California’s Middle-Grade Blues
KIPP Charter Schools...
[Lance T. Izumi] 4/20/06
Reiner is running around California telling voters that preschool
is the magic bullet for the state’s education woes, testing
data shows that children are having learning problems not at
the beginning of their school careers, but in the middle. Too
many public middle schools have become barriers to student
achievement. In contrast, the KIPP charter schools, relatively
new to California, offer a promising model for raising the
achievement levels of middle-school students, especially those
from low-income backgrounds.
26.4 percent of California elementary schools hit the designated
performance target of 800 on the state Academic Performance
Index (API), while only 17.3 percent of middle schools hit
the target. In addition, the median score of elementary schools
on the API in 2004 was 730 versus 696 for middle schools. Why
student test scores dip in the middle grades is still not well
understood. One thing that is certain, however, is that most
California middle schools bear little resemblance to the KIPP
Lance T. Izumi
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]
Izumi is Director of Education Studies for the Pacific
Research Institute and
Senior Fellow in California Studies. He is a leading expert in education policy
and the author of several major PRI studies. [go to Izumi index]
New York and Houston, KIPP stands for “Knowledge
is Power Program.” The KIPP model is based on five principles:
1) high expectations for students, teachers and parents, 2) choice
and commitment to excellence, 3) more time on task through extended
schedules, 4) greater flexibility and power to lead granted to
the principal, and, 5) an unrelenting focus on results.
Students attend school from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm
on weekdays, plus half-days on alternating Saturdays, and mandatory
summer sessions. This additional schooling means that KIPP students
typically receive a full 60 percent more learning time than students
in regular public schools. These additional hours are essential
because KIPP requires all students to take a rigorous college-preparatory
curriculum that incorporates frequent assessment. There is no
tolerance for failure to complete homework or misbehaving. Teachers
are often recruited from the nation’s elite universities.
A look at the test scores of KIPP’s California
charter schools show that the model is working. Only one, KIPP
College Preparatory (BCP) in Oakland, has three years of test-score
data. The improvement at KIPP BCP has been staggering. In 2003,
only 26 percent of KIPP BCP fifth graders scored at or above
the proficient level in math on the main state standardized test.
In 2005, 74 percent of those same students, who were now seventh
graders, scored at or above proficient. Compare these impressive
numbers with the performance, or lack of performance, of the
Oakland Unified School District.
In 2003, 24 percent of Oakland fifth graders scored at or above
the proficient level in math. In 2005, district students actually
regressed, with only 18 percent of seventh graders scoring at
or above proficiency. The same story occurred in reading.
In 2003, 16 percent of fifth graders of KIPP BCP fifth graders
scored at or above the proficient level. By 2005, an amazing
63 percent of seventh graders were scoring at or above proficiency.
In 2003, 21 percent of Oakland fifth graders scored at or above
proficiency. By 2005, 24 percent of district seventh graders
scored at or above proficiency.
The achievement of KIPP BCP students is especially noteworthy
given that the student body is 80 percent African American, 15
percent Hispanic, and three quarters of the students are from
low-income families. Even more amazing, KIPP BCP receives a paltry
$3,750 in per-pupil state and local funding, about half the state
average of nearly $7,500.
Most of KIPP’s nine California charter
middle schools have been in existence for only one or two years,
but even among
these schools many are showing great initial promise. At KIPP
Academy of Opportunity (AO) in Los Angeles, only 22 percent of
fifth graders in 2004 scored at or above proficient in math,
but the next year 54 percent of sixth graders scored at or above
proficiency. Compare that improvement with students in the Los
Angeles Unified School District, where 33 percent of fifth graders
in 2004 scored at or above proficient in math, but only 26 percent
of sixth graders scored at or above that level in 2005. Like
the students at KIPP BCP, the students at KIPP AO are almost
entirely African American and Hispanic, and 83 percent are from
low-income families. KIPP AO receives just $5,350 in per-pupil
state and local funding.
One of KIPP’s mottoes is that “the actual proves
the possible.” The improvement in achievement in the difficult
middle grades among low-income, often minority, students at California
KIPP charter schools demonstrates that there are better ways
to raise student learning and performance. Now it’s up
to California’s regular public schools and education policymakers
to learn this lesson and replicate what works. CRO
2006 Pacific Research Institute