Are KIPP Charters the Answer? Depends upon the question…


KIPP is reputed to be one of the most successful charter chains.  It serves low income minority students. U.S. DOE Secretary Duncan has praised KIPP charters.  Gary Chartrand, the Chair of the Florida Board of Education promotes them.  It has a ‘no excuses’ policy for behavior as well as high academic expectations for all students. Is KIPP success hype or real?  There are some things we need to know; let’s not make hasty judgments.  Read about their results.

Qualified Results

 In the Review of KIPP Middle Schools by NEPC, gain scores varied widely among schools.  Moreover, when attrition was taken into account, gains were smaller.  If you go back to the post on Collaboration or Conflict?you will find references to the large attrition rates of low scoring students in KIPP middle schools.  When students leave in high numbers, we need to know why. Reports show drop out rates of black males are high.

Students who enroll later in KIPP schools, to replace departing students, tend to be higher achieving than those who leave. This may help account for some of the good news.  KIPP reports that 44% of their 8th grade graduates go on to complete a college degree.  Are KIPP schools sorting out those students with potential?  Would those students have been successful in a public school?

Teaching Methods

The NEPC study also raised a question about the adequacy of the KIPP teaching/learning approaches for higher order thinking skills.  This is the same concern raised in the post entitled: Rote Learning Meets Critical Thinking.  It is no secret that drill and practice geared to tests raises scores.   The 2013 drop in scores for critical thinking skills, however, was even more dramatic for KIPP schools than those for public schools in New York City.


Structure and discipline are important at KIPP, but their approach has had mixed reviews. The KIPP Framework for Excellent Teaching lists teacher attributes that create a positive learning environment.  No where in this manual is it recommended that children be publically shamed or placed in a padded cell.  Yet there are reports of this type of punishment. In KIPP Critique: Behavior Management Techniques of No Excuses Charter Schools, A.J. Stitch cites evidence from the book called Work Hard, Be Nice authored by Jay Mathews.  Matthews, from the Washington Post, now refutes the assertion that these problems characterize Washington D. C. KIPP schools, but he says the teachers are ‘happily improving on the methods” of the KIPP founders.

Need Complete Data

As usual it is necessary to sift the wheat from the chaff.  KIPP, like most educational management firms, has successful and non successful schools.  If some KIPP schools succeed by sifting out problem students, we haven’t learned much about improving education for all children.  If the ‘no excuses’ approach in general is successful, rather than just for a handful of schools out of many, then we should pay attention.  The evidence is still out.

Even more important is to consider what question we are asking.  Are we helping a few at the expense of many?  No excuses and high expectations may work for some students.  If this policy in any school results in high attrition,  then we may be creating more problems than we solve.

Attrition Consequences

Zero tolerance policies for sometimes relatively minor behavior problems has resulted in a high expulsion rate from schools.  An NPR fact sheet states that minorities are 3 1/2 times more likely to be suspended from schools than whites.  The Education Law Center has recommendations to support struggling students in school to stop the school to prison pipeline.  The ACLU is also working to require alternatives to expelling disruptive students.  Support programs cost money but so do prisons.


Posted in Achievement, Charter School Management, Charter Schools, Common Core Standards, Curriculum, Reform, Testing.


  1. Our community is the sponsor of A Better Chance Foundation chapter. We’ve accepted several KIPP students. One thing we notice with all of them is a need to be constantly nurtured. They are NOT independent learners or studiers. They have been followed 24/7, with someone always watching them work. To our mind that is not a recipe for future growth and success.

  2. This article does not have sufficient information to make assertions. ,You state, “Are KIPP schools sorting out those students with potential? Would those students have been successful in a public school?” and then do not answer the questions you raise. I know that there is concern about KIPP, a private program, assuming responsibility for public school education. However, in the Delta of Arkansas, where public schools were consistently failing the children. KIPP is offering (I think) an education to some. Yes, it needs to be all. But, rather than do nothing because of inability to overcome inertia and opposition of those in power, this offers an opportunity to some. I began by favoring charters. Now, the egregious actions of SOME charters has me looking back at the issue. I need facts. This article does not supply them.

    • Please go back and review the links for the KIPP schools. Some are successful, but the success is qualified by the attrition rate. The questions we raise need to be answered by evaluators. “Saving some” if that is what is happening, can create huge problems for others. As some students are syphoned off from public schools and then those who struggle the most return to public schools, what have we done? I worry that we may be making a bad situation worse. Public schools need tutors and extended time if that is truly a factor in improving achievement. The money for this in charters may come from teacher salaries and benefits. If this is causing high teacher turnover, it is not a long term solution. Many struggling schools have lower funding than those in higher income areas. Funding formulas tend to include a high percentage of money from property taxes–not much help for low income areas. Dividing funding among private, charter, and public schools means no one has enough. We have to keep asking these questions.

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