The Emmy edition

Catholic schools and the Pope’s stateside visit, Bill de Blasio’s pre-K enrollment efforts, STEM education for gifted kids, and KIPP’s successful scale-up.

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Christina Clark Tuttle, Kevin Booker, Philip Gleason, Gregory Chojnacki, Virginia Knechtel, Thomas Coen, Ira Nichols-Barrer, and Lisbeth Goble, "Understanding the Effect of KIPP as it Scales: Volume I, Impacts on Achievement and Other Outcomes," Mathematica (September 2015).


Robert:                  This is your host, Robert Pondiscio, at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at the Education Gadfly Show, and online at And now, please join me in welcoming my co-host, the Jon Hamm of education reform, Brandon Wright.

Brandon:                  How's it going?

Robert:                  Things are great, Don Draper. Come on, you kind of have that look.

Brandon:                  Do I?

Robert:                  I mean, for those of us who are following along on television today, which is none of us, yeah, you've kind of got that a little bit.

Brandon:                  Take that as a compliment. I think the funny thing about him is if you've seen him in any comedies, what I think he really wants to do is be a comedian, but he's just too handsome. So it just doesn't work, right? People who are hilarious have something interesting about their look that you can't always pinpoint, but he just doesn't work visually as a comedian.

Robert:                  I can even see that, it's funny, the only thing I've ever seen him in is that role.

Brandon:                  He's actually pretty funny.

Robert:                  Is he really?

Brandon:                  Yeah.

Robert:                  And he might be one of those guys who is doomed to forever just be typecast as that guy.

Brandon:                  I don't know, he's been in a lot of stuff.

Robert:                  Has he?

Brandon:                  Yeah.

Robert:                  Clearly, for all the pop culture references we make here, I need to brush up my pop culture expertise. I've never seen him in anything other than "Mad Men."

Brandon:                  Yeah. I think he really wants to be a comedian.

Robert:                  Good luck with that, hope that works out. Do we want to be comedians here? Let's hope not.

Brandon:                  I'm not that funny, I don't think.

Robert:                  Clara, you're funny. Let's play Pardon the Gadfly.

Clara:                  All right. Pope Francis is in D.C. How has public perception of urban Catholic schools changed since the last time a Pope was in our nation's capital?

Robert:                  I'm not sure when the last time the Pope was in the nation's capital. 10 years ago?

Brandon:                  According to Mike, it was when we put out the last Catholic schools report, which I just saw online today was 2008, I think.

Robert:                  Okay. All right. So the pope is here in D.C., snarling at traffic and administering last rites to the Washington Nationals. Thank you.

Brandon:                  Got to throw the Mets in there.

Robert:                  I'm trying to be funny.

Brandon:                  Although it will be bad if they're six and a half back, and lose. Only one team ever that's ever done that.

Robert:                  Call on the Pope for divine intervention. First of all, we need to start by giving just enormous props to our own Kathleen Porter-Magee, who when she is not here at Fordham, runs a small number of independent Catholic schools in New York City, and the Pope, for the first time ever, is going to visit a parochial school, he's visiting one of Kathleen's schools. How exciting is that?

Brandon:                  Very cool. Very cool.

Robert:                  On the other hand, I feel kind of bad for her, because no matter what happens for the rest of her life...

Brandon:                  I'm sure she's very stressed out too.

Robert:                  That too. Well let me tell you, "in 2015 the Pope came to my school", I'm not sure what tops that.

Brandon:                  Sure, sure.

Robert:                  But as much as I'm thrilled that he is visiting Catholic schools, Kathleen's in particular, and turning the lights up on Catholic schools, I have to be honest, where was he 50 years ago? I'm not meaning this Pope, but any Pope. Catholic education was at its high-water mark in 1960, when there was approximately 5.2 million Catholic school students. Guess how many there are right now.

Brandon:                  I don't know, a million?

Robert:                  More than that, 2.3. But about half. Catholic schools, especially if you're from the northeast part of the United States where I'm from, kind of built that part of the country. And I recognize that Kathleen and Andy Smarick has a piece in the National Review saying "hey Catholic schools are innovating now," and that's great, but I can't help but be a little bit sad, we've just lost something spectacular in this country, in the form of weaker Catholic schools, far fewer of them, and the conventional wisdom of course is that charters have replaced that.

                                    But you know what? I just don't know that you can ever replace the mission-drivenness of Catholic schools. The character, the values, the academics, especially for low-income kids, I'm just not sure that what we have now replaces what we used to have, with a far more robust Catholic education sector.

Brandon:                  So you say that the number's dropped over the last 50 years, and you cite the number now, and the number then. Has the number gone down that whole time, or is it going back up at the moment now?

Robert:                  I think it's been a steady decline, but the irony of course is that the number of Catholics in this country has steadily increased. In about the time that Catholic school enrollment has been cut in half, the number of Catholics in America has roughly doubled. Now yes, it's probably a significant rise, I don't have the data in front of me, so maybe I shouldn't freelance this: I assume it's a much higher percentage of very low-income Americans, who maybe can't afford even the modest tuition of Catholic schools, and that's why charters are stealing share of them then.

                                    But it is absolutely true that we have more Catholics in America than we did 50 years ago, but far less attendance in Catholic schools.

Brandon:                  Well to be a bit of an optimist, could it be that public schools have gotten better? So people feel less of a need to pay even a small amount to go to a private school.

Robert:                  Let me answer that with one word. My one word answer is, no.

Brandon:                  Okay. All right.

Robert:                  At least if that's true, I challenge one of your listeners to show me that that's true. All the evidence I've seen suggests just the opposite is true. So welcome Pope, and have a great visit at Kathleen's school, but don't be a stranger, come back, again and again and again.

Brandon:                  Except for the traffic.

Robert:                  Except for the traffic. Question number two, Clara.

Clara:                  Mayor Bill de Blasio recently disputed Berkeley Professor Bruce Fuller's study that found those who most need early learning don't get it. Has Mayor de Blasio been successful in his push to increase pre-K enrollment?

Robert:                  I'm going to take a look at this and write about this for this week's Gadfly, and I'm really tempted to title the pieces something about "How to Widen the Achievement Gap". Because if you look at what Mayor de Blasio is doing, and we've talked about this on the podcast before, he's created basically a new entitlement, universal pre-K, but what Professor Fuller's data seems to indicate is that the kids who need it the most aren't getting... I'm not saying they're not getting it at all, but they are far less likely to get it than modest income, but not the lowest of the low, and that's who really needs pre-K the most.

                                    If you look at the way that children develop language, pre-K is never going to be a substitute for growing up in a home with parents who are educated and speak in full sentences and read every night, but that's where the battle is won and lost in terms of language proficiency, is in the first four years of life. So why are we creating in New York this universal entitlement that goes to everyone, and the evidence that Professor Fuller seems to be seeing here is that those who need it the most are getting it the least.

Brandon:                  So if everyone gets it, wouldn't everyone get it?

Robert:                  Was that...?

Brandon:                  It was a topology, I think it is.

Robert:                  A topology?

Brandon:                  No, right, if the complaint is that the kids who need it aren't getting it, and the answer being put in place is universal pre-K, isn't that by definition giving it to everyone? So wouldn't all the kids get it?

Robert:                  Sure. That's the point. Everybody gets it, then nobody has a chance to catch up. Let me have a look at the site...

Brandon:                  So the kids who don't need it shouldn't get it at all? So that the other kids can catch up?

Robert:                  Well, I see what you're saying. Yes.

Brandon:                  Doing a little debating now.

Robert:                  Well, I don't have this data in front of me, but I believe that Professor Fuller has also pointed out that a significant percentage of kids who are in the free pre-K either did or would have had a private pre-K. So basically you're just saving them the cost. But the number that jumped out at me is this one: families residing in the poorest fifth of city zip codes saw just a 1% increase in registration of four-year-olds compared with school last year. So most of the growth from year one to year two is coming in not the bottom quintile but the others.

Brandon:                  So it's available but people aren't sending their kids there?

Robert:                  People don't take advantage of it enough.

Brandon:                  So then if you took the money that they're spending to give it to everyone, even people who would pay regardless, you could better spend that money to increase the enrollment of the kids who need it most?

Robert:                  Sure. Absolutely.

Brandon:                  That makes sense.

Robert:                  And the other thing that concerns me is, this has nothing to do with pre-K, but Mayor de Blasio also gave a big speech last week, where he announced his priorities for education. And one of them was universal second-grade literacy. Sounds good, right? My fear is that Mayor de Blasio and his chancellor Farina have kind of one flavor of literacy that they like, which I've written about deathlessly over the years, a program by Lucy Calkins of Teacher's College, the so-called Teacher's College Reading and Writing Program, the only reason Brandon I'm still in education these days, after teaching years and years ago, was I got so scandalized by what we were doing to low-income kids in the Bronx where I taught, with this program, that I kind of became militant on the subject.

                                    So when I hear that Mayor de Blasio wants to spend $75 million I think in the next couple of years on reading specialists, every alarm bell that I have is ringing, saying "oh no, please not that again." And I have been over the last two days, calling and emailing City Hall, the Tweed Building, the DoE in New York City, to say "what are you spending the $75 million on?" So far, no answer. Please return my phone calls, Tweed.

Brandon:                  Please do. All right.

Robert:                  Question number three, Clara.

Clara:                  Intel announced that it will soon pull its sponsorship of the annual Science Talent Search, which former president George H. W. Bush once called "the Super Bowl of science." How could this withdrawal of support impact America's brightest students, especially those interested in STEM?

Robert:                  Great question for Brandon Wright, who is our house expert on gifted education.

                                    Why would Intel do this? This is nuts, they've had that competition since I was your age, young man!

Brandon:                  I'm not sure. Actually Intel took it over from Westinghouse-

Robert:                 I remember Westinghouse. That's how old I am.

Brandon:                  ... in I think the '90s. But still, I'm not sure, but it does kind of seem like it's par for the course in American education. We've moved so far away from actually focusing on our brightest kids, and this kind of goes along with that trend. Unfortunately, it's in the subjects that we needed most, stem subjects, and it's for the age group, high school, that's doing the worst. So if you look at the United States compared to other countries, our fourth graders actually do pretty good. And then when they get to eighth they do worse, and then when they get to be 15 they do awful. So I don't know, it just doesn't make a lot of sense, and this is like another nail in the coffin of gifted education, or education of our highest potential, brightest kids, however you want to label that group of kids.

Robert:                  You mean the ones who are going to hire my daughter in a few years, when she gets out of college?

Brandon:                  Yes.

Robert:                  Yeah, those guys. Please. And we should also plug your book, with Chester Finn, you've got a new book out within the last week or two on exactly this subject.

Brandon:                  Last week.

Robert:                  Just last week. Congratulations, you're now a published author. And the title is?

Brandon:                  "Failing Our Brightest Kids".

Robert:                  There you go. That says it all, doesn't it?

Brandon:                  Yeah.

Robert:                  And that's all the time we have for Pardon the Gadfly. And now it's time for everyone's favorite, here's Amber's Research Minute.

                                    I came down here for three days, and found out that all of my Fordham friends and colleagues are going to be working from home tomorrow.

Brandon:                  I did warn you well ahead of time.

Amber:                  Yes, my schedule this week for the Pope, so the Pope has upset my life this week, but I'm glad everybody else is happy about him coming.

Robert:                  Yeah, so if the Pope wants to hang out in the empty Fordham offices, I mean you could fire a cannon off in this place and nobody would know about it.

Amber:                  This is true.

Brandon:                  Probably not a good idea with the Pope around.

Robert:                  Probably not a good idea. Amber, what have you got for us today?

Amber:                  I've got a new study out by Mathematica, looks at their latest results on KIPP.

Robert:                  Oh, I read this.

Amber:                  I'm glad you did. So it's called "Understanding the effect of KIPP as it scales." So Mathematica's had this contract for years to be tracking the impact of KIPP, so just a little bit of background, KIPP received in 2010 $50 million and an i3 scale-up grant from US DOE. So it got some money. And so now these folks are saying "okay, how did that scale-up go?" So it tracked some of these students.

                                    So basically part of their i3 commitment was to develop their leadership pipeline, which I'm assuming means hire a bunch more principals and train them, and double their students, from 27,000 to over 55,000 by 2015, so by this year. So that was a pretty big jump.

Robert:                  They overachieved, I think they've got like 60,000 kids now.

Amber:                  So they are really scaling. All right, the latest evaluation examines impacts at the elementary, middle and high school levels, which we haven't had before, they've been kind of doing this in a piecemeal fashion, and again as I mentioned, looked at the scale-up. So I'm going to go "boom boom boom" at each level, big highlight, okay.

                                    For elementary level, they were able to use this random assignment versus this lottery winner and loser, I think we've all heard about this design before, it's this rigorous design. And they found that being offered admission to a KIPP school led to an increase of .25 standard deviation on a standardized reading test, it was Woodcock Johnson.

Robert:                  Woodcock Johnson, yes.

Amber:                  In math, the impacts were also positive, equivalent to an increase from the 58th to the 68th percentile, which sounds pretty good to me. At the middle school level, again they were able to use this lottery-based design, in most cases, not all cases. And they also used a matched design, where they kind of match the kids on demographics of baseline scores, so not to get too wonky, but they weren't able to use the lottery design for every single level.

Robert:                  It's still a positive effect, right?

Amber:                  Still positive. Both designs showed KIPP middle schools had positive impacts on students' test scores in reading, math, science and social studies, so all four core areas. For instance, in science and social studies, both of them, on average KIPP middle schools have a positive impact of .25, so about a quarter of a standard deviation, every single time almost.

Robert:                  That's a big effect.

Amber:                  And at the high school level finally, last of all, having an opportunity to attend a KIPP school boost new entrants' math scores, so these are the new guys that are coming in, they haven't come up through the middle school, .27 standard deviation, which is still pretty good, increase, which they try to always tell you what that means in terms of percentile, so it's going from the 48th to the 59th percentile for the average kid.

                                    And then they look at the scale-up, I'm really trying to... there's a ton of stuff in here, it's really long, but anyway, for the scale-up, the average impact of middle schools were positive for both math and reading throughout the whole 10 years. So we're talking about 2005 to 2014. But it was a little bit higher in earlier years than in recent years, but it wasn't terrible, I kind of dug in a little bit.

                                    And then they looked at, and this will be interesting to you Robert, they looked at all these non-academic outcomes at the end, which people are more and more interested in.

Robert:                  This fascinates me.

Amber:                  And student and parent survey data show that KIPP elementary and middle schools have positive impacts on school satisfaction, parents love the KIPP schools, but not at the high school level. High school parents are tough. KIPP high schools however, compared to their treatment schools, have positive affects on various aspects of college preparation, like how often they discuss college with the kids. That makes sense.

                                    Oddly enough though, across all grade levels, KIPP schools had no statistically significant impact on most measures of student motivation and engagement, behavior or educational aspirations.

Robert:                  And that fascinates me.

Amber:                  Right? Isn't that something?

Robert:                  Because if there's anything that even non-wonks now about KIPP, "oh those are the grip guys. Those are the everyone-must-go-to-college guys."

Amber:                  Right. And on the aspirational front, that was weird. But they found the measures were also high in the treatment schools. One exception which they note in the report is that parents of KIPP school students are 10 percentage points more likely than the comparison group to believe their child is very likely to complete college.

                                    But bottom line: it's a ton of information, but mostly all of it is good, I mean you have to look hard to find the negative takeaways in that report.

Robert:                  KIPP is one of those chains of charter that's always going to have their detractors, and people who just don't like their flavor of education, that's fine, school of choice, parents like it, that's great. The question that I have is not how they did the last five years, that's your point, all good. How are they going to do for the next five years? In other words, they doubled, and I figured this out, they went from being, if they were a standalone school district, to being somewhere now in the mid-60s, somewhere in between say El Paso and Boston, in terms of their size. If they double again, which I think is what they are planning to do in the next five years, then suddenly they're as big as a top 20 US school district. At what point do you reach the talent speed limit? Because those of us who have worked in the charter world will tell you that the biggest impediment to growth is leadership. That's what the i3 grant was about, was trying to find enough qualified leaders to grow as quickly as they might. Is there a point where you just can't find the talent anymore?

Amber:                  Well, I can just tell, this is my own anecdotal story. I'm on a charter board here in D.C., we are not one of these well-known brand name CMO types, and we're always commiserating that we can't attract or are losing teachers when KIPP and democracy prop come knocking on their doors. Because teachers are proud, they want to be a part of these brand name... it's sort of a respect thing for them, it's a big deal to be affiliated with these schools, so what they've been able to do in terms of attracting talent, it's a pretty big deal.

Robert:                  Yeah. Folks who are within KIPP will tell you that the goal is to create a true pipeline where they work more with schools of education and whatnot, so they're not cherry-picking to your point, but I just can't help but wonder. Let's make a note of this: five years from now, if they double again, will they still be able to do so and maintain quality? It's a fascinating question I think.

Amber:                  Well I think if anybody can do it, it's them. I think that they have this on their radar screen right, because these data bear it out. Everybody thought I think when they double, they're going to just tank. A lot of people thought that. But I mean, they've even rebounded a little bit, if you dig into the data you begin to see even in the high growth areas, where they experience a little bit of a lull, they're already beginning to bounce back. So I think these guys are on their A-game, but I think it's a great question because at some point, you think there's going to be some tipping point, where you cannot begin to keep up with the advances they've made, and get the talent.

Robert:                  Yeah. And if they get to the point where they are a de facto major US school district, and can still pull that off, then good for them.

Amber:                  But I mean if you're sitting around your table around Thanksgiving, do you most of your family members, have they heard of KIPP? Because my family members have, because I asked them, and like wow, when Joe Blow's heard of KIPP, that's kind of a big deal, right?

Robert:                  Exactly. And five years from now, perhaps even more so.

Amber:                  Yeah.

Robert:                  Great. Thanks Amber, that's all the time we have for this week's Gadfly Show, till next week...

Brandon:                  I'm Brandon Wright.

Robert:                  And I'm Robert Pondiscio for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, signing off.