Saturday, November 8, 2008

Mathews comes back down to earth on KIPP

The Washington Post's Jay Mathews has, by his own admission, gone ga-ga over KIPP charter schools. Even the facts couldn't move him--until now. His past columns have been filled with hyperbole and he has referred to KIPP as "a miracle" and the "best schools in America." But researcher Jeff Henig has finally brought Mathews down to earth. Henig seems to have convinced Mathews that KIPP's high attrition rates artificially boosted the schools' test scores by eliminating low-scoring kids and those with behavioral problems.

Mathews carefully concedes:
Thank goodness then for the cautious, balanced analysis provided by Henig, an expert on urban education reform and charter schools at Columbia's Teachers College. He agrees with KIPP officials that they have not been selecting just an upper crust of higher-scoring and better motivated kids for their schools, despite suggestions to the contrary. But he also points to a possible flaw that leads some students to return to their regular public schools before completing the KIPP middle school program, perhaps because they find the work too hard and the days too long. Their departure may distort reports of KIPP gains. Turnover of KIPP teachers, he says, is also high and creates doubt about whether gains can be sustained.

The funny thing is, Henig wasn't telling Mathews anything he didn't already know. KIPP's push-out of low-scoring kids is old news. Mathews even read the same critique of KIPP last May when he reviewed the book, Keeping the Promise: The Debate Over Charter Schools.

Henig must have an antedote for Kool-Aid.


  1. A school like KIPP frankly expects much more of its students and parents. School days tend to go from 8am - 5pm and the school year is often 10 or 20 days longer than the district. They have strict discipline codes and sky high expectations (at least in the three KIPP schools, I've spent any time in).

    Matthews never states that KIPP is "pushing out" any students because they can't hack, but rather that they optionally leave the school because they can't hack it. Having worked in schools similar to KIPP, I'm well aware that teachers and administrators will happily make life very difficult for students and families until they either get on board with the program or get the heck out of dodge, but is this the same as "pushing out" students.

    I think in most of these situations it has a lot less to do with low test scores and grades, and a lot more to do with students and parents who refuse to get on board with the KIPP philosophy.

    My big question here is, when does the responsibility fall on the shoulders of the students and parents? Not just at KIPP, but across the country at charter schools where I hear the same argument. Is there something wrong with these schools holding their students and parents to a higher level of accountability than traditional public schools? Isn't that, in large part, the reason they exist in the first place?

  2. Zach,
    You raise some good questions. But
    I have a hard time seeing the difference between "pushing kids out" and making "life very difficult for students and families." KIPP is a public school. It's job is to educate every child that comes to it's door--not to "make life difficult." KIPP has the highest attrition of any other school I have studied, even though they have more money to spend than other public schools. Why should they use their increased scores, spiked by high dropout rates, to attack neighborhood schools that teach every kid. I'm glad Jeff Henig has convinced Jay Mathews (one T) to come to his senses.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.