Work Hard, Nice Scores

Last week’s most-clicked SmartBrief story posted the summary findings in the first of a multiyear study of KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) charter schools. In this study (commissioned by KIPP), Mathematica Policy Research estimates KIPP’s effects on achievement in 22 middle schools and finds a positive effect on students’ math and reading scores on state assessments. The study compares test scores of charter students to scores of selected students in regular public schools who matched their academic and demographic backgrounds. Findings include:

  • Sustained positive impact in reading and math in all four years after students enter KIPP schools.
  • After three years at KIPP, many students gain the equivalent of about an extra 1.2 years of instruction in math and .75 years in reading.
  • KIPP schools studied drew higher concentrations of racial minorities and students in poverty, and their students typically started behind average achievement levels, as compared to local schools.
  • The KIPP schools studied had lower concentrations of special education and limited English proficiency students.

Broadly, KIPP schools are characterized by longer school days, weeks, and years, and a school culture that some (including Pedro Noguera) have called “very regimented,” with rigorous incentives for following rules. Students and staff adopt the credo, “Work hard, be nice.”

KIPP critics say the schools benefit from some unique variables: highly motivated parents and the ability to weed out kids that don’t fall in line with the KIPP program. The Washington Post notes this report’s positive findings come at a time when the Obama administration is looking to expand successful charters.

Do these results speak for themselves, or should criticisms of KIPP temper expansion?