Hip KIPP, Hooray! Major Research Shows Big Learning Gains for Challenged Students

A powerful research report released today from a big study confirms what anyone paying attention to the urban charter school movement already should have noticed. KIPP produces big gains for students:

KIPP middle schoolers learn significantly more than comparison students, concludes a report by Mathematica Policy Research on 43 schools in 13 states plus the District of Columbia. Three years after enrollment, the average KIPP student gained an extra 11 months in math, moving from the 44th to the 58th percentile, and eight months in reading, moving from the 46th to the 55th percentile. Science gains equalled an extra 14 months and social studies an extra 11 months.

Following up on research released in the summer of 2010, Mathematica confirmed earlier findings that KIPP doesn’t benefit from attracting more gifted students than those left behind in surrounding schools. Mike Feinberg, the cage-busting co-founder of the national, no-excuses charter school network, notes among other findings:

When it comes to prior achievement, KIPP students tend to enter 5th grade with test scores that are lower than the average for neighboring elementary schools.

That’s right. Lower test scores, not higher. Yet they end up ahead of their peers. While KIPP schools had a great showing overall (and Denver’s KIPP Sunshine Academy was included in the mix), some of the 43 schools did better than others. The traits of the most successful schools? As Feinberg puts it, leaders “who set strong, cohesive behavior standards” and schools that provide more learning time.

Edublogger Colin Hitt puts the big-picture findings into perspective: “every random assignment study yet conducted on urban charter schools finds positive effects.” He says “Boom.” I say “KA-Boom!”

For a full account, read Katie Ash’s piece for Education Week. Her story drives home the point that the research came up with the same conclusions using two different methods — which gives the smart people with all those degrees a lot of confidence that KIPP is doing some fantastic work!

In what ways can KIPP get better? How much can other schools learn from the KIPP results? What can and will they do to apply the lessons? How do we most effectively expand the great results to reach more of the students who most need the academic boost toward success? Those are the questions to kick around.