What Makes KIPP Work?: A Study of Student Characteristics, Attrition, and School Finance
This new report from Western Michigan University, and funded by the AFT, casts a skeptical eye on the KIPP charter-school model, evaluating it from two less-examined vantage points: student attrition and the organization’s revenues and expenditures. Unfortunately, both of these examinations are flawed. On attrition, researchers use federal Common Core Data (CCD) from 2006-07 to 2008-09 to compare exit rates for individual KIPP schools to their local public-school districts, concluding that KIPP schools have much higher levels of attrition. But measuring the proportion of students who leave KIPP schools to the proportion who leave given districts fails to account for intra-district student movement, and is hardly a fair comparison. Besides, as the New York Times noted last week, Mathematica’s more rigorous study of KIPP attrition, which used student-level data, came to a different conclusion: that overall attrition rates in KIPP schools are similar to those of traditional public schools. As for the financial analysis, researchers used 2007-08 federal financial data for a sample of twenty-five KIPP schools, and supplemented them with federal 990 tax forms, concluding that KIPP schools receive, on average, $18,491 per pupil through public and private revenue streams—about $6,500 more per student than the average for the local school districts. Unfortunately, this sample is one of convenience not representativeness. No KIPP schools in Florida, New York, or California (just to name a few states) are included—and the Golden State is widely known to underfund charter schools—since their data are traditionally reported within their school districts, not as separate entities. Moreover, as KIPP points out in its rebuttal statement, the analysts did not distinguish between operating and capital expenses—nor did they ask KIPP to open its books and explain the meaning behind the figures. For example, since charter schools are mostly ineligible for state or local facilities funding, hefty private donations must make up the difference. Those donations would show up in KIPP’s per-pupil numbers—while districts’ capital expenses don’t show up in their operating budgets. Maybe one day we’ll have accurate school-level spending data. Until then, let’s work harder to issue accurate research.
|Click to listen to commentary on this study on KIPP from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
Gary Miron, Jessica L. Urschel, and Nicholas Saxton, “What Makes KIPP Work?: A Study of Student Characteristics, Attrition, and School Finance,” (Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University, March 2011).
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