With all the hype surrounding the Knowledge is Power Program or KIPP schools, it may seem like a given that kids fare better in charter schools that are affiliated with that program than they otherwise would in regular public schools. But the truth is that few really rigorous experiments have put that assumption to the test.
A working paper posted on the National Bureau of Economic Research Web site this month, however, offers something a little more solid in the way of evidence. It describes a randomized study of KIPP Academy Lynn, a charter school in Lynn, Mass., that serves a high concentration of Hispanic students, many of whom are new to the English language. As part of the study, a high-powered team of economists from MIT, Harvard, and the University of Michigan compared learning gains for students who were admitted to the school by lottery with those for students who applied but failed to win a seat. Over the course of three years, on state tests in both reading and math, the learning improvements for KIPP students were greater than those for the lottery losers attending regular public schools. The study also found that the biggest gains came among the students who needed the most help: English-language learners, special education students, and those who started out with low baseline scores.
The study also challenges the idea that KIPP schools have high attrition rates by offering some evidence that, in this case at least, the lottery winners were actually less likely to change schools.
This was not a perfect study, as the lottery was not oversubscribed every year, but it was better than most.
There is, however, one key factor that it doesn't take into account: At Lynn Academy, as with most KIPP schools, students spend a lot more time in school. The school year starts in August. Students attend some Saturday classes and the school day runs from 7:30 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon. Why wouldn't they do better?