By guest blogger Mary Ann Zehr
The number of late-arriving students as a proportion of enrollment at KIPP schools is similar to that of local traditional public schools, according to a working paper released today by the Princeton, N.J.-based Mathematica Policy Research Inc.
"To be sure, KIPP's success is not simply a mirage that is based on the results of a select number of high achievers who persist through 8th grade," the researchers write in the working paper.
"Nonetheless," they say, "student flows into and out of KIPP schools remain of interest. Funders and policymakers wonder how much of the student population KIPP might grow to serve, and critics ask whether KIPP's results depend on excluding students who are the most disadvantaged or the most difficult to serve, either in admissions or subsequent attrition."
But while the Mathematica researchers found that the overall number of late arrivals as a proportion of enrollment at 22 KIPP middle schools is the same as in schools in their local school districts, they also found that KIPP admits a substantial number of late entrants in 6th grade, and fewer in 7th and 8th grades.
The researchers, who based their findings on student-level data, said they will continue to examine the flows of students into and out of KIPP middle schools. For example, they will examine the characteristics of late-arriving KIPP students separately from those who arrive in 5th grade. KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, has nearly 100 public charter schools across the country, most of which serve children in grades 5-8.
A 2010 study by Mathematica found large, positive achievement effects at KIPP schools even when students who had left the schools were counted as part of the original KIPP group.
But a study using aggregate data sets, not student-level data, conducted by researchers at Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo, and released last month, raised questions about whether KIPP is serving the same kinds of students as are traditional public schools. That study contended that 40 percent of the black males KIPP enrolls leave between grades 6 and 8. "KIPP is doing a great job of educating students who persist, but not all who come," said Gary J. Miron, a professor of evaluation, measurement, and research at Western Michigan University and the lead researcher for the study, in an interview here in our offices at Education Week last month.
In the working paper, the Mathematica researchers released for the first time attrition rates for different racial and ethnic subgroups of students. They found that KIPP schools actually have lower rates of attrition for black males when compared with traditional schools.
"Our data is showing that KIPP loses black males overall at a lower rate than the local district schools," said Christina Clark Tuttle, a senior researcher for Mathematica, in a phone interview today.
Miron acknowledged last month that he couldn't prove that the overall shrinkage of cohorts of students from grades 6 to 8 was solely because of students leaving KIPP schools. (A Mathematica researcher suggested it could also be because of retention of students.) Miron compared the proportion of students leaving KIPP "districts," a group of schools at a particular location, with the proportion of students in the entire surrounding school district.
The Mathematica researchers, by contrast, compared student-level data from individual KIPP schools with other individual schools in their surrounding traditional public school districts.
In a phone interview today, Miron said that the new Mathematica findings don't contradict those of his study because of how he's comparing KIPP clusters of schools with entire school districts. Both kinds of urban schools lose a lot of black males. But, what's different with the traditional public school districts is that the students who leave one school move to another within that same district. They may move at any point of the year and thus disrupt classrooms where they are arriving. "You have these kids constantly coming into the class. The schools can't say, 'Sorry we're not taking any students.' "
By contrast, Miron says, KIPP turns students away in the 7th and 8th grades.
The Mathematica working paper also reiterated findings from its earlier study, that KIPP students are more likely to be black or Hispanic and have lower incomes than students in the surrounding school districts, but they are less likely to be English-language learners or students with disabilities.