What Makes KIPP Work?: A Study of Student Characteristics, Attrition, and School Finance

This new report from
Western Michigan University, and funded
by the AFT
, casts a skeptical eye on the KIPP charter-school model,
evaluating it from two less-examined vantage points: student attrition and the
organization’s revenues and expenditures. Unfortunately, both of these
examinations are flawed. On attrition, researchers use federal Common Core Data
(CCD) from 2006-07 to 2008-09 to compare exit rates for individual KIPP schools
to their local public-school districts,
concluding that KIPP schools have much higher levels of attrition. But
measuring the proportion of students who leave KIPP schools to the
proportion who leave given districts fails to account for intra-district
student movement, and is hardly a fair comparison. Besides, as the New York Times noted last week, Mathematica’s more
rigorous study
of KIPP attrition, which used
student-level data, came to a different conclusion: that overall attrition
rates in KIPP schools are similar to those of traditional public schools. As
for the financial analysis, researchers used 2007-08 federal financial data for
a sample of twenty-five KIPP schools, and supplemented them with federal 990
tax forms, concluding that KIPP schools receive, on average, $18,491 per pupil
through public and private revenue streams—about $6,500 more per student than
the average for the local school districts. Unfortunately, this sample is one of
convenience not representativeness. No KIPP schools in Florida, New York, or
California (just to name a few states) are included—and the Golden State is
widely known to underfund charter schools—since their data are traditionally
reported within their school
districts, not as separate entities. Moreover, as KIPP points
out in its rebuttal statement
, the analysts did not distinguish between
operating and capital expenses—nor did they ask KIPP to open its books and
explain the meaning behind the figures. For example, since charter schools are
mostly ineligible for state or local facilities funding, hefty private donations
must make up the difference. Those donations would show up in KIPP’s per-pupil
numbers—while districts’ capital expenses don’t show up in their operating
budgets. Maybe one
day we’ll have accurate school-level spending data. Until then, let’s work
harder to issue accurate research.

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Click to listen to commentary on this study on KIPP from the Education Gadfly Show podcast


Gary Miron, Jessica L. Urschel, and Nicholas Saxton, “What Makes KIPP Work?: A Study of Student Characteristics, Attrition,
and School Finance
,” (Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University,
March 2011).

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