Why are KIPP Schools Successful?

August 8, 2014

The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) is a network of charter schools that utilize strict student-behavior policies, longer school days, greater principal autonomy and performance monitoring. Most KIPP schools serve middle school students in grades five through eight. Today, there are more than 140 of these schools across the country.

Students in KIPP middle schools have seen positive impacts on their testing performance, with one study from Mathematica Policy Research finding that three years in a KIPP program was the equivalent of having an additional eight to 11 months of learning.

Why are the schools so successful? Critics have suggested that the numbers are misleading: that KIPP students only appear successful because less successful students leave the program, leaving the more successful students in the KIPP schools to bolster the achievement numbers.

As a result, a team from Mathematica Policy Research Inc. -- Ira Nichols-Barrer, Brian Gill, Philip Gleason and Christina Clark Tuttle -- set out to identify whether student attrition has anything to do with KIPP students' success.

The authors examined 19 KIPP middle schools and compared them with local public schools. They found that KIPP middle schools admit similar students to those in traditional middle schools. Their student attrition rates are also very similar, as are the characteristics of students who leave: at traditional schools and KIPP schools, students who drop out are much lower achievers than the rest of the student body.

Compared to public schools, KIPP schools replace fewer of those drop-outs with new students and, when they do replace them, they replace them with higher achieving students. However, the authors conclude that this has a very small effect on KIPP achievement rates, because the positive achievement effect largely takes place in a student's first year in a KIPP school, before attrition and replacement rates play a role.

The authors conclude that there is something more to KIPP student achievement than attrition and replacement factors, suggesting that the KIPP model could produce similar effects in schools across the board.

Source: Ira Nichols-Barrer et al, "Does Student Attrition Explain KIPP's Success?" Education Next, Fall 2014.

 

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