The time to learn: KIPP schools show what a longer school day offers


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A NEW REPORT documents again that middle school students in the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) outperform their counterparts in traditional public schools — and debunks some of the arguments often used to discount KIPP’s success. One reason KIPP students learn more is that they are in school more. KIPP’s experience, and that of other schools with extended learning, should prompt the nation’s schools to face up to the need to change the school calendar.

The report last month by Mathematica Policy Research looked at 22 KIPP middle schools across the country, including two in the District, and found consistent, significant gains. Half the schools showed gains in math for students after three years in the school that were equivalent to 1.2 years of extra instruction, and 0.9 year of additional instruction in reading.

The report, commissioned by KIPP, debunked the argument that the schools succeed by “creaming” the best students from the districts they operate in. In fact, researchers said KIPP students are more likely to be low-income and black or Hispanic and, prior to their enrollment in KIPP schools, to have lower-than-average test scores in their local school districts. The study also found nothing unusual about attrition rates at KIPP schools; in other words, the schools are not pressuring weak students to leave in order to make the stats look good.

What does set KIPP apart is the amount of time students are in school. A regular school day is from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., plus extra weeks in the summer. Some schools even offer Saturday programs. That’s up to 600 more hours a year in school than children who attend traditional public middle schools. The extra hours, said KIPP spokesman Steve Mancini, “allow us to turn ‘or’ into ‘and,’ ” since a common complaint of teachers is not having time to cover the curriculum and deal with individual student needs. The extra time also allows more planning and collaboration among teachers.

The advantages of extra instruction time were identified in 1983 with the seminal “Nation at Risk” report, but there was little response. In addition to the extra costs, there is the inertia inherent in trying to change any tradition. Clearly, the current hard times — in which some school districts are even scaling back on instructional time — are not the best time to talk about changes estimated to cost an extra $1,200 to $1,400 per student. Nonetheless, the Obama administration has embraced extended learning as a core part of its reform agenda, and with good reason.

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