Kipp to open charter school in Columbus
Subject: They just keep Kipping away, don't they? Can't say we didn't see this one coming!
Saturday, March 1, 2008
By Scott Stephens December 31, 2007
It's often called the nation's best charter-school chain, the Tiffany network of urban education.
Next year, it will hang a shingle in Ohio.
The Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, a network of 57 schools in 17 states and the District of Columbia, will open a middle school in Columbus in August.
A second middle school is in the works for the state's capital in 2009, and some education reformers are quietly exploring bringing KIPP to Cleveland.
But it will take the kind of broad-based community interest that Columbus demonstrated to make that happen. In Columbus, a coalition of business, philanthropic and social-service interests, as well as the city schools, served as a welcome mat for the charter chain.
Columbus corporate leaders - the CEOs of the city's 30 largest employers - actually visited KIPP schools in Houston and New York before committing to the project. Satisfied with what they saw, they committed $550,000 to KIPP's Columbus start-up plan.
"It was more than just a case of this sounding good on paper," said Mark Real, executive director of KidsOhio.org, one of the groups that lobbied hard to bring KIPP to Ohio. "They actually went out and kicked the tires, so to speak."
Even supporters of charter schools - schools that are independently operated but publicly funded - have acknowledged that too many of Ohio's charters have been junkers, all too often posting dismal test scores and having little accountability for taxpayer dollars. Last year, three national organizations identified as strong charter-school advocates called for the state to close low-performing charters and to insist on more oversight from charter-school sponsors.
Enter KIPP, which chose Columbus ahead of six other cities on its list of potential expansion sites. The Columbus city schools initially wanted to sponsor the new KIPP schools, but KIPP opted instead to work with the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that already oversees nine charter schools in southwest Ohio.
As a result, the Columbus Teachers Union, which first supported KIPP's move to Columbus, cooled to the idea.
Teachers in the new KIPP school will be hired directly by the school and will not be part of the district's contract with the union. However, because the district is leasing KIPP a building, the district will be able to count KIPP's test scores among its own data.
KIPP has tentative plans to augment its two Columbus middle schools with two elementary schools and a high school. The goal: provide a set of innovative alternative schools that will help raise achievement at all schools by sharing ideas that work.
"We selected Columbus because the community seriously embraces educational reform," said KIPP Chief Executive Richard Barth.
Adds Real: "There will be an open-door policy both ways. KIPP could learn some things from the Columbus schools, too."
But why has the chain, started in 1994 by two Houston teachers, developed such a sparkling reputation? For starters, the not-for-profit network educates children often written off as being "at risk." The youngsters are overwhelmingly black or Latino, and most are from low-income families. Students are accepted without regard to their academic record.
More significant, KIPP gets tangible results, replicating the successes of individual high-performing charter schools on a larger scale.
Students who have completed three years of KIPP have improved from the 34th percentile at the beginning of fifth grade to the 58th percentile at the end of seventh grade in reading scores and from the 44th percentile to the 88th percentile in math scores. The secret? First, KIPP trains its school leaders and board members, putting seasoned educators in place before the first child walks through the door. Carina Robinson, already an accomplished math teacher in the Euclid schools, has been training for the past year at Stanford University to prepare for her job as principal of the new KIPP school in Columbus.
In addition to offering a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum, KIPP schools pack in more instructional time, with a longer day and some extra weekend and summer classes. Teachers are required to be available by cell phone in the evenings to answer questions about homework, which is both daily and required.
Some people cite that rigor for the high attrition rate at a few KIPP schools - one of the rare criticisms of the chain. KIPP's own study this year found alarmingly high rates of children leaving its schools in the San Francisco Bay area. At one school in Oakland, for instance, only a quarter of the students from the fifth-grade class were still around by eighth grade.
Some observers have suggested the attrition rates boost average test scores artificially by driving out the lowest-performing students. A few experts, including Arizona State University's Alex Molnar, have openly questioned whether KIPP is really the savior it claims to be.
But KIPP supporters scoff at such criticism.
"There's attrition in Marine boot camp, too," said Fordham Foundation President Chester Finn Jr. "Any high-standards regimen has more attrition - it comes with the territory. But critics of KIPP are desperately eager to tarnish its reputation. The truth is, KIPP benefits a whole lot of kids."