The Washington Post sings the praises of KIPP!


The Post tends to be quite selective: A new, major study has examined the performance of the KIPP charter schools.

At the Washington Post, Jay Mathews examined the study last week in this lengthy blog post. (The comments from his readers are also well worth reading.) On Saturday, the editors produced this editorial.

At the Washington Post, the editors love the KIPP schools. As we read their editorial, we were struck, as we often are, by the highly selective way the Post covers public school issues.

For ourselves, we aren’t critics of the KIPP schools; we’re also not fawning idolators. Many good things can be said about KIPP, as the editors love to prove.

Here’s how their editorial started. We highlight the additional gains recorded by students in KIPP schools, according to this study.

We start with the Post's childish headline:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (3/2/13): KIPP doubters proven wrong

Officials of KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) have become accustomed to the doubters who think the success of the fast-growing charter-school network is too good to be true. KIPP’s positive outcomes are the result not of its unique learning approach but rather, so the familiar critique goes, of its ability to attract the best students with highly motivated parents. Now comes rigorous research that should put an end to those suspicions and hopefully prompt discussion of what other schools might take away from KIPP’s experience in working with low-income students.

A study conducted by the independent firm Mathematica Policy Research, which analyzed data from 43 KIPP middle schools, found that students in these charter schools showed significantly greater learning gains in math, reading, science and social studies than did their peers in traditional public schools. The cumulative effects three to four years after entering KIPP translated, researchers found, into middle-schoolers gaining 11 months of additional learning growth in math and social studies, eight months in reading and 14 months in science. KIPP, which operates in 20 states and the District, is portrayed as among the highest-performing school networks in the country.
We will admire the people who run the KIPP schools until we’re shown that we shouldn’t or can’t. That said, the Post may be over-exulting a bit.

Let’s talk about those score gains.

Obviously, it’s a good thing if students gain “11 months of additional learning growth in math [and] eight months in reading.” That said, those gains are acquired over three to four years—and this is part of the way KIPP students assembled those gains:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL: What is different is a high-intensity approach to learning in which KIPP students are in school longer (an average of 9 hours a day, for 192 days a year, compared with 6.6 hours per day, for 180 days, for traditional schools) and spend an additional 35 to 53 minutes on homework each night. Whether these methods can be adopted by traditional public schools is unclear; even KIPP officials acknowledge the difficulty of successfully ramping up operations. But it should be equally difficult to turn a blind eye to this study and not consider the possibilities its findings offer other children.
We find that highlighted passage sobering. To their credit, KIPP kids put in a much longer, much more challenging school day and school year. In some ways, their limited additional months of learning (achieved over three to four years) remind us of an important point:

There are no miracles in the school business, despite the constant efforts of shills and hacks to hand us feel-good miracle stories about low-income schools.

Eight additional months of reading (over four years) is not a miracle. It is, instead, an important achievment, an accomplishment children and teachers seem to have worked for quite hard.

People who care about low-income kids should be very angry when hustlers parade about the country offering silly miracle tales. Almost always, miracle tales are false. The example of KIPP's hard-won success helps us see this point.

(Remember when Charlie Rose sat on his ass like a potted plant and let Wendy Kopp tell her self-serving miracle tales about Teach for America? People who care about low-income kids should be angry at Kopp and Rose.)

At the Post, the editors tend to overstate when it comes to “education reform.” Consider one additional point about the new KIPP study:

In their opening paragraph, the editors reject the idea that KIPP does well because of “its ability to attract the best students with highly motivated parents.” In the following passage, the editors attempt to shoot down that notion:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL: Debunking claims that KIPP’s success is rooted in “creaming” the best students, researchers found that students entering KIPP schools are very similar to other students in their neighborhoods: low-achieving, low-income and nonwhite. A typical student enrolling in a KIPP school scored at the 45th percentile in his or her school district in reading and math, lower than both the average in the school they attended and the school district as a whole.
It’s true: According to this study, KIPP schools do not draw the highest-achieving students away from the local public schools. According to this study, students who chose to attend the KIPP schools were quite average for their school and their school district. (The Post massages this point at the end of this passage. If you’re in the 45th percentile in your school district, that pretty much means that you’re average.)

That said, the children who go into KIPP schools enter an environment in which they’re surrounded by other kids who, like themselves, have parents who wanted something better. They now attend a school which is full of strivers. It’s hard to measure for this effect, but it surely provides some sort of advantage to people who teach at KIPP schools. (This point is discussed at length in the comments to Mathews' blog post.)

If those additional gains at KIPP are real, those gains are truly important. But they were achieved by a lot of hard work over three or four years, and a slight advantage may be involved because KIPP kids all choose to be there. Having said that, we think the Post is right to call attention to the gains achieved by KIPP schools. They were also right to offer the warning we posted above. (“Whether these methods can be adopted by traditional public schools is unclear.”)

KIPP schools report academic gains which are very hard-won. Because KIPP is a symbol of “education reform,” the editors rush to discuss those gains. That said, there’s another impressive set of gains the Post refuses to report. Those are the gains recorded by black and Hispanic kids in the nation’s traditional public schools over the past twenty years.

As we’ve noted again and again, those gains are actually very large—unless you read the Washington Post or the New York Times, in which case those gains don’t exist. The editors should be ashamed of themselves for the ways they report in this area. In our view, each of these newspapers should explain why they hate black children so much that they won’t stoop to report their substantial achievements—unless those achievements occur in a school which is run by KIPP.

The Post is deeply selective about public schools. Cheating under Rhee gets disappeared. So do the remarkable gains achieved in our regular public schools.

If you read the Washington Post, you simply aren’t told about those gains. The only gains you’ll hear about are gains which occur under KIPP.

Someplace else you won’t hear about that: You won’t learn about those gains on MSNBC, where the fiery liberals would jump off a bridge before they’d discuss our black kids.


  1. The parental involvement -- putting their kids into the lottery, making them do homework -- is probably the least replicable variable for entire school systems. The sense of mission among teachers probably matters, too. You can't demand that all teachers work 60 or 70 hour weeks, as fiery young teachers caught up in a great experiment might do. (Many in a regular public school job already work 50-hour or more weeks for about 40 weeks, equivalent to 50-week, 40-hour job.)

  2. The blog post indicates some of the data comes from comparing students who tried to get in with those who succeeded in a random lottery. That would be a step toward controlling for motivation. I'll have to read the study to find out how much of the data comes from that kind of comparison.

  3. So, WaPo covers all this (in the way it does) because it loves our black kids? No, because WaPo makes money off of KIPP.

    I am confused by Mr. Somerby's rhetorical strategy. Will posts like this encourage Rachel to report about our black kids? or encourage those who watch her to demand she do so? I doubt it.

    A little more love and generosity, a lot less spite. That might help.

    1. She'd do better if only Bob was nice to her when she does badly. I like this approach. When people fuck up, when they're corrupt and self serving, just be nice to them and eventually they'll come around to your side. Money, influence, fame, being part of the powerful crowd, these all fall by the wayside compared to some nice words!

      The Somerby bashing here is getting absurd. Any dumbfuck comment at all is allowed, unedited, to pour out -- as long as it slights Somerby in some way. If you're going to attack the man, at least do it intelligently.

    2. Me too til. For those of you who haven't noticed, Somerby's default rhetorical strategy has always been high dudgeon. I find it refreshing, but I realize it's not for everyone. For a kinder, gentler blog, mch might wish to look elsewhere.

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  5. Wow. Bob, the math on this is even worse than you make it sound. 2.4 extra hours of instruction times 180 days, plus 12 more days at 9 hours, plus (low-balling the homework) half an hour of homework times 192 days adds up to the equivalent of almost 100 extra days of school per year for the KIPP kids. Now multiply that by the 3 to 4 years to achieve the stated gains, and we see that the kids basically put in two years of extra time in order to gain 8 to 14 months on their academic growth. That doesn't sound to me like a particularly good return at all.