A new Mathematica study on charter school learning gains found that KIPP middle school students “gained an additional 11 months of learning in math, eight additional months in reading, 14 additional months of learning in science, and 11 additional months of learning in social studies when compared to students in comparable traditional public schools.” It is one of the most scientifically accurate studies conducted on charter school performance. The study provides evidence against several claims by charter school critics:
No “Cherry Picking” in KIPP Schools
The study found that KIPP schools “have a higher proportion of low-income and black students” and their students “enter the program with a lower baseline math and reading achievement” than students who attend traditional public schools. If charter schools were “cherry picking,” we would expect exactly the opposite: there should be fewer low-income students and they should have above average test scores. But KIPP charter schools educate students who are more disadvantaged and have lower test scores. There is no evidence to support the claim of “cherry picking” at KIPP charter schools.
KIPP students are not forced out
Opponents claim that some students are forced out of charter schools, keeping the best students for themselves and sending difficult students back to public school. The Mathematica study found no evidence to support this. The attrition rate at KIPP schools is nearly identical to traditional public schools. “It’s a credible way to deal with the criticism that [KIPP] is selectively counseling out kids who aren’t doing well,” said Jeffrey Henig, a professor of political science and education at Teachers College, Columbia University.
What is the secret to KIPP’s success?
KIPP students learn more by spending more time in school. “KIPP students spend an average of nine hours per day, for 192 days each year, in school, compared to 6.6 hours per day, for 180 days, for traditional public schools” which results in 540 extra hours of instruction each year, or nearly 82 extra days of instruction at a traditional public school. The extra help is reinforced with added practice at home, because “KIPP students spend an extra 35-53 minutes on homework each night than students not enrolled in KIPP.”
KIPP’s “comprehensive behavioral system” was also praised by the study. “In schools where school-wide behavior standards and discipline policies are consistently communicated and enforced, the school rewards students for positive behavior, and the school punishes students who violate the rules, reading and math scores went up, researchers found.”
The study used two methods to compare performance: charter school students were compared to traditional public school students with similar backgrounds (race, income, location, etc.) and also compared to students in the same district who chose to attend a traditional public school instead of a charter school. The first method has been frequently used by researchers who oppose charter schools, while the second method is considered more scientifically rigorous. But no matter which method was used, both comparisons showed that KIPP charter school students were outperforming students in traditional public schools.