The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charter network is renowned as the ‘gold star’ of charter schools in the country. With over 200 schools throughout the country and over 100,000 students, KIPP is the kind of network that reformers are referring to when they talk about ‘high quality charters.’
In researching KIPP over the years, I have found a huge inconsistency in the performance of their schools. In some states with A to F grading schemes, there are KIPPs with As and KIPPs with Fs. And even if you’re not a big believer in the A to F school rating system, reformers love them so it must be considered at least ‘ironic’ when schools that operate with the same philosophy and training and materials get such different results in the same state.
The Tennessee Achievement School District, or ASD, is the Edsel of school reform. Created with a Race To The Top Grant and developed by TFA alum Kevin Huffman, who was state education commissioner at the time, and TFA alum Chris Barbic, the first ASD superintendent, the ASD completely failed in it’s mission to ‘catapult’ schools from the bottom 5% into the top 25% in five years. It is now eight years into the experiment and hardly any of the 30 ASD schools even made it out of the bottom 5%. Not to worry, both Huffman and Barbic resigned and are doing very well with their new project called The City Fund.
Three of the 30 ASD schools are run by KIPP. Five days ago I read in Chalkbeat TN that two of those KIPP schools are shutting down at the end of this school year. On the KIPP Memphis website they explain to the families “While the community welcomed our network with open arms, we’ve been unable to fulfill our academic promise to our students, teachers and families at KIPP Memphis Preparatory Elementary and KIPP Memphis Preparatory Middle. We understand that these closures will have significant implications on our families. However, we strongly believe this decision is in the best interest of our entire KIPP Memphis community and is a step in the right direction to improve our organization’s ability to build a stronger network of schools.”
Tennessee is where the value-added and growth metrics were developed and these two schools ranked at the bottom of the state. Out of a 4 point scale, one of the schools got a 1 and the other got a 0.1 in growth.
Incidentally, KIPP currently has 13 schools in Tennessee. Of those 13 schools, only 11 have growth scores for 2018-2019, five of those (including the two that are now closing) had growth scores between 0 and 1 and two had growth scores between 1 and 2. So of the 11 schools with this rating, 7 had below to very below average ‘growth.’ Reformers are going to have to make up their minds: Is KIPP a fraud or are growth scores a fraud — they can’t have it both ways.
But the other reason KIPP cited was COVID-19. On the Frequently Asked Questions on their website, they wrote: “The COVID-19 pandemic played a role in the decision to close the schools, as its financial impact prevented opportunities for the schools to receive long-term funding from historic philanthropic resources. KIPP Memphis strongly believes the decision to close KIPP Memphis Preparatory Elementary and KIPP Memphis Preparatory Middle this year is what’s best for our community.”
So as a result of this, over 700 students who are already suffering the trauma that students everywhere are suffering as a result of this crisis — these 700 students now have an additional thing to suffer through, that their school which made so many promises to them is dissolving.
I do not believe that COVID-19 caused the KIPP empire to have to shutter these two schools. If KIPP wants to admit that these schools should be shut down because KIPP does not have, after 25 years, any real knowledge about improving schools then at least they are being honest. But I see this as just KIPP using a pandemic as an opportunity to dump two of low performing schools from their ‘portfolio.’ For these families, this is the last thing they needed to go through right now. I know that the students will likely be better off in the long run by not attending a KIPP school, but in the short run I do not like to see students abandoned by their school no matter how overhyped that school might be.