A closer look at the KIPP middle school study showing big achievement gains

Last week, I wrote about a study that looked at dozens of KIPP middle schools and found the students were packing in months of extra learning each year. Earlier post“New Report Finds KIPP Middle Schools Produce Significant Achievement Gains”, Mathematica Policy Research news release, February 27, 2013; fact sheetreport.

So what was the difference between the good KIPP schools and the really good KIPP schools?

In the most intriguing and original part of the study, the researchers compared higher-performing to lower-performing KIPP schools to ascertain what characteristics had the most impact on learning. “Class size, teacher experience and professional development opportunities” were not associated with higher scores, the report said. Instead, achievement was greater in KIPP schools “where principals report a more comprehensive school-wide behavior system” and where more time was spent on core academic activities.

“Biggest study ever says KIPP gains substantial”, Jay Mathews, Class Struggle blog (Washington Post), February 27, 2013.

Also, I learned more about how the study was conducted. The ideal method is to compare lottery winners and losers; to get a larger sample, the recent Mathematica study also looked at comparable students.

The random assignment study was limited to 13 KIPP charter schools in six states. KIPP’s network is much larger than that. So the authors employed a matching technique in order to evaluate the impact of a larger number of KIPP schools: they compared KIPP students to other kids who on paper were nearly identical. Matching techniques are far less rigorous than lottery-based estimates. But, since Mathematica had lottery-based estimates against which they could compare their matching technique estimates, they were able to validate their matched sample of students as a credible comparison group. They found that their random assignment estimates closely tracked their matching estimates, at relevant schools.

“These go to Eleven: New Research on KIPP”, Collin Hitt, Jay P. Greene’s Blog, February 27, 2013. For a summary of even more studies about charter school effectiveness, see “A Guide for the Perplexed — A Review of Rigorous Charter Research”, Collin Hitt, Jay P. Greene’s Blog, December 17, 2012.

Research is important, but I also believe in seeing the schools for yourself. The next free KIPP: San Antonio First Friday Breakfast will start at 7:45 a.m. on April 12, 2013 at KIPP Un Mundo Academy, 103 Tuleta Dr., San Antonio, Texas 78212. RSVP to Victoria S. de Diggs at vdediggs@kippsa.org or (210) 880-8080. Here’s my earlier post about the December breakfast at KIPP Un Mundo, which included a ribbon cutting ceremony.

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