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Report looks at “cherry-picking,” attrition and test scores at KIPP schools

By Katy Murphy
Tuesday, September 16th, 2008 at 5:52 pm in achievement gap, charter schools, students, teachers, test scores.


photo courtesy of KIPP Bridge

KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, is a national network of public (mostly charter) schools that operate in low-income urban areas — such as KIPP Bridge, in West Oakland. With longer school days (7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and every other Saturday), high social and academic expectations, and teachers recruited from top universities, KIPP schools are designed to give kids opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Its motto is “Work hard. Be nice.”

KIPP schools’ test scores are generally much higher than those of their local school districts, and the model has received glowing media coverage for narrowing the achievement gap. Still, some skeptics suggest that the schools “cherry pick” the brightest students from local elementary schools. Some have called attention to the large number of Bay Area kids who leave KIPP schools before they finish the eighth grade. Others wonder whether such long work days will take a toll on the teaching staff.

Researchers from SRI International addressed some of these questions in a detailed study released today about the Bay Area’s five KIPP middle schools, including West Oakland’s KIPP Bridge (a former district school that converted to a charter last year). You can see the full report here.

The authors poked a few holes in the cherry-picking charge. They actually found that students who enroll at Bay Area KIPP schools tend to have lower test scores, coming in, than their peers who didn’t enroll at KIPP — not the other way around. They also concluded that KIPPsters tend to make above-average progress in fifth and sixth grades, compared to national norms.

But the report includes a somewhat startling statistic: About 60 percent of Bay Area KIPP kids who entered the fifth grade in 2003-04 transferred out before they graduated middle school.

Kids aren’t the only ones to come and go from the Bay’s KIPP schools. The report cited teacher turnover rates ranging from 18 to 49 percent. KIPP teachers reported spending 65 hours a week on school-related activities, compared to the 52 hours reported by the average urban middle school teacher.

On the other hand, the authors noted that KIPP’s teachers are so carefully selected that faculty members say it’s hard to tell who is a beginner.

With all of this in mind, do you think KIPP is a model that should be more broadly replicated in public education? Is it sustainable?

Whatever your opinion, if you’re interested in school reform, charter schools, or KIPP, in general, this report is worth a read. Well, at least the executive summary…

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  • Jim Mordecai

    I have just written a letter to the school board regarding KIPP peitition to change their charter so that they could have their governance board become a Bay Area wide governance board.

    In my opinion the California charter school law is bias toward creation of charter schools. And, once the charter schools are in place they do not receive the oversight by the district, county, or State Board of education because there are too few laws in place that would give teeth to that oversight. So I would say No to growing KIPP or any charter school template unless there is a sea change in charter school law and much greater oversight.

    Another thing to keep in mind about the Oakland KIPP that started out as a small Oakland public school and then two years ago changed to a charter school, is a major reason for the change was that KIPP did not receive enough money as an Oakland public school to sustain its program. Changing to a charter school allowed KIPP to secure a State loan of $250,000 that they were entitled to because they were a public school converting to a charter school. However, in a wink, wink, Jack O’Connell’s State Department of Education overlooked that KIPP was not entitled to start up status as a conversion charter. But, why would charter school association supporter of the year award winner notice such a minor $250,000 oversight?

    Here is the letter:

    Wednesday, September 16, 2008

    Members of Oakland School Board:

    09-10-08, Oakland Board of Education/State Administrator Meeting item 08-1776, Public Hearing, Kipp Bay Area Schools – KIPP Bridge Charter School -
    Material Revision of Charter – Governance Changes- Petition and Proposed Charter Amendment.

    On September 10, 2008 a public hearing was held at the Oakland Board of Education meeting on a petition brought by KIPP Bridge Charter School (former Lowell campus) to revise its charter changing its governance to Kipp Bay Area Schools.

    KIPP operates a number of Bay Area KIPP charter schools and wants to consolidate all of its schools under one governing board.

    California charter school law authorizes school districts to approve public charter schools independent of a school district. However, as public schools the district authorizing a charter has jurisdiction over the authorized charter school. Moving the governing board of a charter school out of the district with oversight responsibility is not in the public interest. In addition to make it difficult for the District to maintain oversight responsibility of such a public school, a governance board not located in the District would make it difficult for parents and Oakland citizens to attend meetings of the school’s governing board. For both reasons, the petition by KIPP Bridge Charter School should be denied.

    However, there is a problem in denying the petition. The Oakland Board of Education only has power under the State take-over to advise the Oakland State Administrator and cannot deny the petitioner. It is up to State Superintendent Jack O’Connell and Oakland State Administrator Vincent Matthews to decide this issue.

    State Superintendent has been a supporter of charter schools and Oakland State Administrator Vincent Matthews was a charter school principal. Hopefully, both will understand that this issue is not about having a charter school but allowing the Oakland School District to exercise its jurisdiction oversight as effectively as possible.

    I request that Board members contact State Administrator Vincent Matthews and ask for his support in keeping the governing board of KIPP Bridge Charter within the jurisdiction of Oakland Unified School District.

    Furthermore, I request that Board Members in contact with other school boards in districts with Bay Area KIPP charter school discuss with these other school boards the issue of consolidation of all Bay Area KIPP charter schools under one Bay Area wide governing board.

    Respectfully,

    Jim Mordecai
    510-205-4635

    c.c. Vincent Matthews, Oakland State Administrator
    Roberta Mayer, Oakland Superintendent

  • Nextset

    Cherry Picking is another term for segregation – at least how I use the word. Tracking is a similar term. Schools have no obligation to mix high functioning students and low functioning students in the same classroom or campus. That is inefficient and harms the high functioning students. In a free market the families of the high functioning won’t tolerate it.

    I like free markets better than command economies.

    So what they are selective. All the school districts should do the same in matching students to programs. At least to the degree the market demands.

  • oakie

    I can’t read anything in that report that supports the claim that KIPP is cherry picking. Why do the anti-charter folks always always use that canard?

    Because they do not have any valid and substantive argument against charters. They don’t like them because they break their monopoly.

    My understanding that that charter schools do not receive the full state funding ADA ($8,500 per student last year), but must “share” it with the district.

    If I had my druthers, I’d want the charters to get their full funding, give every parent a voucher to go to any school they want, and let OUSD prove it’s value to the parents to agree to use them for their child’s educational services.

    School districts in the suburbs that function properly would have nothing to worry about. But that would straighten out OUSD right quick, or close it down. Either way, it’s better than what we have right now.

  • cranky teacher

    I think KIPP and the other schools are useful as labs.

    They show what can work and what doesn’t. For every KIPP, there is a UPrep.

    They show just what it takes to educate in this situation: Enormous person hours.

    They show the the limitations of any one system: KIPP students are not sticking there for some reason.

    KIPP usually pays a BIT more than OUSD, but 65 hours a week as a REQUIREMENT? Wow. Are we talking about modern day monks and nuns? Do they wake up at five and go to sleep at midnight, after eating a light supper of bread and broth??

  • Jake

    KIPP is a good school that does right by its students. It’s good to see that they’re not abusing the system.

    Nextset, cherry picking in the schools is very different from tracking. Public schools can’t pick and choose to take only the students with the most promise. We serve all the children, because we want to raise all of them up. There are special rules that govern magnet schools, accelerated learning classrooms, and other exceptions. Cherry picking is when kids are screened out beyond those rules and exceptions. It’s something charters have been caught doing, as well as regular schools, and even districts. For example, a school might expel 10 or 15 low performing students right before state testing…

    It’s specious to argue for free market rules when the majority of the market has a legally fixed “demand” to serve the whole gamut of the “supply.”

    And it’s more than vaguely fascist to talk about America’s children as if they were just commodities.

  • Nextset

    Jake: Cherry Picking is your name for a school limiting it’s enrollment in a particular class, campus or program to those who have the most academic potential. Nothing at all wrong with that.

    You think that it’s virtuous to mix all students all the time. Go right ahead, free country.

    I say it’s nothing virtuous at all, it’s a recipie for the madness we have in our urban schools now. All students would benefit if the campuses, or programs, or classrooms were segregated (by abilities) so that the students would not have to try to learn through a clash of cognitive skills – or cultures.

    The students from the better families will not send their kids to these schools. They know better and want better for their kids. So the Charters rise to fill the need for public schools that don’t cater to the underclass and their mores. And those charters don’t want trash, so they set up screens to keep them out.

    Do I talk about children like they are commodities? Duhhh. When we are talking about policy and large numbers of people, they are. They object is to do the right thing by the students not to destroy them with policy we all know doesn’t work.

  • district employee

    The real trick is in the transfer rates. Check out how many BayTech and KIPP and other charter school students leave those schools shortly after enrollment numbers are reported to the state (and per-pupil funds are dispersed) but before standardized testing windows open.

    Those students end up back in the “regular” public schools, but the money doesn’t follow them until much later – making it near-impossible for their new schools to offer the intervention supports they need to test well. Fascinating.

  • Sue

    Nextset, I’ve challenged your position on segregation-by-abilities before.

    When kids grow up and get out into the real world, they are going to have to deal with people who are different than they are. They need to learn to do that.

    Groups with mixed abilities give your so-called “dull” kids the opportunity to learn how to manage their feelings and keep working when someone else outshines them. (I know it doesn’t always work that way – but there is an *opportunity* that they wouldn’t have if all the kids in the classroom are “dull”.)

    It gives the “gifted” a chance to teach their less-gifted peers, and learn to slow down their whirling minds and words to a pace that “normals” can keep up with. They’re going to have to work with “normals” after they graduate, and they need to learn how to do that, not leave their “normal” boss in the dust and get fired. (I know two guys from my time in the Air Force who have repeatedly lost jobs – even though they’re incredibly bright and talented – because they don’t know how to work with people who aren’t as brilliant as they are.)

    Finally, to get to the personal and individual – in some of the mainstream classes my autistic son has attended, the less-than-stellar kids who are frustrated and disruptive, have a chance to help someone even less able than themselves. This has legitimately built the disruptive kids’ self-esteem. In helping with teaching my son (who’s a real sweetheart, and brings out the best in nearly everyone around him), these kids get to learn the instructional materials – teaching something is the best way to really learn it.

    Those teachers have told me that having my disabled child in their classroom has *improved* the class as a whole, because now the other kids are trying harder, and learning more, and disrupting the class less. Mixing different levels of abilities (and disabilities) can be good for all the students and the teachers, not only good for my disabled kid. But segregating him with only other disabled wasn’t good for him – he rises to the level of what surrounds him. He didn’t rise very fast or very far back when he was in Special Day Classes – because he was usually one of the brightest kids in the SDC classroom.

    Segregating, “cherry-picking”, whatever it’s called, hasn’t been good for people historically. Human foibles makes it a recipe for lost opportunities. That’s why a US Supreme Court ended it in education and in the nation overall.

    But of course, you are entitled to your opinion that the Court got it wrong.

  • Nextset

    Sue: The federal government has no authority legislating education – it’s not one of their enumerated powers. There is no Constitutional provision for national education policy and education is an exclusively state affair. And there is a reason this country set up a mechanism to avoid centralization of power in DC. Decentralized power and authority prevents rot from the core. The redunduncy of the State Powers promotes stability, progress and wealth.

    Having said that, my commentary over time about spliting students up as in Europe into programs and schools based on performance and suitability is my personal conclusion of what works best and produces best – especially within a budget. I’m the first one to say that every single state – and if the state allows, every district – should do what they want the way they want. Local choice overrides most everything.

    Choice also includes the ability of the families to vote with their feet – thus the white flight nationally in the US from Urban Schools. Pursuing the bad education policy created by the US Supreme Court and Congress has decimated our great cities by distorting residency patterns and left the urban school districts in ruins. The current national education policy has made things much worse for public school students and the people generally.

    So It’s really fine with me if a local district does things their way – your way, I just can’t abide their being forced to by Washington instead of the locals. The locals can be trusted to act (eventually) for the benefit of the kids, Washington can be trusted to destroy society over time. It’s the nature of big centralized government.

    Compare this to abortion policy. While two people may differ on the merits it is another issue as to who has the power to force policy on others. Is it a national issue, a state issue, or an individual issue? We look first to our federal and state constitution for lines of power and authority – and I for one don’t graft changes or interpretations that aren’t there as temporary fixes.

    We no longer have debate and amend constitutions, we just have mini-civil wars and appoint justices who will re-write constitutions. All the while increasing central authority in the name of right wing and left wing issues. It is a mistake to do so.

    My personal opinion of how a school should run – or how abortion policy (for example) should read – is my own and I don’t presume to think anybody else has to live under my rule at all. But you make your bed, you lie in it.

    But No Child Left Behind is a monster that I fear has a very sinister object we have not realized yet. Along the way we are going to have cherry picking because NCLB is a tremendous disincentive to having certain people around.

  • Sue

    “The federal government has no authority legislating education – it’s not one of their enumerated powers. There is no Constitutional provision for national education policy and education is an exclusively state affair.”

    This much we agree on – the Feds should stay out of education. NCLB should never have become law. I’ve said before that I suspected its purpose was the (eventual) elimination of public education altogether.

    The federal courts, however, do have jurisdiction over state laws when the laws violate Constitutional principles. State laws for segregation of schools were deemed unconstitutional, because it denied students equal access and opportunity.

  • Nextset

    Sue: I agree that Brown vs Board of Education was constitutionally sound to the extent it banned race from being used to select schools. People are equal before the law – and there is no provision for classes of citizens except for criminals clearly being a lesser class.

    There is no constitutional basis for preventing the states from setting prerequisites for various schools and programs that will not be evenly distributed by race – such as ability to read to the 9th grade level to set foot in desirable 9th grade programs. The series of cases that led to forced integration and racial quotas of all public schools regardless of suitability are the problem. Still I don’t remember any school district ever trying to segregate it’s schools by ability because that would have 1> put whites behind higher functioning groups and 2>split whites up with the lower scoring (even in the same family) going to different schools.

    All in all an interesting situation. Remember, abilities differ even within siblings in the same family group. Distributions are interesting to chart though. Whatever. The people voted with their feet, Cleveland and Baltimore went from principal cities of the USA to slums, and the rest is history.

    Oh, and Sue, that equal opportunity is a crock. Putting a 9th grader who reads at 4th grade level into an Academic High School harms everyone. Especially if there are a critical mass of these illiterate students dropped into that 9th grade. There is no opportunity there, only misery for all concerned.

    Liberals believe that Education is something that can be handed out like the Wizard Of Oz handing out a diploma. The truth is that it has to be earned by doing the work which the cognitively impaired can only do to a certain point and then no more.

  • Jake

    Nextset, cherry-picking isn’t my term, and your straw-man-summary of my questions isn’t intellectually honest…

    But I notice your grammar and syntax are slipping so perhaps you’re just not feeling up to your usual pedantic and misanthropic standards.

    And yes, I’ve become bored enough with your bloviating to begin insulting you openly. You take up too much air to be worth anything more.

  • Nextset

    Jake: I sure don’t want to bother you. But I forgot your perspective – are you a Teacher – or parent or just another taxpayer here? As far as typos and grammar – I jump on between troubleshooting here or sometimes late. This blog is something to look at between making decisions sometime – some decisions I may be trying to avoid.

    Sorry to bother you about all this – what is your perspective on school policy again? As far as your insults – they are only as meanful as who they come from. Tell me why I should have any regard for your point of view. I’m not saying I shouldn’t, I take seriously the point of view of people here I may disagree with, especially when they are in position to deal with the consequences of school policy more than I.

    I don’t remember you from before – why is your view more than ordinarily pursuasive? And do you typically insult other speakers in public discourse? That would tell me plenty right there.

  • cranky teacher

    Nextset wrote: “And those charters don’t want trash, so they set up screens to keep them out.”

    The issue he’s neatly skirting here is that this is about taxpayer money, not what families decide is right for their children or school administrators think would make their school nicer.

    “Public” schools means anybody can come in the door. Charter schools are public schools just with a different format and org chart. So why can they cherry-pick and not the other public schools?

    If a kid has ADHD or MR, does he not have the right to go to whatever public school he wants, within the bounds of reality and fairness (lottery, etc.)?

    I don’t mind charters, but if they are given the same power as private schools without having to keep their finances in order, that is b.s. Let them go private.

  • Nextset

    Cranky: You have an important point in #14 here. “Public” DOES NOT mean that anyone can enroll. Just as UC Berkeley is and was selective, and SF’s Lowell High School is application only – there is no requirement that a school district admit someone to any campus or program. They can pick and chose by whatever criteria that is not outlawed – like race – regardless of the effect on racial balance. It’s fine to select or deselect by test scores or other aptitude factors.

    The Charters are only doing what the School Districts should have been doing generations ago. Segregating students by suitability for the program. You cannot run a modern school with optimum results (or even acceptable results) if you enroll students who cannot reasonably be expected to perform acceptably side by side with those who are expected to perform well. Plus seats are limited and you aren’t running remedial ed on every campus.

    And I’m sorry about that “trash” comment. Over time I have typically used red letter words to make a point and I know they are provocative. By now I should have given up the habit. My points are provocative enough without the emphasis.

    The School Districts should never let the Charters beat them to the punch. OUSD needs to copy SFUSD and create an Academic High School on par with the best private academy in the East Bay. And that means selective enrollment and no Affirmative Action – well relatively little anyway. But could OUSD politically accept a majority Asian school?

  • ds

    KIPP cherry picks parents, not kids. I would be happy to take a class of low achieving kids who are required to behave a certain way or their out, and whose parents are required to behave a certain way, or their out. This is my dream job, but at 56 I need job security and a somewhat normal work week.

  • ds

    OOPS. They’re. I’m tired.