KIPP's explosive growth came with slight dip in performance, study says

ByLyndsey Layton

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KIPP, the nation’s largest chain of public charter schools, significantly improves the academic performance of its elementary and middle school students, but after the students enter a KIPP high school, their performance does not statistically differ from peers who attend other schools, according to a new study.

The study is the first independent analysis of how KIPP schools perform at every level, from elementary through high school, and it shows that when KIPP students reach high school, the academic growth that they experienced in younger grades does not continue at the same pace. But students who enroll in KIPP high schools from outside the charter network do show significant academic achievement at KIPP high schools.

“This is a tribute to all the teachers who are working so hard,” said Steve Mancini, a KIPP spokesman. “There are gains, they’re significant and sustained, and we’re going back to the drawing board to figure out how to do better.”

KIPP has more than 5,000 students at 16 charter schools in the District.

For the analysis, researchers looked at eight elementary, 43 middle and 18 high schools in 20 cities, including Washington. They compared test scores of KIPP students with those of students who had applied to a KIPP school but failed to win a seat through a lottery and enrolled elsewhere. They also conducted student and parent surveys.

One reason the KIPP high school students did not statistically outperform their peers at other high schools is that many of those students attend magnet schools, private schools or other selective high schools where academic achievement is fairly strong, Mancini said.

The study was performed as part of a $50 million grant KIPP received in 2010 from the U.S. Department of Education to rapidly expand. KIPP began as a middle school program in 1994, but it branched out into elementary and high school levels.

The charter network went from 27,000 students in 2010 to about 68,000 students in 183 schools in the school year that just began.

One of the key questions investigated by Mathematica Policy Research, the firm that conducted the study, was whether KIPP could maintain academic achievement as it rapidly added schools and students.

That issue — how to take a successful school model and bring it to a significant scale — is at the heart of current discussions about the best way to improve the nation’s public schools.

And it’s hard to accomplish, said Philip M. Gleason, a senior fellow at Mathematica and one of the study’s authors.

Significant academic achievement is “hard to maintain as the network has grown,” he said. “The performance of KIPP schools seems to have dropped a bit as they .?.?. faced a lot of growth during the 2006 to 2011 period. Since that time, it looks as though there has been a kind of rebounding but still not as high as they were in the early period. The schools opening now are successful but not quite as good as the early schools.”

When it comes to elementary school, students who have been enrolled in KIPP schools after three years show significant achievement in math and reading compared to children who attend non-KIPP schools, the researchers found. The gains were stronger in math than reading, and this year KIPP is rolling out a new English Language Arts curriculum in response, Mancini said.

KIPP middle school students outpaced non-KIPP peers in math, reading, social studies and science, according to the Mathematica study.

Across grade levels, the researchers found that KIPP schools did not affect student motivation, engagement, educational aspirations or behavior. But parents of KIPP students reported high levels of satisfaction.

“We’re trying to create as many kids as possible who are ready for college and have a life full of choices,” Mancini said. “This report shows our kids are making progress, doing things getting them ready for college, but we still have a lot of work to do.”