KIPP’s special status gets more special

There are charter schools, and then there are special charter schools. In this story my colleague Nick Anderson writes about how special the KIPP charter school network has become. Already the recipient of many millions of dollars from private foundations, and a finalist in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top-District competition for millions of dollars, Anderson explains how KIPP has forged special relationships with some of America’s most prestigious colleges who will track and recruit the charter school’s students.

According to the story, 20 colleges and universities, including Georgetown, Brown and Duke universities, have signed pledges to work with KIPP to recruit some of the charter network’s students, 95 percent of whom are black and Latino. KIPP’s Web site says KIPP now has 125 schools in 20 states and Washington D.C., with a total of more than 39,000 students, with more than 85 percent of them from low-income families.

While other public schools have informal recruiting arrangements with colleges and universities, it is rare for cooperation to reach the stage of signed pledges, Anderson says. One of the participating schools is the University of Pennsylvania, which happens to be the alma mater of KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg. Anderson writes:

“It would be a great problem for the country to have,” he said, if more high schools contacted colleges and said: “Wait a minute. Where’s our slice of this pie? How about us?” Feinberg, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, reached out to that Ivy League school to strike a partnership.

Over at Brown University, according to this story in the Providence Journal, the KIPP scholarships were endowed with $2.5 million from Martha and Bruce Karsh, the parents of a Brown student. Incidentally, Martha Karsh is founder of the Karsh Family Foundation and happens to be on the board of directors of KIPP.

Alas, not every school with populations of at-risk students have the connections KIPP enjoys.

KIPP is at the top of elite charter schools. This is in part because of its results: the standardized test scores and high school graduation rates of its students are higher than most other charters and traditional public schools in the areas where KIPP schools are located. KIPP attributes its achievements to its longer school day, emphasis on character development and other internal school factors. Critics say that KIPP (like most other charter schools) enrolls fewer students with disabilities and English language learners than traditional public schools, that it has a high teacher burnout rate and a high student attrition rate — which KIPP denies — and that the money in private donations and federal government grants provide it with more resources than most other schools.

KIPP also enjoys an elite public presence that most public schools — traditional or charter — don’t. KIPP’s Board of Directors includes corporate executives, such as Philippe Dauman, president and CEO of Viacom, Inc; Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix, Inc.; and Mark Nunnelly, Bain Capital’s managing director. Meanwhile, KIPP L.A.’s Board of Directors includes Marc Castellani, executive director of JP Morgan Private Bank, and KIPP D.C.’s Board of Directors includes Don Graham, CEO of The Washington Post Company. My colleague Jay Mathews, the best-known education reporter in the universe, wrote a book about KIPP called “Work Hard. Be Nice. — How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America.”

Meanwhile, KIPP’s CEO is Richard Barth, husband of Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp, the darling of school reformers. An orchestra of KIPP students performed with John Legend at the 20th anniversary summit of Teach For America held in 2011 in Washington D.C. — a gig most kids at most schools never get.

 

These college recruitment arrangements are terrific for KIPP students. It’s hard to fault KIPP’s leaders for working to create avenues to higher education for its students. It is also hard to ignore the power of the elite relationships that KIPP enjoys and that other schools simply don’t have to exploit in our celebrity-obsessed society.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · November 27, 2012