KIPP pre-K program leads to long-term benefits in reading, math, study finds

ByMarva Hinton
Student in a KIPP DC pre-K classroom

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A new study finds lasting, positive effects for students who attend KIPP’s prekindergarten program and then go on to enroll in one of the charter school’s elementary programs.

The Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP, is a network of more than 200 charter schools. It started its first pre-K program in Houston in 2004.

Researchers with Mathematica Policy Research studied students who had won a lottery to attend a KIPP pre-K program and their counterparts who had not won a slot to attend. The vast majority of the students who won a lottery ended up attending KIPP pre-K. Five years later when those students were in 2nd grade their reading and math scores were much higher than their fellow students who had not had the opportunity to attend KIPP pre-K.

“These impacts are large,” said Virginia Knechtel, the project director for this study.

For example, by 2nd grade students who had been offered admission to attend KIPP pre-K scored significantly higher than their peers on the Letter-Word Identification assessment. Their increased scores were approximately equivalent to going from the 66th to the 80th percentile. (The reading comprehension advantage these students had decreased over time, but did not disappear.)

The study found similar positive benefits for these students in math. Those who had the chance to attend KIPP pre-K outperformed their peers on the Applied Problems assessment to the tune of an approximate increase from the 47th to the 60th percentile.

Possible Factors Behind KIPP Pre-K Students’ Success

Knechtel says she was particularly interested in studying the long-term impact of KIPP’s pre-K programs because of the unique alignment between those programs and the school’s early elementary programs.

KIPP’s pre-K programs share a campus with the school’s early elementary grades. They often share administrators, teachers at both levels are encouraged to interact with one another, the curriculum is similar, and the behavioral expectations are the same.

“We have seen with a lot of pre-K and early-childhood programs that the comparison students tend to catch up over time and the impacts fade out, and so we were interested in understanding whether schools like KIPP where there is more alignment between the pre-K experience and the early elementary grades could have more lasting impacts,” said Knechtel. “A lot of times the teachers were developing curricula and assessments that were building upon the experiences and even the specific language and practices that the students were experiencing in the early-childhood grades.”

And, there were other aspects of the KIPP pre-K program that may have contributed to students’ lasting learning gains. The program puts a heavy emphasis on academics and providing teachers with intensive coaching.

KIPP leaders say they find the results encouraging.

“We know from first-hand experience that KIPP pre-K is making a difference for children and families here in Houston, and we’re pleased to see external research from Mathematica that affirms the value of these programs,” said Sehba Ali, superintendent of KIPP Houston, in a news release.

The study focused on KIPP pre-K programs in Houston and Washington, D.C., but researchers also used data from KIPP programs in four other cities, including New York.