Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 01/ 4/2011

Myths and realities about KIPP

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. He is the author of "All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools through Public School Choice." In this post, he refers to a debate that I had with my inimitable colleague Jay Mathews about school reform that discussed Teach for America and the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP. You can find that debate here.

By Richard D. Kahlenberg
In the recent education debate between Valerie Strauss and Jay Mathews, a question arose about the attrition rates at the highly regarded Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) schools. The issue is important because if large numbers of weaker students drop out of KIPP’s rigorous program, it would be highly unfair to compare the test score gains won by the top KIPP students against the scores of all regular public school students – who include KIPP dropouts.

In the debate, Strauss mentioned some studies finding that KIPP schools “have had a very high attrition rate.” Mathews responded by saying it is a “myth that KIPP schools have poor retention rates” and cited a 2010 study that found that KIPP school “are doing about as well as regular schools in their neighborhoods” in terms of attrition.

Who’s right? While I respect Jay Mathews’s grasp of educational issues, on this question, the data overwhelmingly support Valerie Strauss’s skepticism.

In a rigorous 2008 study of five KIPP schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, researchers at SRI International found that an astounding 60% of KIPP students left over the course of middle-school. Moreover, the researchers found evidence that the 60% of students who did not persist through the tough KIPP regimen (a longer school day and week, and heavy doses of homework), tended to be the weaker students.

KIPP supporters, like Mathews, respond that a 2010 study of 22 KIPP schools by Mathematica found that the attrition rates were comparable to nearby high poverty public schools that also have lots of kids leave. Poor people tend to move frequently, so high attrition rates are to be expected at KIPP schools, it is argued.

The big difference between KIPP and regular public schools, however, is that whereas struggling students come and go at regular schools, at KIPP, student leave but very few new children enter. Having few new entering students is an enormous advantage not only because low-scoring transfer students are kept out but also because in the later grades, KIPP students are surrounded only by successful peers who are the most committed to the program.

Below is a figure that shows the attendance at KIPP Bay-area schools. (The figure is part of a Century Foundation document entitled “Charter Schools that Work: Economically Integrated Schools with Teacher Voice.”)

Bay Area KIPP Net Student Enrollment by Grade from 2003-04 to 2006-07


In the comments section of the Answer Sheet blog, when readers pointed out that KIPP schools don’t generally fill students back in, Mathews responded “KIPP schools DO take in new students beyond the 5th grade.”

This is technically accurate, but as the figure above suggests, the vast majority of students enter during the 6th grade (a natural time to enter middle school) and then the total number of KIPP students in 7th and 8th grade falls precipitously.

The KIPP Bay-area schools cannot be dismissed as an outlier on the KIPP attrition question. Columbia University researcher Jeffrey Henig’s 2008 review of several studies found high attrition rates at a number of other KIPP schools.

It may well be, in fact, that high attrition rates are a key explanation for KIPP’s success in raising test scores. When KIPP tried to take over a regular public school – where the students are not self-selected, but are assigned to the school; and where students not only leave, but large number of students enter — KIPP abandoned the field after just two years. KIPP long ago realized that what we charge regular public schools with doing is far more difficult than what KIPP seeks to do.


Follow my blog every day by bookmarking And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our Higher Education page at Bookmark it!

By Valerie Strauss  | January 4, 2011; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Charter schools, Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  KIPP, KIPP schools, century foundation, charter schools, jay mathews, knowledge is power program, richard kahlenberg  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: A response to Arne Duncan
Next: Obama girls miss two days of school; when is it okay to keep a kid out of school?


Wnen the charter school movement is exposed to the light, a number of problems emerge. I would love to see a study which analyzes why these students are leaving. Locally, I am always amazed at parents who choose a charter option whose test results are less than inspiring. I suspect many parents are lured by the sense of safety these isolated buildings and programs project. Inside these buildings, however, I often worry that a philosophical emphasis on control and discipline leaves many students cold. For more of my thoughts on teaching and education, I invite your readers to again visit my blog at

Posted by: dcproud1 | January 4, 2011 6:08 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the data, and would love to see Jay's response.

dcproud1, I have been reading your posts here and on your blog..enjoying your writing and perspective.

Posted by: researcher2 | January 4, 2011 6:31 AM | Report abuse

I do think that one of the attractions to a school like KIPP is exactly this. After the 1st year or two, their children will be surrounded by those students who are willing to put in the work to succeed.

While this obviously cannot be replicated in the public schools, it is not an unreasonable thing for an individual parent to do for their child. After all, that is the whole point of moving to an affluent suburban school district. It is not necessarily that the teaching is better, but that teachers can actually teach rather than dealing with disruptive students.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | January 4, 2011 7:00 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Wyrm1. KIPP schools do a good job at what they do - teaching the most motivated of low income students. This is not an easy thing to do and it is an important thing to do.

The problem arises when KIPP is held up as something it is not - a solution to the achievement gap. I for one feel there is nothing wrong with a cream-skimming process - which is basically what is happening with KIPP when they lack an obligation to serve. The problems arise when KIPP allows their admirers to misrepresent their contribution to education.

KIPP does contribute, but not in a way that answers the most difficult issues around the achievement gap.

Posted by: lizwisniewski | January 4, 2011 7:17 AM | Report abuse

I am never convinced students that perform well are necessarily more motivated or better parents...poverty I will accept to a degree, but KIPP (IMO) is a method of inclusion while quietly practicing Darwinian education.

We continue to trap students and parents into thinking because their child is "in" a 5th grade class they will perform at that level. They may have performed well in the 4th grade but overwhelmed by the change or unable to grasp the change at the 5th grade level. Yet, adults shove them through the class because, forbid, someone should think their child a failure.

KIPP is about control, pure and simple. The practice is to prove they can produce brighter students, and they do - possibly. Not too unlike American Idol. Anyone can sign up and audition, but not everyone can make the grade to the next level.

Posted by: jbeeler | January 4, 2011 7:55 AM | Report abuse

I agree completely with lizwisniewski and Wrym1, and am appalled by Jay Mathews' sly use of words to mislead the reader without actually lying outright. Some of his articles should be preceded by "caveat lector."

It's bad journalism and it certainly doesn't help the children.

Posted by: efavorite | January 4, 2011 7:56 AM | Report abuse

The difference between Valerie Strauss and Jay Matthews is the difference between a real reporter who actually digs for information and uses it objectively and a reporter with a book to sell.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | January 4, 2011 8:02 AM | Report abuse

I'm surprised CarolineSF hasn't showed up already.

As for Kahlenberg: "if large numbers of weaker students drop out of KIPP’s rigorous program, it would be highly unfair to compare the test score gains won by the top KIPP students against the scores of all regular public school students – who include KIPP dropouts."

Of course it would be unfair, and that's why NO ONE EVER MAKES SUCH A COMPARISON. The Mathematica study you yourself cite compared students who won a lottery to attend KIPP with students who lost that same lottery. It certainly wasn't comparing anyone to "ALL" public school students. Even worse (for you), the Mathematica study counted KIPP dropouts AS IF THEY WERE STILL KIPP STUDENTS, which means that their performance counted against KIPP, not against the regular public schools. So you've got things completely backwards.

Posted by: educationobserver | January 4, 2011 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Focusing on KIPP's attrition rates and then concluding that KIPP can't be compared with a regular public school misses the point. What we should be doing is offering all families a KIPP-like opportunity in 5th grade and tell kids that if they are willing to work really hard like the kids in Shanghai, China, then when they graduate from 8th grade they will really be ready to tackle challenging work in high school. If they decide they don't want to work that hard and go to school on Saturdays and have shorter summer vacations then they can leave at any time and go get a mediocre education in a school set up to provide just that.

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | January 4, 2011 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Esteemed writer Malcolm Gladwell wrote about KIPP and demonstrated a major comprehension FAIL (to put it in terms my teens would use) that was highly revealing. I'm paraphrasing and will go find the book, "Outliers," and get direct quotes upon request.

Gladwell claimed that the magical miracle solution is KIPP's longer hours. (In my view, longer school hours are presumably beneficial in many cases, but are not the magical miracle solution.) But then Gladwell himself inadvertently revealed the truth, without noticing it, when he quoted a KIPPster as saying that her friends from her old school don't want to join her at KIPP because the work is too hard.

In my view, it's valid and useful to learn that the subset of at-risk, low-income students who are motivated and compliant enough to make it at KIPP schools do well. The problem is that we cannot learn it when that reality is obscured with denial and lies.

Posted by: CarolineSF | January 4, 2011 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Educationobserver, comparisons of KIPP schools' scores to the scores of non-KIPP schools -- the ones that accept the majority of KIPP enrollees who leave -- are made constantly.

And Patrick Mattimore, I agree with you, as you can see. But the lies and denial are the problem -- and the further problem is that the lies and denial are necessary to attract the private money that funds the extra hours and so on, and enables the KIPP schools to keep all those seats empty in the upper grades. Obviously, that can only go on for so long.

Posted by: CarolineSF | January 4, 2011 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Seen another way: regular public schools have weak standards of achievement and conduct. Regular public schools move students through grades without demonstrating mastery which sets them up to fail in high school. In Ravitch's "Death and Life..." she even states the need for schools that take those students who cannot behave appropriately in a regular setting. What many urban districts don't want to face is the percentage of their students that need schools like this, and the lack of teachers willing to teach those students. 'Regular public schools must take everyone' has become an excuse for weak expectations, which is why so many parents in our urban cores choose charter schools.
It's almost funny that all the rabble-rousing about KIPP that occurs on this blog is totally lost on the parents who choose that school for their children, because they and only they know what's best for their children, not us.

Posted by: pdexiii | January 4, 2011 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Excellent comment pdexiii. I often find myself appalled at what it takes a school like KIPP to achieve results in an urban environment: Incredibly long hours, creepy snapping, strict regimentation, signs everywhere. But, in lifting students out of the public schools with unruly, disastrous reputations, this is what parents respond to. I would prefer to not send a child to a KIPP school, but having the option for the school to remove students for chronic misbehavior is appealing. In cities where the charter movement is growing, the remaining public schools are becoming the schools of last resort that struggle to get educators.

If only traditional public schools got to play by the same rules in dealing with misbehavior.

Posted by: HistTeach1 | January 4, 2011 11:47 AM | Report abuse

I originally posted the below on "Class Struggle" back in October. Forgive the repost (with edits), but I found that the analysis here, though more esteemed, is no more complete than that done by commenters to Jay Matthew's blog:

About the 60% attrition rate at the Bay Area Kipp Schools: it's really high, as the schools realized (according to the SRI report linked above). A year before the end of the four-year span (2003-06) report, the schools asked the families of the 300 departing students why they left KIPP. Three out of seven said it was because the family moved (the real estate nonsense hit the Bay area earlier and harder than it hit here), two out of seven because KIPP "was not a good fit," and two out of seven for other reasons.

Other things to consider:
--The 60% attrition rate in the graph above was only for the 5th grade class that started in 2003, and covered their progress through 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. For the 5th graders who started in 2004 and 2005, there is less data, but extrapolating the data that does exist leads to incrementally lower attrition rates than that 60% figure.
--In the first year covered by the report (2003) three of the KIPP schools were brand-new and the fourth had been reconstituted and moved after just one year of operation. The fifth Bay Area KIPP school opened in 2004. Doubtless, there were some growing pains, some rejiggering, and some discordance between what the founding parents expected their school to be and how the school actually operated.

Posted by: gardyloo | January 4, 2011 12:13 PM | Report abuse

"If only traditional public schools got to play by the same rules in dealing with misbehavior."

Exactly - and I think that could happen, and I think some teachers would happy to teach public school kids who had been sent to a special setting because of their behavior. they are already teaching those kids without the needed supports. In the special schools, presumably, they would have those supports.

Posted by: efavorite | January 4, 2011 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Many people of means move out of the city or to an expensive part of the city to give their kids a high performing environment. KIPP is not the salvation of education but currently the best option for many parents that cannot move out.

Posted by: Brooklander | January 4, 2011 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Gardyloo, your defense of KIPP is that KIPP didn't actually kick all those students out -- some of them moved. Yes, that's what tends to happen with low-income families -- in education it's called "high mobility,"
and low-income families tend to be much higher-mobility than more-privileged families.

There are two pieces to the attrition issue with KIPP. One is the question of whether and how many of the students who leave are pushed; the other is the fact that the numbers prove conclusively, irrefutably, that many/most of those students are not replaced when they leave, which leaves a streamlined class that (according to the SRI study) consists of the higher achievers.

KIPP may well have lessened the "pushing" after it came under scrutiny -- last time I checked, the Bay Area KIPP schools' test scores (based on California's API system) had also dropped somewhat, so those facts may be connected.

The other attempts to defend KIPP are hairsplitting. The fact is that KIPP was boasting of its high test scores and success in years when the substantial majority of the students it enrolled left the school.

In addition, my research (blogged several years ago) broke down the attrition by demographic subgroups. In every KIPP school that showed the high attrition, it was significantly higher in the subgroup that was most statistically likely to be academically challenged -- either Latino males or African-American males. At Oakland's KIPP school, then called KIPP Bridge, 77% of the African-American boys left between enrollment and the BEGINNING of 8th grade -- figures are not publicly available on how many (if any!) actually finished 8th grade there.

Posted by: CarolineSF | January 4, 2011 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Several people in Jay's thread told him exactly that, and have been telling him that for several years. I hope that this definitive smackdown will get Jay to understand the issue, but I don't have a lot of hope.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | January 4, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Patrick Mattimore makes a great point. It's a shame that when something succeeds (as KIPP most assuredly has), people aren't asking how to accomplish the same result on a broader scale (as in your scenario). Instead, so many hateful people come out of the woodwork to tear down KIPP, mock its success, nitpick over trifles, and pretend that there's nothing to learn from what KIPP does right.

A far better approach -- one that cared about kids, as Valerie Strauss claims to do -- would be to make it possible for more public schools to imitate KIPP in various ways, via longer hours, more intense study, and the ability to kick out more violent/lazy students who are going to end up dropping out eventually anyway.

Posted by: educationobserver | January 4, 2011 5:40 PM | Report abuse

like so many other reformers, seemingly enlightened people, Matthews chooses to be a cheerleader for a strategy for reform that is bad science. I would hope that first, he consider that the data does NOT support market based schools a la charters, and second, take a better look at what you are promoting. If you are wrong, and the data says you are wrong, you (WE!) are going to be much worse off than ever.

Posted by: zebra22 | January 4, 2011 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Education Observer, I have repeatedly said, including on this thread, that KIPP has lessons that public education can emulate. It would appear that the lesson is that when low-income, at-risk students who are motivated and compliant and who have motivated, supportive, compliant families are separated from less-compliant students, they can improve their achievement.

As I've also said, that lesson appears to be obscured by lies, denial and hype. It's the lies, denial and hype that we need to combat, so that others can benefit from KIPP's successes.

Posted by: CarolineSF | January 4, 2011 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Consider it done - the KIPP haters have accomplished that mission long ago.

Now go to work figuring out how to do something -- anything -- beyond just carping about KIPP. Go lobby for your local public school to have greater powers to expel lazy and violent students. It's not as if those students are going to graduate anyway, and they might as well get dumped earlier so that they can't ruin the educational experience for everyone else.

Posted by: educationobserver | January 4, 2011 6:02 PM | Report abuse

"the ability to kick out more violent/lazy students who are going to end up dropping out eventually anyway."

So, in order to reduce the number of kids failing at school, we expel all the struggling students. Yep, everyone would wind up better than average that way.

Posted by: Trev1 | January 4, 2011 8:20 PM | Report abuse

thanks for the post, valerie, and for the interesting comments from everyone.

for me, the real concern and question is enrollment, not attrition -- how to make schools as successful as KIPP seems to do while continuing to take kids in all along the way.

if KIPPs only work by essentially closing the doors after 5th or 6th grade -- no steady stream of mid-year replacements, no followup lotteries for kids who want to join the class after missing out the first time, then that's what would make the the model much less powerful and relevant, IMO.

thanks / alexander

Posted by: alexanderrusso | January 4, 2011 9:48 PM | Report abuse


"The problems arise when KIPP allows their admirers to misrepresent their contribution to education.

KIPP does contribute, but not in a way that answers the most difficult issues around the achievement gap."

Yes, I agree fully with this point. Too much misrepresentation and not enough cold, hard reality checks.

Posted by: DHume1 | January 4, 2011 10:29 PM | Report abuse

Alexander, that would appear to be the case. Unfortunately, because of the hype, obfuscation and denial, it's very difficult to know for certain -- or to know to what EXTENT the attrition of problematic, oppositional and generally unsuccessful students is a key factor in KIPP schools' success.

As I've posted, I visited KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy some years ago with my real-life then-seventh-grader to initiate the application process (possibly the only education blogger/reporter to do that much hands-on research, if I do say so). We got as far as KIPP's request that we schedule our placement test, and stopped before actually scheduling it. Since KIPP claims that it doesn't give entrance tests, need I say more?

Regarding the Mathematica study that neglected to mention that KIPP attrition is entirely different from public school attrition because KIPP replaces so few of the departees: A relative who's a researcher for the RAND Corp. tells me that two years of furious negotiations with the client about how to word research results are not uncommon. You get the idea.

Posted by: CarolineSF | January 4, 2011 10:35 PM | Report abuse

All I can say is that if CarolineSF is right with her muttering and sneering at KIPP's results, then that means that when a school is able to focus on children who want to be in school and who are willing to work hard, that makes a HUGE difference in those kids' lives.

Kids who get into KIPP quickly pull ahead an ENTIRE SCHOOL YEAR past other kids who had exactly the same high motivation but who didn't happen to get into KIPP.

If putting those kids together in one building explains everything -- i.e., it's nothing about KIPP's curriculum or teachers or structure or scheduling, just the arrangement of students -- then it must be HUGELY important to arrange kids in that way.

That means that it is EVEN MORE CRUCIAL that we let other public schools do the same thing. That is, other public schools should also be allowed to
rearrange students such that the kids who deserve to be in school get to be together, while more of the worthless kids either get kicked out or put in "alternative learning environments" so that they don't ruin education for everyone else as well as themselves.

Posted by: educationobserver | January 4, 2011 10:56 PM | Report abuse

"That means that it is EVEN MORE CRUCIAL that we let other public schools do the same thing. That is, other public schools should also be allowed to
rearrange students such that the kids who deserve to be in school get to be together, while more of the worthless kids either get kicked out or put in "alternative learning environments" so that they don't ruin education for everyone else as well as themselves."

Are any of the posters who suggest this kind of solution aware of how many charter schools exist in D.C.'s low-income neighborhoods? What you are suggesting has already happened--highly motivated children of involved parents have already been removed from the regular public schools. The problem is that now the regular public schools are left with a very high percentage of students who have behavior and/or learning issues, and the schools aren't given the resources to deal with these kids. Schools in low-income neighborhoods where most of the top students go to charter schools are told that the problem is teachers. So every year, large numbers of teachers get fired and large numbers of new teachers get hired, and test scores stay about the same. Ask any principal in a low-achieving school how many teachers have been at the school for more than three years. That is, if the principal isn't too new him/herself to answer the question...

Posted by: bhorn1 | January 5, 2011 12:23 AM | Report abuse

"As I've also said, that lesson appears to be obscured by lies, denial and hype. It's the lies, denial and hype that we need to combat, so that others can benefit from KIPP's successes." CarolineSF

Respectfully disagree. What we need to combat is criticizing KIPP's blemishes rather than utilizing its strengths. Many people attack Kipp's "good" insisting that it's not "perfect" as a guise (perhaps unwittingly) for retaining the mediocre.

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | January 5, 2011 1:25 AM | Report abuse

Thank you, Valerie for offering Richard this forum. I have been addressing the misinformation about the new charter school movement (more corporate than the original intent of charters as experimental and deregulated public schools); the public is getting a hard push with PR and shoddy journalism, but the scholarship/research exposes quite a different picture: There are no miracles. Some of my examinations:

Posted by: plthomas3 | January 5, 2011 7:17 AM | Report abuse

"Many people attack Kipp's "good" insisting that it's not "perfect" as a guise (perhaps unwittingly) for retaining the mediocre."

Respectfully disagree - to complain about those who point out important issues that are otherwise being covered up, distorted or lied about, is a guise (perhaps unwittingly) for discouraging useful criticism that could help not only KIPP, but all schools.

It KIPP (or anything) is so excellent, certainly it can take a little accurate criticism.

Like Caroline, I approve of KIPPs model. I disapprove of it being misrepresented and disapprove of its supporters using insults as a way of stifling criticism.

Posted by: efavorite | January 5, 2011 7:21 AM | Report abuse

"The problem is that now the regular public schools are left with a very high percentage of students who have behavior and/or learning issues, and the schools aren't given the resources to deal with these kids"

DC schools already get more than $20,000 per year per student. What "resources" do you think they aren't getting? If these kids are so messed up that they can't learn anything even with $20,000 per year, maybe it's hopeless.

Posted by: educationobserver | January 5, 2011 8:12 AM | Report abuse

Patrick, the problem is that KIPP's much vaunted success--that which you want to praise--is in large part created by the data problems that you say we shouldn't criticize. There's not a a lot of evidence that KIPP kids do all that extraordinarily well. They may "pick up a year" as is mentioned here, but that's in elementary school. There's been plenty of time to see KIPP's graduation rates and their SAT scores, but I haven't seen any data. Does it exist?

I feel quite sure that if KIPP students were achieving at the same rate as their suburban counterparts, we'd have heard it. If, in fact, KIPP students are doing marginally better than the students who applied for the lottery (which is what I expect), then what does that tell us?

The other thing to remember is that small charter schools won't scale. There is, literally, no way that KIPP could expand to meet the need without diluting its (already questioned) superiority.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | January 5, 2011 8:37 AM | Report abuse

There's lots of evidence out there that KIPP takes low-performing kids and improves their performance over the three years they attend KIPP. As a starting point read Jay's book- ""Work Hard, Be Nice." And we have heard about KIPP kids performing at the same rate as their suburban counterparts. Several years ago I wrote an op-ed for the Merc about a South Bay KIPP that was equaling a Palo Alto (maybe Menlo Park) middle school.
Basically the points critics raise are distractors. Attrition rates? Sure. Plenty of kids can't hack it but so what? Those kids drift back to the crappy programs they would have been in anyway. And no you don't take kids who are well behind in the middle of middle school. Critics are also quick to point out that kids that stick with KIPP are somehow different than their peers (more motivated, better parental support, etc.). There may be some truth to that but take a look at the kids KIPP enrolls and see if you really buy it. These are the remedial kids you are teaching but some of them got clear, really quite a lot.
Scalable, maybe not. But my idea is to take 5th grade programs only and pour the money in there. We know that this is where American schools really begin to fall behind. Then set up programs for the lower numbers of kids who you will have the rest of middle school. And take a lesson from the high performing Asian countries. Don't worry so much about class size. Get behavior problems out quick and again stick them in the a regular crappy school.
We don't need to save them all but lets set up better programs for kids and families willing to work hard.

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | January 5, 2011 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Cal_Lanier, almost all KIPP schools are middle schools serving grades 5-8 -- there are now reportedly a small number of KIPP high schools, all or almost all new. So there would not be SAT scores for KIPP students; assiduous research might produce SAT scores for KIPP ALUMNI, but the high schools they had attended in the interim would be a significant factor in the scores.

There are claims flying around about the number of KIPP alumni who have gone to college -- largely stemming from an inaccurate Newsweek column by the befuddled Jonathan Alter, who is aggressively hostile to public education, as seen in "Waiting for Superman." Here's my blogged response from 2008:

In the current Newsweek, columnist Jonathan Alter earnestly claims that 12,800 alumni of KIPP schools have gone on to college. Here's what Alter wrote:

"At the 60 KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools, more than 80 percent of 16,000 randomly selected low-income students go to college, four times the national average for poor kids."

The actual number, according to KIPP itself, is 447.

By the way, the sky-high attrition also calls into question the notion that KIPP schools are oversubscribed, does it not? Here in San Francisco, the two KIPP schools are not oversubscribed, so the notion that there's a cohort of students who were shut out in the lottery is inaccurate. But even if it's accurate that there are more applicants than openings at KIPP schools elsewhere ("long waiting lists" are a common falsehood from the charter industry, and reporters should always check with an undercover phone call), the parade of departees out the door should leave openings in short order for eager applicants.

Posted by: CarolineSF | January 5, 2011 9:55 AM | Report abuse

My view of KIPP: IF a school is allowed to include only that subset of low-income students who are sufficiently motivated to apply to the school (and go through the requisite admissions hoops), AND the lower-performing students are actively or passively encouraged to leave (not to be replaced with other students), THEN the end result is a school filled with only the most motivated low-income students in the neighborhood, and THEN the school will likely have some moderate success in raising those remaining students' academic achievement levels.

In my mind, KIPP is similar to tracking (a now much-derided practice): Grouping the higher achieving, more motivated students together to allow them to achieve at a higher level, without having to handle the distractions of lower performing and/or misbehaving students.

Once we acknowledge the above, the public can then have a conversation about whether the KIPP set-up is desirable: E.g., do we want to have schools set up to "cream" students in this fashion? Why or why not? There are probably persuasive views on both sides of the issue (once the issue is correctly framed).

Posted by: AttorneyDC | January 5, 2011 10:29 AM | Report abuse

In this thread there have been less than a handful of references to parent-involvement. Parent involvement is the single most influential factor for determining a child's school success and success later in life. There is over 40 years of data that support this fact (e.g. Chicago Longitudinal Study). The focus of conversations about school reform focus almost exclusively on teachers and administrators. The reality is that schools are a part of a larger educational "mega-system." What is a mega-system? It includes the school, parents and the community. Schools (the teachers and principals) are *always* the focus of conversations about education reform. But it takes a village to raise a child.

Even if a school is great and a parent(s) is highly involved, if the community or neighborhood values do not support school and parent, if a community is dangerous and crime-ridden, if a community offers no jobs and few resources, if an area is poverty stricken then an essential leg from the tripod is missing. And the students who sit atop the mega-system tripod fall off.

Because a community or district throws tax dollars at an educational system, that alone does not mean said community has contributed its full part. What resources are made available to parents (most of whom do not fully understand what it means to be involved - even if they DO show up to every parent-teacher conference)? How do local industry, businesses and businesses people, athletes, politicians, municipal workers, firefighters...contribute? Through their values, examples, time commitments, encouragement.

The larger point in here is that too much focus is on the schools. Conversations about education reform have to pay attention to parent and community involvement.

Posted by: DrDrew1 | January 5, 2011 10:33 AM | Report abuse

DrDrew: I agree wholeheartedly that parent involvement is necessary (or highly desired) in order for student success. I may not have said it explicitly, but in my comment above I referenced students who are sufficently "motivated" to apply to KIPP and jump through the necessary hoops to gain admission. What would have more accurately reflected my view is that students AND THEIR FAMILIES must be sufficiently motivated to apply to KIPP. Without parental support at home, kids are going to have a hard time succeeding at school no matter what school they attend (which is unfortunate for the students with the misfortune to be raised by parents who do not -- or cannot -- make education a priority for their kids).

Posted by: AttorneyDC | January 5, 2011 11:56 AM | Report abuse

We all know the fractions of students KIPP won't serve which currently winds up under court supervision for the majority of years between the ages of 20 and 30. More than a quarter.

In another discussion, someday, there'll be recognition of the costs of those tossed on the middens, not just to them but to the rest of us. We haven't figured out complete mainstreaming, and the educational Calvinists and their proponents have always had a point and a hypothesis; but they long ago grew as tiresome as the endless repetition of the Protestant Ethic.

I wish they had more respect for majority of work which doesn't require university education, but which would have happier and more creative workers if they weren't threatened by bosses who tell them they're failures at risk of losing their jobs to those who have diplomas. Is that the way you treat your air-conditioning and automotive technicians? Or all of the people who operate your chain and independent groceries and restaurants?

Posted by: incredulous | January 5, 2011 12:03 PM | Report abuse

I think it is much more than "natural attrition" because studies of their dropouts show they are mostly low performers. If it was natural attrition due to family mobility you would see the academic achievement of the drop-outs to be the same as the retained population. I know anecdotally a KIPP parent here in DC explained to me that one of the reasons she is very happy with the school is that they get rid of all their behavior problems. This is illegal, but common among some charters. My local school gets a couple dozen kids who have been kicked out of local charters every year. Last year we started giving their parents the phone number for the discipline project at the ACLU, telling them that if they wanted to stay at our school they could but if they wanted to go back to the charter it was illegal to kick them out and the ACLU would represent them with the school. After the 5th family in a two week period the principal of the school had the gall to call and yell at my principal that she had to stop sending these kids back because it wasn't fair. Our LSRT had fun laughing about that. I think it is important to note that most public schools have a small percentage of kids who absorb a huge amount of resources due to behavior problems. If my school could get rid of just 5 kids out of over 400 all our kids would be getting a better education. Another "Waiting for Superman" darling the SEED school here in DC likes to brag that 95-100% of their graduates go on to college. They try to hide that classes that are 70 students in 9th grade graduate 20. That is worse than most "drop-out factories". And lets face it the rejects of KIPP, SEED and other charters are generally going back to the Public Schools they are then compared with.

Posted by: Mulch5 | January 5, 2011 2:10 PM | Report abuse

For those who find comments like mine "sniping at KIPP" or such there is a simple reason. KIPP and other charters like to put forth that they take the same kids as traditional public schools, use the same resources and get different results. That is a big fat lie, and a lie that continues to be repeated by idiot documentaries like "waiting for superman". It is a lie that is destroying the debate on what works in public education, because it leads to policy decisions made based on a fiction.

In addition to the attrition issue the SRI report shows that KIPP had to raise money approximately equal to their state funding. So KIPP got better achievement with 40% of their kids (that were the ones doing better from the start) with twice the money that the traditional public schools have.

Posted by: Mulch5 | January 5, 2011 2:44 PM | Report abuse

None of us will know just how successful KIPP schools are for several years yet, when its graduates go out into the world, get jobs, and perform as citizens of a democracy. Today's test scores really mean nothing. And school "performance" is not synonymous with "learning."

As a teacher (retired) and a parent, I knew many students ( and a couple of my own kids) who looked unpromising while in K-12 schools, not only mediocre in the grades they earned, but also unenthusiastic about school in general. I--and other teachers and parents didn't give up on them--and eventually they bloomed, in many cases outshining their more compliant, high-achieving classmates.

And then, remember Einstein, Churchill, Edison, JFK, Steve Jobs, etc.--all undistinguished students in their youth. Should they have been sent to KIPP or kicked out of public schools?

We need to beware of "throwing out the baby with the bath water" when we acclaim KIPP schools and call for our public schools to be just like them.

Posted by: joney | January 5, 2011 2:45 PM | Report abuse

The current mainstreaming is not working, in increasing part because the curricular options have been narrowing. Teachers MAY have grown more adept at handling the diversity of student readiness. But the legal obligations to document their due diligence and the growing fraction of students who are socio-economic - behavioral challenges have outstripped resources. Face it,we read of schools for children with disabilities that cost more than $50k annually for treatment. Let's stipulate for a minute that those charges reflect real investments in the clients. Well, KIPP true-believers have been making claims based on similar costs, whether all are charged, or some are born, gratis, by teachers investing terrific amounts of overtime on a honed student body.

Posted by: incredulous | January 5, 2011 3:47 PM | Report abuse

So many of the usual suspects here are still rooting for failure, including the stifling of improvements in the conventional public schools in the District.

Note that Mayor Gray says The Children come first. Soon, the zero-sum players against them, the unionistas, will be making a lot of noise.

The mayor, the Council, and almost all stakeholders will not let them make gains at the students' expense--in money, time, political capital, or attention stolen from classroom work. The mayor's words and early appointments are some obvious signals in this regard.

And David does continue to dazzle, eh?

Posted by: axolotl | January 5, 2011 10:23 PM | Report abuse

educationobserver@10:56 pm,
"kids who deserve to be in school".."more of the worthless kids"
It hurt to read those words!
Kids don't "deserve" to be in schools. Kids go to school because our forebares knew the value of education and made a collective committment to providing it through our local governments. Governments are required to provide it and children are required to go to school. The reason our forefathers and mothers made that decision about instituting a public education system is that they knew that no child is worthless. I believe that too.
Do you really believe that public schools are only for the deserving and that there are worthless kids?

Posted by: 1citizen | January 5, 2011 11:47 PM | Report abuse

I have great respect for Rick and his work, but he is putting far too much weight on data from one KIPP region, and four-year-old data at that. (The Bay Area study came out in 2008, but it was reporting things that happened a couple of years before.) Henig says that some KIPP schools have high turnover rates, but that is not the same thing as saying they are throwing out kids. All of the rest of the available evidence shows that KIPP schools on average lose no more kids than other local schools do, and in some cases, once the KIPP school is well established, they lose less.
I think this discussion is fine, with many good points, but it irks me that commenters will suggest, based on one data point, that KIPP is kicking out low performing students. That is wrong. As one commenter pointed out, most of those students leave for the usual reasons, the parents move or they just prefer another school. One of the Bay Area schools lost many kids its first year because they recruited in one neighborhood, and then had to move across the city because they could not keep the facility they had in that neighborhood. Their turnover rate is less now.
As for the depth of reporting in my KIPP conclusions, Valerie is a terrific reporter and I love her blog, but I think she will agree that on the subject of KIPP, my eight years of research for that book, including visits to more than 40 KIPP schools, has allowed me to learn more about that particular subject than she or Rick has, as good as they are. It is my specialty, and I appreciate the chance to defend what I know in exchanges like this. And don't forget, Rick's review of my book was a rave!

Posted by: Jay Mathews | January 7, 2011 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Jay, visiting the school doesn't make you an expert on the data. I wish you would understand that. It's nice that you see the schools and feel excited about what you see. It just isn't any substitute for data, which you don't understand.

And it doesn't matter in the slightest whether KIPP is booting kids out or the kids leave. The fact that you don't understand this is aggravating.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | January 7, 2011 7:41 PM | Report abuse

My concern with KIPP (and related charter school methods) is a long-run concern: When students get to a certain level of education, high school usually, and certainly college the KIPP method doesn't work any more. College is not a Skinner Box. There's no "Good Job!" comment every time a student does a bit of work or gets a problem right. AND people don't necessarily even notice if you a kid doesn't come to class. No one says "eyes on me", if a kid glances out of the window....

So I think one reason that KIPP may not always have the best results later on is that some students don't transition very well. It can begin to break down when the constant rewards are removed, and there is an assumption that a student might be doing something out of interest or intellectual curiosity or from a long range sense that this knowledge is going to be useful later on.
Students out of KIPP can exhibit long term frustration.

Posted by: SUSANI1 | January 7, 2011 8:25 PM | Report abuse

Another issue with KIPP, and perhaps other charter school initiatives is retention and growth of teaching staff. Teachers are non-union and expected to work long hours without being compensated for this time. If you visit a KIPP school in general you'll see young teachers working hard, but how long will they stay? KIPP teachers I've talked to say that burnout is a huge problem because of the longer hours and also being "on call" even at home. Teachers deserve a professional work place and need to have a life outside of school to maintain their energy and personal well being.

Posted by: holstfan | January 10, 2011 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company