KIPP is an unusual attempt to create schools of choice for historically underserved students by dramatically increasing the amount of instructional time. With support from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, SRI conducted a three-year evaluation of five KIPP schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. Primary goals included describing how the KIPP model works, how it affects teachers and students, and understanding KIPP students’ achievement relative to that of their peers in traditional or other school settings.
KIPP schools serve fifth- to eighth-graders in autonomous open-enrollment public schools that are generally established as charter schools within a local school district. The key tenets (or "pillars") of the KIPP model—high expectations, choice and commitment, more time, power to lead, and focus on results—were drawn in part from familiar business principles. The model calls for establishing cultural norms that support hard work, respect, and self-sufficiency. In addition, the approach significantly extends each school day and the academic year. This provides historically underserved students more opportunities for learning, including academic resources and cultural experiences they seldom have access to at home, such as art, music, and travel.
To understand implementation of the KIPP approach in the Bay Area, SRI relied on multiple sources of data over the course of the study. These included extensive interviews with school leaders, teachers, and KIPP Foundation and KIPP Bay Area schools staff; focus groups with students and parents; observations of a range of activities and events; and teacher and student surveys. For three of the five schools, analyses of student achievement included the use of student-level California Standards Test data to construct a comparison group, using propensity score matching, against which SRI could assess KIPP student achievement.
At the end of fifth grade, students at the three Bay Area KIPP schools with available comparison data outperformed their counterparts in the same districts on the California Standards Test. Statistically significant differences between KIPP and non-KIPP students ranged from 6 to 33 percentile points. Students who joined KIPP in the sixth grade also saw positive effects by the end of the year. Moreover, in the three KIPP schools where SRI could draw comparisons, students with lower prior achievement on the California Standards Test were more likely to choose KIPP than higher-performing students from the same neighborhood.
SRI also identified challenges facing Bay Area KIPP schools, including high student attrition rates, teacher turnover, and low state and local funding. For example, 60 percent of students who entered fifth grade at four Bay Area KIPP schools in 2003–04 left before completing eighth grade. Annual teacher turnover rates have ranged from 18 to 49 percent since 2003–04.