KIPP (the network of charter schools) has as strong evidence behind it as any contemporary educational intervention- two large independent RCTs that show substantively important and persistent positive effects. Its effects tailed off a little  as it went through a huge, US Department of Education-funded scale up recently, but they remain substantial, and it’s unclear if the newest schools just needed time to get their bearings.

That said:

a) There is relatively little evidence to suggest that KIPP can be scaled up indefinitely, until it or similar schools serve a sizable fraction of the students in a high-poverty area, particularly outside high-education labor markets like NYC, DC, or the Bay Area.

b) Most researchers would agree that at least some of KIPP’s effectiveness arises from its status as an opt-in (and possibly kick-out) program where students and parents commit to greatly increased academic and behavioral responsibilities, unlike ordinary public schools which have to accept all comers.

c) While the estimated impacts- on the order of a third of a standard deviation on academic outcomes- are large and important, they are only roughly one quarter of the total “achievement gap” between low income minority students and middle class suburban students; moreover there is now no evidence that interventions like KIPP can be “stacked up,” with elementary, middle, and high school interventions producing a comparable marginal effect.

d) There’s something crazy about adopting a model of schooling this intense as the norm.

For what it’s worth, I’ve visited three KIPP schools and found them pleasant places, and Dave Levin- at least as of 2001, so before he reached true Education RockStar status- seemed like a sane, unusually hard-working, basically decent guy.

On the other hand, when I visited a Harlem Success charter school, Eva Moskowitz told me and the other visitors that the problem with education was that too many people with classroom experience were in charge, and that the reason for the achievement gap was that teachers were all racists, including all her teachers at the Success Academy schools. That was about five minutes after meeting us.

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