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

Does consistency in programming lead to academic gains in KIPP?

While numerous studies show positive immediate effects of pre-k (Reception), studies also show that these effects usually fade as soon as kindergarten or first grade (Year 1 and Year 2). To discover if consistency in programming from pre-school to elementary (primary) school can extend these positive effects, Virginia Knechtel and colleagues at Mathematica Policy Research (MPR) recently performed the first randomised study of the effectiveness of The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) pre-school on second graders (Year 3) who had continued with the KIPP programme into elementary school.

KIPP is a network of 200 elementary and secondary charter schools serving 80,000 pupils in the US, most of whom are low-income and African American or Latino. Admission to KIPP is via lottery. KIPP schools emphasise academics and character development in safe environments that foster pupils’ progression to further education. As part of an i3 scale-up grant, MPR performed a randomised study on the effects of KIPP on elementary to high school pupils, and found positive, statistically significant effects for KIPP pupils. For the pre-school study, the researchers drew their population sample from pupils in the 2015 study who had started KIPP in pre-K (n=97), comparing them to pupils who did not win the KIPP lottery and attended other schools (n=147). At the end of second grade (Year 3), when most pupils had attended KIPP for five years, both reading and maths scores were higher on subtests of the Woodcock-Johnson for KIPP pupils than for control pupils (ES=+0.43 on Letter Word ID, +0.21 for Passage Comprehension, +0.34 for Applied Problems and +0.31 for Calculation). This is not a lasting effect of pre-k, but the cumulative impact of everything KIPP schools did in grades pre-K-2 (Reception to Year 3).

Authors interviewed school staff and identified six key factors that differed between KIPP and non-KIPP programmes. These included that the schools’ structures allow for continuity among year groups, KIPP pre-K is academically focused, and there is a conscious effort to build relationships between school staff and pupils’ families.

Source: Pre-kindergarten impacts over time: An analysis of KIPP charter schools (August 2017), Mathematica Policy Research

New report is positive on KIPP middle schools

The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) is a chain of US charter schools that aims to improve education for low-income children. A new report by Mathematica Policy Research says that the impact on student achievement in KIPP middle schools (for ages 11-14) is positive, statistically significant and educationally substantial. The report compared the progress of children in 43 KIPP middle schools with that of their former peers from elementary school.

The two groups of children were similar, although KIPP students were less likely to have received special education services or have limited proficiency in English. The estimated gains made by KIPP students over the three years were substantial, with an effect size of +0.36 for maths (equivalent to an additional 11 months learning) and +0.21 for reading (equivalent to an extra 7 months). There were few differences in student behaviour and attitude, but KIPP students did complete around 50% more homework than their peers. KIPP schools also have an extended school day (on average more than nine hours), but the study found that KIPP schools with the longest days produced less impact on achievement, perhaps because the extra time was spent on non-core academic activities.

Source: KIPP Middle Schools: Impacts on Achievement and Other Outcomes Final Report (2013), Mathematica Policy Research.