In education circles, the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), the nation’s largest charter management organization, is considered one of the great success stories in the charter school movement. But as Quick and the Ed’s Chad Aldeman points out, even though an observer of a KIPP classroom can immediately tell the difference, quantitative analyses of KIPP’s real-world effects have been sparse and low-level — which is why the National Bureau of Economic Research’s new study (PDF) of a KIPP charter school in Lynn, Massachusetts, the sole KIPP school in New England, is noteworthy.
As with other KIPP schools across the country, the Lynn school has a long school year that starts in August and includes some Saturdays, and a long school day running from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm. The school has a code of behavior that calls for orderly movement between classes and students to speak only when called upon. The curriculum puts a strong emphasis on basic reading and math skills.
The study was a quasi-experimental evaluation that compared students who attended KIPP with those who wanted to attend but couldn’t get in because of space restrictions. In Massachusetts, charter schools are required to hold a lottery for admission if a school is oversubscribed. Because KIPP Lynn’s enrollees are determined by a randomized lottery, the study was able estimate the causal effect of the program on achievement without the problem of selection bias — the idea that a charter school gets results by “skimming from the top” of a given demographic — tainting the results.
What did the researchers find? KIPP Lynn attendees registered Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) gains of about .12 standard deviations for each year that a student stayed in KIPP. For math, the gains were even larger at .35 standard deviations for each year. The results for limited English proficiency (KIPP Lynn has a high proportion of Hispanic students) and special education students were even more positive.
While it’s just one study for one school, the NBER analysis is a well-designed quasi-experiment that offers robust quantitative evidence for KIPP’s effectiveness. (Aldeman calls it “by far the most rigorous of all the evaluations thus far that specifically focus on KIPP.”) As the researchers point out, KIPP has a replicable model and runs similar schools across the country, and it’s not hard to imagine that KIPP has had similar effects at other sites. Of course, more studies like this are needed to measure KIPP’s results. But in the meantime, the NBER study should embolden charter proponents, who seek to bring demonstrably successful models to areas badly in need of alternatives for students willin and eager to learn.