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KIPP FOUNDATION TURNING HEADS WITH RESULTS, CAUSING DEBATES ABOUT REPLICATION

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"As they continue expanding, they offer more students the chance to excel, and I am pleased that the Department of Education can be a partner in their efforts to provide students from disadvantaged backgrounds with outstanding opportunities to learn."

The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) is a national, non-profit organization that has set up a network of schools around the country to increase student achievement based on longer school days, increased parental involvement and responsibility, and a mixture of public and private funds. It serves students in grades five through eight and supports them until they go to college. So far, test scores at KIPP schools are up, but many educators question whether the success can be replicated at public schools throughout the country.

KIPP was founded in Houston in 1994, with help from then-superintendent Rod Paige. Its creators, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, developed the program only two years after arriving in Houston as recruits for the Teach For America program. The nonprofit KIPP Foundation is based in San Francisco, with schools in New York City’s South Bronx, Gaston, N.C., Washington, D.C., and Houston. By next summer, KIPP plans to add 19 new schools in locations such as Atlanta, Baltimore, and Memphis, Tenn. Although KIPP receives about 18 percent of its funding from outside sources, all of KIPP’s 15 schools are public and use tax dollars allotted to charter and independent schools.

In a recent report by New American Schools, three new KIPP charter schools in Washington, D.C., Gaston, N.C., and Houston demonstrated significant gains in test scores, just as established KIPP schools have in Houston and the Bronx. In the KIPP DC/Key Academy in Washington, D.C., fifth graders improved their average reading scores from about 34 to 46 on a 99-point scale and from 41 to 65 in math from fall 2001 to spring 2002. The average score for the nation is 50. According to the report, the gains made from fall to spring were more than twice the amount typically expected.

Based on similar gains in other schools, KIPP received a $3.5 million grant over three years from the U.S. Department of Education to help its schools with after-school, mentoring and college preparation programs. U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige hopes that the grant will allow KIPP to continue to expand to serve more students across the country: “As they continue expanding, they offer more students the chance to excel, and I am pleased that the Department of Education can be a partner in their efforts to provide students from disadvantaged backgrounds with outstanding opportunities to learn.”

However, some educators believe that the KIPP model of nine hour class days during the week, a half-day on many Saturdays, and only a one-month summer vacation would be nearly impossible to implement on a national scale because of the cost associated with extended school time. They argue that the federal money being spent on the “KIPP experiment” would be better spent in high-needs public schools.

In an attempt to settle the debate, Washington Post columnist Jay Matthews invited William Cala, superintendent of the Fairport, N.Y. school district to join him in an online debate about KIPP on Oct. 29. In a lively cyber conversation, Matthews argued that the KIPP experiment is in its infancy and people should focus on its demonstrated results at educating disadvantaged students rather than whether the program can be replicated on a national level. For his part, Cala argued that KIPP is “siphoning money from the poor of the cities” and that taxpayer dollars should not be used on “experiments” that cannot be replicated.

Read the entire cyber conversation between Matthews and Cala.

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