sometimes badgered school superintendents to approve new KIPP schools and lacked data on student progress until it arranged independent assessments such as the Mathematica report. But the energy of its teachers and the high level of its instruction made it one of the best things ever to happen to American education.

There have been large studies on the effects of charter schools in general, some of the best produced by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. But “Long-Term Impact of KIPP Middle and High Schools on College Enrollment, Persistence and Attainment” by Alicia Demers, Ira Nichols-Barrer, Elisa Steele, Maria Bartlett and Philip Gleason at Mathematica in Cambridge, Mass., is the most detailed study of long-term outcomes at KIPP, the largest charter group in the country. The new study was paid for by Arnold Ventures, a Houston-based philanthropy founded by billionaire charter advocates John D. Arnold and Laura Arnold. (They have also given money to non-charter ventures such as teacher training and educator merit pay.)

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