New York Prof Says KIPP Isn’t a Magic Bullet; KIPP Founder Says, Hey You’re Right

A just-released report from a New York City prof warns that while KIPP – the Knowledge Is Power Program operated in non-profit charter schools in cities across the country including Houston -- does many good things, it should not be adopted as a role model for changes in public schools.

To which a multi-tasking and clearly media-savvy KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg responded by cell phone as he was being driven around Houston’s wet streets Tuesday: “I agree completely. We’ve never claimed Kipp is the magic bullet.”

Professor Jeffrey R. Henig, an expert on urban education reform from Teachers College, Columbia University, says KIPP does well by its students who stay the course; they tend to do better than similar poor, urban and minority students who go to more traditional public schools.

But KIPP loses a lot of students, and wears out a lot of teachers in short order, too (probably due to long days, four-hour Saturday sessions, a month of summer school and grading all that homework the students have to do). And that if you added back in all the students who have performed less well and left, then KIPP’s success ratio climbs down from the clouds and gets much closer to your everyday ordinary schools.

Feinberg says certain KIPP enthusiasts have been promoting his program as the answer to all problems in education and it is not. He described them as “some friends who’ve gotten very excited and think tomorrow we can snap our fingers and make all kids behave like KIPPsters and I don’t think that’s possible.”

At the same time, Feinberg says KIPP employs some fundamental practices and philosophies that all schools should use. These include:

- more time on task

- having schools like KIPP provide choice within a particular community so there’s no longer just one lower school, one middle school and one high school.

- empowering school leaders (principals) who are only put in place after intensive training in a highly selective process

- set high expectations, keeping college prep in mind even at the elementary level

- holding schools accountable for how many kids they send to college and how many actually graduate from college.

As for the student-turnover rate, Feinberg says KIPP Houston has had three expulsions in the last decade. The reasons kids leave are because they are expelled, they choose to or their families move. He said that by the end of last school year, the middle school KIPP has in Houston lost about 12 percent of the kids who had started with it four years before in fifth grade. Surrounding public middle schools, he says, are losing kids at a rate of 20-25 percent each year.

But in places like Oakland, California, Feinberg says KIPP’s attrition rate is much higher. Oakland lost more than half of its kids, he says. And at some of KIPP’s newer schools in Houston, higher attrition rates are the norm, which Feinberg attributed to students and teachers getting used to a new school.

As for the teacher shuffle, Feinberg says teachers at the more established KIPP schools tend to stay while the start-ups attract the kind of teachers who want to try new things, and leave after things become more settled.

Margaret Downing

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Richard Connelly
Contact: Richard Connelly