Examining the evidence on KIPP

As part of their Straight Talk on Evidence initiative, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation has released a new evidence report on KIPP Charter Schools in the US. The report summarises the evidence from two randomised controlled trials that respectively evaluated the effectiveness of KIPP elementary schools and KIPP middle schools as implemented on a sizable scale.

KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) is a nationwide network of charter schools that serve a predominantly low-income, minority population of pupils from pre-K (reception) through to secondary school. Pupils are admitted through a lottery system. KIPP schools in the two randomised studies were located in nine US states and the District of Columbia.

According to the evidence report, the KIPP elementary and middle schools in the studies both produced sizable, statistically significant effects on reading and maths achievement—increases of between 5 and 10 percentile points (compared to the control group)—as measured two to three years after random assignment.

The report notes that a longer-term follow-up of the two KIPP RCTs could be a valuable addition to the research.

Source: KIPP charter schools—strong, replicated evidence of sizable effects on student achievement (May 2018), Laura and John Arnold Foundation

Examining the research on charter schools

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has released a new topic area that focuses on the impact of charter schools on pupil achievement and other outcomes. As part of the launch, the WWC released three intervention reports, which review available research on an intervention or programme to determine if there is strong evidence that it has a positive impact on pupil outcomes.

The intervention reports examine the following three programmes:

  • Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), a non-profit network of more than 200 US public charter schools educating early childhood, elementary, middle and high school pupils. According to the WWC intervention report, research shows that KIPP had positive effects on mathematics achievement and English language achievement, and potentially positive effects on science achievement and social studies achievement for middle and high school pupils (Years 7 to 13), and no discernible effects on pupil progression (eg, high school graduation within four years of grade 9 (Year 10) entry) for high school pupils.
  • Green Dot Public Schools, a non-profit organisation that operates more than 20 public charter middle and high schools in California, Tennessee and Washington. The WWC reports that Green Dot Public Schools had potentially positive effects on mathematics achievement, pupil progression, school attendance and English language achievement for high school pupils (Years 10 to 13).
  • Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) Promise Academy Charter Schools, a non-profit organisation designed to serve low-income children and families living in Harlem in New York City. According to the intervention report, the WWC is unable to draw any conclusions based on available research about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the HCZ Promise Academy Charter Schools on elementary, middle and high school pupils. Research that meets WWC design standards is needed to determine the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of this intervention.

Source:  Charter Schools, What Works Clearinghouse

Do charter schools improve student achievement?

A new article in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis presents findings from a large-scale, lottery-based study of charter schools (US schools that are publicly funded, but operate outside the established state school system), and results are mixed.

The study involved 33 charter middle schools in 13 states. These schools had a larger number of applicants than spaces available, so they relied on admissions lotteries to admit students. For the present study, students who won the lottery and were offered admission to study schools formed the treatment group, while those who did not win the lottery formed the control group. The full study sample included 2,904 students: 1,744 in the treatment group and 1,160 in the control group.

To measure the effects of the charter schools on student achievement, researchers examined test score data from state assessments. These data were obtained from schools, districts, or states for the baseline year and the preceding “pre-baseline year”, as well as for two follow-up years.
The researchers found that impacts varied considerably across schools and students, with more positive impacts for more disadvantaged schools and students, and more negative impacts for the more advantaged. However, on average, the charter schools in the study had non-significant negative impacts on student achievement in reading and maths.

The researchers caution that there are limitations to the study. For example, the schools were not randomly selected for the study, and the study focuses on charter middle schools and does not produce evidence on the effects of charter schools at the elementary or high school levels.

Source: Do Charter Schools Improve Student Achievement? (2016), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

What works for reducing risky behaviour?

This report from the RAND Corporation examines whether being assigned to attend a high-performing public charter school in the US reduces the rates of risky health behaviour among deprived ethnic minority teenagers, and whether this is due to better academic performance, peer influence, or other factors. Risky behaviour included alcohol use, drug use, and unprotected sex, while very risky health behaviour included binge drinking, substance abuse at school, and gang participation. The researchers surveyed 521 pupils aged 14 to 18 who were offered admission into a high-performing public charter school through a random lottery (intervention group) and 409 pupils who were not offered admission (control group). The researchers also obtained the pupils’ state standardised test scores.

Results of the study showed that being assigned to attend a high-performing school led to improved maths and English standard test scores, greater school retention, and lower rates of engaging in very risky behaviour, but no difference in risky behaviour. The authors list several factors that may have contributed to these improvements. For example, the school environment may play a role by reducing exposure to “risky” peers but also by improving persistence, resilience, and other non-cognitive skills, and simply being in a demanding school may leave less time and opportunity to engage in very risky behaviour.

Source: Successful Schools and Risky Behaviors Among Low-Income Adolescents (2014), Pediatrics 134(2).