New research reveals the dark secrets behind "top" US charter schools

Francis Gilbert's picture
New research conducted the Western Michigan University reveals that the Knowledge Is Power Programme schools are not doing as well as politicians like Michael Gove think.

According to research highlighted in the TES this week, KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Programme) schools have "substantially higher" rates of attrition compared with their local school districts, with 40 per cent of African-American boys leaving between grades 6 and 8 (Years 7 and 9). It also suggests that KIPP schools have very selective admissions, cherry-picking what Professor Dylan William calls the "low-hanging fruit" in poor communities.

The report, What Makes KIPP Work, by researchers at Western Michigan University, shows that, overall, between grades 6 and 8 KIPP cohorts dropped by 30 per cent.

Taking private and public funding together, the study says that KIPP schools received an average of $6,500 (£3,996) more per pupil than their mainstream counterparts.

"If KIPP wishes to maintain its status as an exemplar of private management of public schools, rather than a new effort to privatise public schools, it will need to convince policy-makers and the public that it intends to recruit and serve a wider range of students and that it will be able to do so with sustainable levels of funding comparable to what other traditional public schools receive," the report says.

This report has implications for government policy and the way some academies run their operations in this country; companies like ARK and Harris consciously model their schools on the KIPP one while Michael Wilshaw has turned himself into the top headteacher in the country using their techniques at Mossbourne Academy. But, as I've written about before in the New Statesman, where I point out some of the issues about KIPP that have now appeared the Michigan report, the reality behind KIPP is rather dark: they have no over-arching, enlightened philosophy, only an absolute obsession with micro-managing children to attain great results. This leads to very high drop-out rates and concerns about what happens when such "controlled" children leave the school

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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 20/04/2011 - 07:32

The tough KIPP regime of longer school hours and a heavy homework load discourage weaker students who then drop out. KIPP supporters said that their drop out rate was because poor people tended to move more frequently. However, researchers found that while many children did indeed leave, not so many were recruited to take their place:

"Having few new entering students is an enormous advantage not only because low-scoring transfer students are kept out but also because in the later grades, KIPP students are surrounded only by successful peers who are the most committed to the program."

Many academies boast the same longer hours and heavy demands on pupils. Will this discourage weaker pupils in the same way?

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 20/04/2011 - 09:10

For a different perspective from a jourmalist who is more sympathetic to KIPP:

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 20/04/2011 - 15:13

Here is another study that suggests KIPP schools have very high attrition rates - in some cases losing 60% of pupils ( seemingly the least academic) along the way.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 22/04/2011 - 13:52

The New York Times, November 2010, reported, “The Florida attorney general is investigating eight for-profit colleges, including Kaplan, for alleged misrepresentation of financial aid and deceptive practices.” The paper said that US Department of Education officials were becoming increasingly concerned that “too much of the $26.5 billion in federal student aid that went to for-profit colleges last year enriched shareholders and company executives, rather than helping students.”

Kaplan is owned by the Washington Post Company who bought the organisation in 1984 because of its “potential for expansion and profits.”

“Potential for profits” is a phrase one should not hear in relation to offering education. It demonstrates skewed priorities.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 22/04/2011 - 14:13

Andrew Old highlighted an article by Jay Matthews, a pro-KIPP journalist. However, even Matthews realises KIPP will not work for everyone. He writes, “My view is that KIPP... can make great strides for the millions of students in urban neighborhoods who are ready for a challenge in school. But they do not yet have a solution for the millions more who are not ready…they need more, including health, housing and job services that schools usually cannot provide…”

“…I think our debate over these matters is corrupted by ignorant commentators who actually believe, and say out loud, that KIPP and groups like it have the problems of the inner city solved… But some — including people running for high office — do occasionally utter such inanities.”

Matthews agrees with Oklahoma City teacher, John Thompson, “KIPP is the answer for some students. But our toughest secondary schools need far more investments for our most damaged children if we hope to provide educational futures for them and their classmates. Why not give our neighborhood schools the same chances to help poor kids that we give to KIPP?”

I believe that Mr Gove is one of these “ignorant commentators” who “utter such inanities”. Only with Mr Gove it isn’t KIPP, it’s free schools and academies.

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