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Charter Schools and Turnarounds: Who's in the Game?

KIPP is not, despite Sec. Arne Duncan's repeated and recent pleas to get them off the bench.

So says Steve Mancini, the spokesman for the national organization. That stance includes all of KIPP's largely independent regional operations, Mancini told me.

To double check that some of KIPP's regional leaders were of the same mind, I emailed KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg, who runs KIPP Houston. Nope, he said, "KIPP Houston won't directly be doing turn around work."

Mancini didn't shut the door entirely, though. He made it clear that KIPP won't be taking on any low-performing turnaround schools for the 2010-11 school year, but left open the possibility that the CMO might consider it in the future. But this year just wasn't an option, he said, since KIPP is slated to open as many as 19 new schools in the fall.

Here's what Mancini told me about KIPP's position, which will come as no surprise to most of you: "The reason for [declining to do turnaround work] is that we feel our core competency and where we've been successful has been starting schools from scratch, one grade at a time. We try to maintain a balance of confidence and humility. We are confident we can start new schools from scratch and put kids on the path to college. We are humble enough to realize that turning around schools is an area we have not developed an expertise in."

I must credit Andy Smarick's Flypaper post earlier this week on charter management organizations and turnarounds for getting me to pick up the phone and call KIPP.

Mancini's answer ought to please Smarick, who has said, repeatedly, that KIPP shouldn't mess with its successful model.

The next several weeks should reveal how many CMOs will ultimately embrace Duncan's turnaround challenge. Now that the states have collected their first batch of money for turnarounds through the Title I School Improvement Grants, school districts competing for those funds in the 50 states and District of Columbia will be revealing their concrete plans for the targeted schools.

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