With the Sutton Trust taking notice, it’s worth a closer look


 The Knowledge is Power Programme, KIPP in the US , is a national network of free, open-enrolment, college-preparatory public schools with a track record of preparing students in underserved communities for success in college and in life. It is the largest chain of so-called US Charter schools and is admired by the Tory education team, and the New Schools Network which is encouraging the establishment of Free Schools (autonomous state schools run by  a diversified range of suppliers and parent groups).

 There are currently 66 KIPP schools mostly middle schools (ie, with students between 10 and 14 years old) in 19 states and the District of Columbia, serving around 20,000 students. KIPP aims to grow the size of its network to 100 schools by 2011, to serve an anticipated 40,000 students. Eighty percent of KIPP students are low-income, and 90 percent are African American or Latino. Nationally, more than 90 percent of KIPP middle school students have gone on to college-preparatory high schools, and more than 80 percent of KIPP alumni have gone on to college. All students in KIPP school’s catchment area are eligible for admission, which is determined by random lottery, and tuition is free. KIPP pays for its operations through a combination of funds from the local public school system and donations. KIPP spends approximately $13,000-19,000 per student per year.

 KIPP’s unlikely rise is the subject of Work Hard. Be Nice, a newish book by Washington Post education columnist and longtime reporter Jay Mathews. He spent two years visiting 31 KIPP schools and interviewing its two founders, Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, as well as the parents, teachers and thinkers who influenced them Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg completed their Teach For America commitment and launched a programme for fifth graders in a public school in inner-city Houston, Texas in 1994.The result is a vivid account of two young men who transform themselves from “terrible” first-year teachers into visionaries. Early alumni of Teach For America, Levin and Feinberg beg, borrow, lie and cajole their way to success. They win the respect of senior teachers .They persuade a Houston bedding tycoon, to buy them a reading curriculum; later, searching for room to expand, Feinberg sits four hours on the bumper of a car belonging to then schools-Superintendent Rod Paige, waiting to enlist his help. (He does.) Eventually, Levin and Feinberg cobble together a college-prep programme that boasts longer hours, days, weeks and years — pupils stay in school until 5 p.m. most days, attend class every other Saturday and spend weeks in summer school .

 Within five years, KIPP and its founders were persuading the USA’s leading philanthropists to part with millions to supplement public funding.

In 2000, Doris and Don Fisher created the KIPP Foundation, whose fundamental responsibility was to grow the KIPP network by training outstanding school leaders to open and operate KIPP schools. Since then, KIPP has become, for many, the default model of urban school reform.

So, what does KIPP do that’s different?

 All KIPP schools share a core set of operating principles known as the Five Pillars: High Expectations, Choice & Commitment, More Time, Power to Lead, and Focus on Results.

In practice, this translates to clear results oriented leadership, hard work and commitment from teachers, parents and pupils alike, innovative personalized education, combined with incentivising good pupil discipline, attendance and performance. Most KIPP schools run from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm Monday through to Friday and 8:30 am to 1:30 on select Saturdays (usually twice a month), and Middle school students also participate in a two-to-three-week mandatory summer school, which includes extracurricular activities after school and on Saturdays. As a result, KIPP students spend approximately 60% more time in class than their peers. Each middle school student receives pay at the end of the week in KIPP dollars which they have earned based on academic merit, conduct, and overall behavior. KIPP dollars may be spent on whatever the student chooses, from books to laptop computers. End-of-year trips are also earned. What is on offer varies from school to school. Many teachers and pupils might balk at longer school hours, but it does seem to give KIPP schools the flexibility to broaden their curriculum and pastoral support.

 Critics of KIPP charter schools have accused the chain of being opaque about how much money it spends and what kinds of students it serves. But KIPP says it’s committed to transparency, and so every year it releases a comprehensive report about its fundraising and planning efforts, and about how each of its schools is performing. (see report link below) The Foundation has recently developed a new leadership competency model that will serve as the anchor for Foundation and regional efforts to recruit, assess, develop and retain excellent leaders. This model has broad applicability to leaders across the network and will align with all levels of leadership. This model will also be tailored to describe what is essential to be successful in instructional leadership roles such as Principal, Assistant Principal, Grade Level Chair, and Dean.

 In KIPP’s regional growth model, schools are clustered into geographic regions, with a shared services center, a common board, and an Executive Director. Schools within a region take advantage of economies of scale in securing talent and other resources, while the shared services center supports school operations so that schools can focus on excellent instruction. Currently a majority of schools (73 percent) are within regions, and all new schools will be opened in existing or new regions. In every Grade (5-8 Grade) a significant majority of KIPP schools pupils outperform local district pupils in mathematics and English (with the possible exception of 5th Grade Reading but not Maths) . And in a nation where just 40% of disadvantaged pupils matriculate to college, so called ‘Kipptsers’ boast an 85% success rate.

 Not all Charter schools demonstrate such added value. But the KIPP model is attracting international attention and admiration including, most recently, here, from the Sutton Trust set up to improve social mobility.

Charter schools can still of course, polarize political opinion and are regarded by teaching unions with suspicion and outright hostility in some cases, but, crucially, they remain very popular in disadvantaged communities, which are too often served by sink schools. They are seen by many in these communities as the only ladder out of the cycle of poverty and under achievement.


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