Roland Fryer showed that educational achievement is correlated with higher incomes, lower rates of unemployment, lower rates of incarceration, and better physical health.1 If you believe a causal relationship exists between educational achievement and life outcomes, then efforts to improve educational attainment should not be taken lightly. KIPP, a network of charter schools, has experienced success in educating students from low-income, minority backgrounds. KIPP’s success rests on four operational tenets: culture of high expectations, extended time in the classroom, decentralized control, and data-driven decision making.
Culture of High Expectations
To drive performance in their schools, KIPP has built a culture of high expectations. These expectations are set for students, teachers, and parents. Prior to the start of school, each student, parent, and teacher signs a “Commitment to Excellence” pledge that clearly details what is expected from them in the educational process (Exhibit 2).2 This pledge delivers value in three ways. First it clarifies the responsibilities of each person, which enables effective execution. Second the pledge provides transparency between students, teachers, and parents. This transparency allows people to hold each other accountable for their actions. Third the pledge provides a source of inspiration. The pledge reveals that each person is working to achieve a high-quality education. In addition, the emphasis on college graduation is further evidence of high expectations. This goal is communicated to each student. KIPP does not lower expectations for low-income students; as a result, KIPP students are achieving results that rival their high-income peers.
Extended Time in the Classroom
While KIPP does not lower expectations for students, KIPP has a clear understanding that their students often need extra support. The extra support comes in the form of extended time in the classroom. The typical KIPP school day starts at 7:30 AM and ends at 5 PM, a total of 9.5 hours whereas traditional public school days last seven hours.4 In addition, KIPP students are required to attend classes on select Saturdays during the school year and as many as three weeks of class during the summer. 4 The impact of this extra schooling leads to KIPP students spending 600 more hours in school than their peers at traditional public schools. 4 Most students enter KIPP below grade level in reading and math, so the extra schooling allows KIPP students to catch up to the academic proficiency of their peers.
KIPP has implemented a decentralized control system giving KIPP principals more power than principals at traditional public schools. Unlike principals at traditional public schools, KIPP principals make decisions about hiring, budgeting, and curriculum for their schools.5 This empowers KIPP principals to come up with innovative solutions to drive excellence in their schools. KIPP has training programs for principals to implement best practices, but at the same time, the decentralized control provides principals with flexibility to find solutions that will best serve their students. In addition, the decentralized system has allowed KIPP to grow quickly from two middle schools in 1995 to 183 schools serving almost 70,000 students today.2 KIPP’s growth model is analogous to a franchise model with the center providing support instead of making operational decisions for each school.
Data-Driven Decision Making
Data is critical to KIPP operations. When students enter a KIPP school, they are tested to set a benchmark level of performance.6 Every 6 weeks, students are reassessed to track progress, and these assessments are used to create student-specific training plans.6 Data has also influenced the creation of KIPP’s curriculum. KIPP aims to build character traits like grit and self-control in students. The character building goal was a decision based on research by Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Chris Peterson.6
Forty-five percent of KIPP’s middle school alumni have obtained four-year college degrees in 10 or more years while the national average for all students is thirty-four percent; college degree attainment of KIPP’s middle school alumni is five times the college degree attainment rate of all low income students in the U.S. (9 percent). 2 Ninety-six percent of KIPP students are black or Hispanic, and eighty-three percent of KIPP students qualify for free/reduced-price school meals.3 Given this demographic data, it is unlikely that KIPP is simply benefiting from selection bias by having the best students attend their schools. Instead, KIPP’s effectiveness in educating low income, minority children is a direct result of their operations strategy. Hopefully other schools will begin to incorporate KIPP’s operational strategies to drive educational achievement for their students.
Exhibit 1: KIPP Alumni Data on Educational Attainment
Source: KIPP Foundation
Exhibit 2: Sample Commitment to Excellence Form
Source: KIPP Foundation – http://www.kipp.org/files/dmfile/KIPP_Commitment_to_Excellence_Sample.pdf
1Fryer, Roland G., Jr. Racial Inequality in the 21st Century: The Declining Significance of Discrimination. Thesis. Harvard University, 2010. N.p.: n.p., n.d. National Bureau of Economic Research. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.
2 KIPP. KIPP Foundation, 2015. Web. 09 Dec. 2015. <http://www.kipp.org>.
3Tuttle, C. C., Gleason, P., Knechtel, V., Nichols-Barrer, I., Booker, K., Chojnacki, G., Coen, T., & Goble, L. (2015). Understanding the Effect of KIPP as it Scales. Washington, DC.
4“The Time to Learn: KIPP Schools Show What a Longer School Day Offers.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 20 July 2010. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.
5Peterson, Molly. “KIPP: Learning a Lesson from Big Business.” Bloomberg Business. Bloomberg, 04 Feb. 2010. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.
6James, Paul. “Use Assessment Data to Set High Expectations for Your Students.” KIPP. SpecialEdConnection, 08 Jan. 2013. Web. 09 Dec. 2015. <http://www.kipp.org/news/specialedconnection-use-assessment-data-to-set-high-expectations-for-your-students>.