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KIPP Finds One-Third of Its First Students Earned 4-Year Degree

By guest blogger Mary Ann Zehr
A third of students who graduated from the 8th grade at KIPP's first two middle schools earned a four-year college degree, according to a report released today by the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, network of charter schools. In comparison, the report notes that 30.6 percent of all Americans ages 25 to 29 have earned at least a bachelor's degree.

In addition to those KIPP students who have earned four-year degrees, 5 percent have completed a two-year degree and 19 percent are still persisting in college, KIPP found. The report doesn't say how many students were studied, but Steve Mancini, the public-affairs director for KIPP, said in an email it is 209 students.

KIPP followed students who graduated 10 or more years ago from the KIPP Academy Middle School in Houston and the KIPP Academy Middle School in the Bronx. Today the network runs 99 schools across the nation.

The KIPP report notes that more than 85 percent of the original KIPP students qualified for federal free or reduced-price lunches, and almost all of them were African-American or Latino. It cites data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census that shows only 8.3 percent of students from low-income families have earned a bachelor's degree by their mid-20s.

The bottom line, the report concludes, is that the college completion rate for the KIPP students is four times that of comparable students from low-income families.

But Jeffrey Henig, a professor of political science in education at Teachers College, Columbia University, says that it's problematic to compare the KIPP students with the average low-income student in the United States.

"There is good reason to think that KIPP families, even if they are low-income, are atypical in their interest and concern about education," said Henig in a phone interview today. He said that since the report is based on data from the first two KIPP schools, it's likely that the parents of students at those schools were especially highly motivated. "They may be atypical in that as soon as they heard about this option for KIPP schools, they were first in the door and were unusually interested and concerned about their kids' education."

Henig observed that studies that compare students who were selected for the lottery of a charter school and those who weren't selected provide a better comparison. "Then you are effectively comparing motivated families to motivated families."

KIPP acknowledges in the report that the network's college-completion rate is "far short of our goal." KIPP aspires for the rate to be 75 percent, which it says is roughly the rate for high-income students. To that end, the authors of the report say that KIPP has expanded its network to include primary schools and high schools as well as middle schools. And it supports students after they enter college. The report says: "For students from underserved communities, too many unique obstacles often stand in the way of a college degree; they cannot go it alone."

Research by Princeton, N.J.-based Mathematica Policy Research has found that KIPP students are more likely to be black or Hispanic and from low-income families than students in their surrounding school districts. But they are less likely to have disabilities or be English-language learners. Mathematica also found that students entering KIPP students have lower achievement than the average level for schools across the rest of the district but the same level of achievement as students in the nearby schools that feed into KIPP schools.

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