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    KIPP national study shows significant gains in core subjects

    Jane Roberts

    Photo by Jim Weber

    KIPP Middle School fifth-grader Cameron Taylor listens as math teacher Meredith Bond talks to students completing classwork at the charter school.
A KIPP-commissioned study says after three years in the KIPP program, students show 11 months of additional schooling over their public school peers.

    Fifth-grade math at KIPP Memphis looks like a study in free will. One minute, students are working busily at their desks, then over the next few, they pick up their work, one by one, and head to a back corner or stake out think space on the hallway floor outside.

    “Research shows that people can stay at attention about the age they are, plus two,” says principal Andrew Bobowski, watching the choreography from the sidelines. “These kids are 10 and 11; they generally can stay on task 12-13 minutes.”

    At KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program), teachers weave movement into class to improve focus. The effort, one of many strategies to get urban, mostly minority children, in and through college, was affirmed in research that recently showed KIPP students substantially outperforming their non-KIPP peers.

    In math and social studies, KIPP students showed an average of 11 months additional growth four years after they entered 5th grade. In science, they gained 14 months.

    “We found that KIPP produces a significant positive impact in reading, math, science and social studies in the first four years, and it is consistently positive across nearly all KIPP schools and across a wide range of student subgroups,” said Brian Gill, researcher with Mathematica Policy Research in Washington.

    This is the second time KIPP has paid Mathematica to study its results. The study cost $4 million.

    “We wanted to look at: Is KIPP delivering on its promise?” said KIPP spokesman Steve Mancini. “We also wanted to look at the ‘yes, buts,’ including, ‘Is KIPP creaming students? We are not.’ ”

    Based on the number of special education students enrolled in schools with high reading scores, researchers concluded that KIPP was not “creaming,” or accepting students with high probabilities of success.

    The study included 30,000 middle school students, including 15,000 from KIPP and 15,000 “virtual twins” from traditional public schools. To tease out the “parent motivation effect,” researchers also tracked children who applied to attend 13 KIPP schools where admittance is based on a lottery. Half of the students in the second study were lottery-accepted, the other half were not.

    “Both approaches gave us the same answer,” said study director Philip Gleason, “and gave us great confidence in the validity of both designs.”

    Opponents quickly criticized the findings, saying it should be obvious that children attending schools with a longer day and year would perform better.

    “KIPP will get the money it spent on this study back in advertising,” said Gary Miron, professor at Western Michigan University and fellow with the National Education Policy Center. “It’s an excellent study. They have answered the questions that KIPP has hired them to answer. But they are not asking the right questions.”

    He says KIPP burdens local districts with large numbers of students withdrawing midyear because the work is too difficult or their families are transient. “Thirty percent are leaving in three years, and when you look at African-American males, it’s 40 percent. KIPP puts the burden on districts to receive these kids in the middle of the year when it does not take new students in the middle of the year.”

    Mancini characterized Miron and other critics as “haters” and teacher union supporters. KIPP started in New York in 1994. Today, its 31 regional charter-management organizations run 125 KIPP schools in 20 states and serve more than 14,000 students, including 820 in Memphis.

    Next fall, KIPP enrollment here will grow to 1,300 as it adds a grade in each of its four schools and begins taking over Shannon Elementary and Corry Middle through the state Achievement School District.

    “At the end of the day, KIPP measures its success on college graduation. We won’t be done until we know all the kids coming to us are graduating in high numbers from college,” said Jamal McCall, Memphis KIPP executive director.

    In Memphis, KIPP students attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., plus mandatory Saturday sessions twice a month.

    Surveys of students showed that KIPP students complete up to 53 minutes more homework per night than they would have at non-KIPP schools. It also showed KIPP students self-reported increased incidences of undesirable behaviors, including losing their temper, arguing with or lying to their parents or giving their teachers a hard time.

    “One could imagine a scenario in which a longer school day and more homework create more conflict for students and parents,” Gill said. “We don’t know what is going on, but it is one possibility.”