Columbus Sets Its Sights on KIPP

It's no secret that Ohio needs more high-quality schools, especially for its poorest children. So why not shoot for the best--the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP)?

A coalition of business, philanthropic and district leaders in Columbus is asking that very question and working diligently to recruit this top-notch network of schools to Ohio's capital (see here). In September, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation submitted a formal proposal to KIPP on behalf of the coalition, which includes, in addition to Fordham, KidsOhio.org, Columbus Public Schools, the Columbus Partnership and School Choice Ohio. As a result, KIPP is considering opening a "cluster" of KIPP schools (two elementary, two middle, and one high school that would serve upwards of 1,500 students total) in Columbus over several years, beginning in 2008.

Coalition members are now in the final round of deliberations with KIPP, and a decision will be announced in November whether negotiations were successful. If the two sides can reach an agreement, Columbus will be one of two communities selected by KIPP for cluster schools. (KIPP plans to open these schools in two cities each year.)

As a nationally acclaimed "network" of 52 independently runs schools, KIPP has made significant academic gains with low-income students in some of the nation's toughest neighborhoods. Many consider KIPP to be among of the best programs for low-income students in the nation. While one in five low-income students in public schools make it to college, KIPP's college matriculation rate stands at 80 percent. Simply put, educating a child in a KIPP school fundamentally improves the chance he or she will enter college after high school.

Much of the program's success can be attributed to a lot of hard work by parents and students, and to KIPP's laser-like focus on its core beliefs--dubbed The Five Pillars:

  • Choice and Commitment: Students and parents choose to attend KIPP schools and sign a Commitment to Excellence contract.
  • High Expectations: KIPP schools set clearly defined and measurable goals for student achievement-and create a culture of excellence to help students meet them.
  • More Time: KIPP students spend almost 70 percent more time in class than traditional district students. An extended school day, academic calendar year, and even bi-weekly Saturday classes help "KIPPsters" meet the challenge of achieving excellence.
  • Focus on Results: Assessment data are used to inform instruction at, and measure the overall success of, KIPP schools. Every KIPP school is subject to rigorous evaluation, in addition to state accountability requirements, by the KIPP Foundation.
  • Power to Lead: KIPP school leaders have autonomy over budget and personnel decisions, giving them the flexibility to make decisions that improve student learning. KIPP's school leaders train for a full year before opening their own school. Candidates for new school leaders are scrupulously chosen-just 3 percent of applicants are accepted into KIPP's leadership training program.

In addition to its high standards, KIPP--like many other high performing school models--attributes much of its success to operating in a charter environment. The basic charter concept hinges on giving schools sufficient freedom to run the type of program it wants in exchange for accountability. The charter concept also allows them to provide school leaders with the "Power to Lead" and focus on improving student performance.  

Based on 2005-06 test results, Columbus Public Schools (CPS) needs the high performance that KIPP brings. CPS is rated in Academic Watch, and just 68 percent of its students graduate from high school.

Meanwhile, the city's charter schools, as well as many others in Ohio's urban areas (see here), have not met the demand for creditable alternatives to troubled district schools. Just 11 of the city's 33 charter schools rated earned a rating of Continuous Improvement or higher. Only six made AYP in 2005-06. 

Bottom line, KIPP could provide a high quality education to students currently in troubled schools, and be a role model for other schools-both district and charter. That is something Columbians--and all Ohioans--can cheer about.

More By Author

December 11, 2007
February 12, 2008
March 13, 2007