One of the most annoying phrases uttered in ed reform is some version of ‘poverty is not destiny.’ Occasionally they mix it up a little with something like ‘zip code is not destiny.’ The implication is that there are some people out there who think that every person born into poverty or born in a particular city is doomed to become an uneducated adult. I don’t know anyone who believes that. What many people do believe, though, is that students born into poverty or into a particular zip code that correlates with high poverty are less likely to, for example, graduate college than students born into the Beverly Hills 90210 zip code. I don’t think that even the most vocal ‘reformers’ think that improving schools and teachers will be able to overcome all the out of school factors to completely equalize the college completion rates between two zip codes representing such different demographics. The ‘reformers’ just think that they think that schools are less limited in their influence to do this than the ‘status quo’ defenders. As the ‘reformers’ never really commit to numbers that they think are realistic or would define success, it really is an empty phrase to just say ‘zip code is not destiny.’ A few months ago, a Arkansas KIPP executive director even wrote an Op-Ed entitled ‘For Students, zip code does not define destiny’.
Newark, New Jersey, is an excellent example of a city where charter schools have flourished over the years. A TFA alum is even the chancellor of schools in Newark. KIPP schools are the gold standard of charter schools and have been in Newark for some time. According to their website they have five schools there serving around 1,800 students. Two schools are elementary, two are middle schools, and there is one high school. One of the middle schools, the RISE academy, if often hailed as a true ‘miracle school’ that defies the odds with its amazing test scores.
One thing that KIPP does which I respect is publish an annual report summarizing the statistics of its over 125 schools. Though they leave out certain information which I think is relevant, they leave a lot in which paints a more accurate picture of their successes, which in some cases are quite limited.
Looking at page 75 of the report, we see what sort of achievement in high school was accomplished by the students who graduated from the miracle two KIPP Newark middle schools. Their SAT score was 1250, which is extremely low, only 416 per section. When it comes to AP tests, only 31% took AP courses and only 2% passed at least one AP test. With their numbers this means that just one student in the entire school passed an AP test. If the amazing KIPP Newark middle schoolers are kids who peak in 8th grade, what good is that?
But this only tells a small part of the story. I found two other sources for information about this school’s performance. The first is on the KIPP Newark website where they report the unusual demographics of this school. At the bottom of this page we learn that this school has nearly 60% girls.
There have been studies about how high attrition is for black boys at KIPP and this is further evidence about this. Combine this with some facts from their New Jersey school report card where we see that in addition to this unequal balance of boys and girls, there is, for some tests, an incredible ‘gender gap.’ For example, in 8th grade language arts, 71% of boys scored proficient or better compared to 89% of girls.
Another thing I found on the state report card is that the Newark KIPP network does suffer from attrition. Notice how the recent graduation class of 55 students was 71 students three years earlier.
Two years ago, when KIPP released their 2010 annual report, I wrote about how they admit their student retention rate was only 88%. When you lose 12% of your students a year, that amounts to losing about 40% of the students who begin a KIPP middle school in 5th grade by the time they are supposed to complete 8th grade. Two years later, that figure has not changed at all.
While I do appreciate that they are willing to admit this statistic, it is amazing to me that education writers don’t write about this more often. I know that the attrition isn’t solely from students who have been ‘counseled out’ (unofficially expelled). Sometimes families have to move for reasons out of their control, but I’d think that if KIPP were so great many families would find a way to have their child continue there.
KIPP has received a lot of money on the facade that they have the secret to getting amazing results from the ‘same kids’ with the ‘same resources.’ Their own reports and publicly available data from New Jersey clearly show that their success is extremely limited. Yet, they continue to expand and to be used by politicians as evidence that ‘reformers’ know what they are talking about. How long this will continue, I don’t know, but I have to believe that it won’t be for very long.