Knowledge is Power, but at a Cost: KIPP CMO Report

Evelyn Torres Abundis, Amanda Crego-Emley, Otis Baker, Jorge Lema
Ed. Studies 245
Charter Management Organization Report:
Knowledge Is Power Program

1. Introduction
The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charter management organization is committed to providing a rigorous college-preparatory education to students from underserved communities.[1] By setting high expectations, communicating clearly with families about their children’s potential, and endorsing a no-excuses model, KIPP seeks to close the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots”, ensuring that low-income and minority students have access to education. The documentary “Waiting for Superman” depicts KIPP schools as the silver bullet for education reform, emphasizing the positive results they have with poor, minority students.[2] Though KIPP’s model has been lauded by many for producing better educational outcomes and test scores than district schools,[3] others have critiqued the organization for its strict discipline, high rates of teacher burnout, and high levels of student attrition. As these critiques reveal, KIPP’s model is far from perfect, however it is important to note that, while many charter schools have come under fire for selection bias, KIPP’s student enrollment matches up with its mission–it really is focusing on low-income communities of color.

1. History, Pedagogy, and Mission
KIPP began in Houston, TX in 1994. Two alums of Teach For America, Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, initiated a pilot program with a group of Texas fifth graders centered around five guiding precepts: “high expectations, choice and commitment, more time, power to lead, and a focus on results.”[4] From the fifth grade program, KIPP expanded into a network of middle schools covering the fifth to eighth grade before growing to include elementary and high schools.[5] According to their mission statement, KIPP schools pledge to help “students from educationally underserved communities develop the knowledge skills, character, and habits needed to succeed in college and the competitive world beyond.”[6] College readiness is integral to KIPP’s mission, and much of the program is structured around ensuring students have the support and skills necessary to go on to university.

Convinced that lack of time, low expectations, and institutional bureaucracy are the primary barriers keeping underserved populations from succeeding, KIPP schools embrace a “no-excuses” philosophy, meaning that students are held to rigorous standards regardless of background and circumstance and discipline is strict. KIPP mandates a longer school day; increased instructional time in the classroom–including Saturday school; and has students, families, and faculty sign a “Commitment to Excellence” pledge, outlining the roles and responsibilities of each member of the KIPP community to ensuring a successful learning environment.[7] Although KIPP schools do not offer a unified curriculum or standardized pedagogical style, they are bound by a shared mission and guiding philosophy.[8] Today, KIPP’s charter school network is the largest in the country, including 200 schools and serving 80,000 students nationwide.[9]

1. Methods
For the purpose of this study, a random selection of six schools was used as a sample for KIPP charter schools from KIPP Bay Area Schools and KIPP NYC Public Charter Schools: KIPP Bayview Academy (San Francisco, CA), KIPP Bridge Charter School (Oakland, CA), KIPP Heartwood Academy (San Jose, CA), KIPP Academy Charter School (Bronx, NY), KIPP NYC Washington Heights Charter (New York, NY), and KIPP Star Harlem College Prep Elementary School (New York, NY). These schools were compared with their surrounding districts in school demographics, student achievement, and student discipline. Data was collected from the National Center for Education Statistics for school and district level data on race/ethnicity and free and reduced lunch status.[10] Disciplinary data was collected from The Office of Civil Rights Data Collection.[11]

1. School Demographics
KIPP schools promote themselves as “open to all students, including those with disabilities.”[12] However, KIPP’s mission is to help “students from educationally underserved communities.”[13] Underserved communities are traditionally understood as minorities and low-income students.[14] Based on 2014-2015 data, the majority of KIPP students are of color and receive free or reduced lunch. These schools enroll more students of color than their surrounding districts.[15] For KIPP Bayview, there was an 11% difference in enrollment of students of color, increasing the racial segregation up from 87% students of color in the district. Moreover, KIPP schools have a higher concentration of students with free or reduced lunch.[16] With the exception of one, KIPP schools had at least a 5% increase of students with free or reduced lunch. Overall, the data supports KIPP’s mission to work in underserved communities, though it should be noted that this has increased segregation within KIPP schools.

Chart 1. Differences in enrollment of students of color in KIPP CMO charters and its surrounding districts.

Chart 2. Differences in free or reduced lunch status in KIPP CMO charters and its surrounding districts.

1. Student Achievement
Student achievement at KIPP schools is a big selling point. In his comprehensive of the performance of many KIPP schools, Jeffrey R. Henig, of Teachers College at Columbia, analyzed previous regional studies of KIPP schools including ones on New York City and the Bay Area. He concluded that KIPP students often perform better than students in traditional public schools and that students’ gains do not come from a more selective admission process or competitive advantage. In fact, students at KIPP schools were often previously low-achieving students who excelled in a different school environment.[17]
Henig cited an SRI study published in 2008 about the performance in KIPP Bay Area schools including both Bridge and Bayview. In the SRI study, researchers found that KIPP students in the Bay Area perform better across the board on standardized testing compared with state and national averages.[18] While academic gains achieved by students in KIPP schools were mostly positive, the study found that these KIPP schools had unusually high attrition rates. In especially bad cases, classes decreased by nearly 50% by the 8th grade.[19] This SRI study and Henig arrived at basically the same conclusion. Ultimately, KIPP students do achieve at significantly higher rates, but the rates of attrition are also “not insignificant.”[20] KIPP schools have been able to report high rates achievement that are apparent in almost every study, but the way that they burn out both students and teachers should be cause for concern. High attrition rates may stem from the fact that students at KIPP schools are more likely to be suspended, which may encourage families to move their children to schools where they are not as heavily disciplined or punished. A high attrition rate also suggests that the KIPP model of education is not universal. It only works for the select students that stay with KIPP.

1. School Discipline
KIPP schools are known for their adherence to the no-excuses model. The no-excuses model features extended school days, high expectations for student conduct, dress, and classroom engagement, and a structured disciplinary system.[21] KIPP focuses on the development of character for the success of its students, claiming that their expectations creates a culture of achievement.[22] Their “Commitment to Excellence” previewed on their website shows the pledges students must take to be part of the KIPP network; failure to adhere to them can lead to a student’s return to their local neighborhood school.[23] Although once recognized as a “possible solution to closing the achievement gap,” the no-excuses model is now highly criticized for its effect on students’ social and emotional learning.[24]

KIPP continues to strive for learning environments with “minimal distractions” while incorporating new systems of discipline such as restorative justice.[25] They attempt to sell themselves as a “safe, structured, nurturing environment.”[26] KIPP now embraces the development of character strengths including self-control, social intelligence, zest, and grit to achieve its success.[27] This is an attempt to disassociate with the no-excuses model. However, a look at disciplinary data from KIPP schools compared to its surrounding district shows a higher percentage of KIPP students receiving one or more in-school suspensions in most schools.[28] On average, there have been more suspensions at KIPP schools than the surrounding district schools. This means that KIPP believes it is faster to punish students for unacceptable behavior and does it more often. Here, KIPP students are also disciplined in ways that their peers at district schools are not because they are more likely to attend college and achieve academically at KIPP schools and lose these opportunities if they are suspended, expelled, or “encouraged” to leave a KIPP and attend a district school.

Chart 3. Differences in in-school suspensions in KIPP CMO Charters and its surrounding districts.

1. Marketing and Media

KIPP Promotional Video – emphasizes KIPP mission and shares perspectives of students.

KIPP markets itself as an organization that offers students of all backgrounds an opportunity to succeed. KIPP emphasizes high expectations, focus on character, highly effective teachers and leaders, and safe, structured, and nurturing environments.[29] On its website’s homepage, KIPP presents a slideshow with young students collaborating or hugging teachers and high school graduates celebrating their success, showing off their college pennants.[30] KIPP curates its web presence to showcase schools that foster community development and goal-setting for driven students.
On its website, KIPP not only emphasizes the support it provides students during their K-12 years, but also in college. Everything KIPP does, it claims, prepares students for college. A rigorous curriculum and instruction to develop student character by building zest, grit, optimism, self-control, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity.[31] Students experience “minimal distractions [with] more time for both academics and extracurricular activities,”[32]preparing them for college and enrolling them in “KIPP Through College,” which offers students support as undergraduates. By emphasizing the importance of college, creating a school system that revolves around it, KIPP discourages families for whom college is not the sole outcome of a quality education from sending their children to KIPP schools.
KIPP has been praised in the media for wanting all public school students to access resources that enable their success. In one article, KIPP CEO, Richard Barth, argued against the defunding of district schools in favor of charter school expansion because he believed that this would not fix the problems with the system.[33] Another article emphasized KIPP’s responsiveness to to a study that revealed that KIPP high school graduates struggle in college because many are financially challenged, some having to forgo meals to cover college expenses.[34] KIPP responded by cementing partnerships with universities to offer these students extra support.[35] As a result, KIPP is is viewed positively for its devotion to grander public education reform that surpasses its work within K-12 schools.

Elements of KIPP’s mission as stated on the KIPP website

However, KIPP’s teaching style and mission have been critiqued. Specifically, the notion that schools can develop characteristics, such as grit, in students is contested. Critics argue that character-based education is immoral, asserting that it contradicts the purpose of education by focusing it too narrowly on college attendance.[36] In addition, a 2015 NY Times article argued that “the increasing focus on qualities like grit will distract policymakers from problems with schools.”[37] It questions the impact a focus on character development will have on the perception of students and public school reform. Together, these news stories question the realities of the KIPP method in contrast to the promises and lofty goals that its website offers.

1. Accountability and Oversight
The KIPP Foundation is a nonprofit organization and is very transparent about its allocation of funds. Easily accessible on the KIPP website is a page entitled “Are We Building a Sustainable Financial Model?” that links to KIPP Foundation financial forms and a single audit report. In the 2014-2015 year, the KIPP Foundation allocated $39,157,949 to program services, which include leadership and development, research, network growth, teaching and learning labs, and the KIPP through college support program for KIPP alums; $9,659,292 to support services, including administration and fundraising; and $23,479,474 in grants to schools within their charter network.[38] A breakdown of funding allocation by individual school is not available, but KIPP does make a concerted effort to make its finances available to the public to ensure transparency and accountability.
With regards to accountability for educational outcomes, KIPP schools release their test scores, thereby making it possible to compare their performance to neighboring district schools. At the organizational level, many KIPP regional networks have a “Managing Director of Schools” who is tasked with overseeing all the school leaders in a district, providing support and professional development.[39] Moreover, KIPP schools release annual local control and accountability plans as well as accountability reports.

1. Funding
Although local and state per-pupil funding, with some federal help, covers the majority of KIPP’s costs, KIPP regions raise additional funds from local donors and foundations.[40] Over its lifetime, KIPP has received more than $60,000,000 from three groups alone – the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, the U.S. Department of Education, and The Walton Family Foundation alone.[41] Between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, over 70 foundations and individuals donated at least $5000.[42] Three foundation alone, the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, Arthur Rock and Toni Rembe,and Walton Family Foundations, donated over $5,000,000 each.[43]
Most top donors focus on funding organizations that better education or aid people from historically marginalized communities. The Watson Foundation, for example, “expands the vision and develops the potential of promising students [challenging them] to create their own paths.”[44] Similarly, the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund “focuses on K-12 education reform, especially for underserved children, . . . looking for effective models that could be copied and scaled to reach a large number of students.”[45] In addition, Arthur Rock and Toni Rembe funds other organizations with missions similar to KIPP’s. It is a top level donor to Teach for America and has donated to Breakthrough Collaborative, which ‘“puts low-income middle school students on the path to college and inspires high school and college students to become educators.’”[46] Because so many groups donate to KIPP, it can be assumed that many interests are vested in the CMO. It is difficult to calculate the interest of every donor because of how many there are. The largest donors, however, have an explicit interest in educational outcomes and the success of students. As a result, they will hold KIPP accountable to the promises it makes, especially with a donor like the Atlantic Philanthropies who gave the last of its grant money, an amount not specified but between $10,000,000 and $25,000,000 in 2016 to KIPP.[47]

1. Staffing
On its website, KIPP stresses its effort to hire teachers who are “incredibly talented and passionate [to] teach eager minds.”[48] They share a fundamental “belief to do whatever it takes to help each and every student develop the character and academic skills necessary for them to lead self-sufficient, successful, and happy lives.”[49] They include teachers who have worked in schools serving educationally underserved students before, new teachers, and recent career changers.[50] KIPP schools comply with any applicable state and federal laws, and while certification requirements for charter school teachers vary by state, a quarter of teachers have graduate degrees or higher and a fifth are Teach For America alumni.[51] In addition, KIPP is “committed to attracting and developing individuals who share the life experiences of [its] students.”[52] More “than 40 percent of [its] teachers are African American or Latino.”[53] Nonetheless, KIPP ensures that no matter the background of its teachers, every student will be served in a way that enables their success.
Although the KIPP website emphasizes that its teachers are supported, there is teacher turnover and burnout. On its website, KIPP declares that teachers always have “room to learn, grow and and improve . . . through job-embedded coaching, school and region-wide professional development, and national leadership training.”[54] It believes that “the best way to develop leaders [in education] is 70% on-the-job learning, supported by 20% coaching, feedback, and mentoring, and 10% formal training.”[55] A Seattle Education blog, however, quotes a former KIPP teacher who declares that teachers at her school had “nervous breakdowns from extreme pressure and harassment of administration [with a] 50% turnover for staff each year.”[56] There is a dichotomy between what the KIPP website markets for students and the experiences of teachers to achieve this.

A high turnover rate coupled with the low weight placed on formal teacher training suggests that on-the-job training does not prepare KIPP teachers for their work and encourage them to remain in the long term. This is probably a result of the no-excuses model and pressure for teachers to ensure that all students succeed. It may also be difficult for a teacher to adopt to KIPP culture as was the case in Houston, when KIPP schools lost teachers because they did not have day care centers for children of teachers who worked extended school hours. School communities and support systems are not strong when teachers constantly come and go. This affects student achievement and attrition because students are less inclined to remain at a challenging school when there is not a strong community of teachers to support them, ones that have worked at the schools for a long time.

1. Relationship to the District
The 2001 report by the Department of Education on the impact of charter schools on their surrounding districts identifies important ways in which charter schools, more specifically KIPP schools, bring change. The first involves budgets. About 45% of administrators in the study said their budget decreased with the influx of charters while roughly the same amount said they found no change. Charter schools also cause operational changes within the existing district. The study found that when charter schools were added in districts, busing services run faster and many schools improved learning conditions. These improvements arose because overcrowding decreased and districts schools began to compete with charter schools. Districts schools often opened new programs in response to charter schools. The teacher pool, however, also decreased.[57]
The majority of major studies have shown that NYC and Bay Area KIPP schools, as well as charter schools as a whole, are beneficial because they serve urban populations with high concentrations of ELL students. A Stanford study showed that charters in these areas much better served these populations than traditional schools.[58] Specifically, ELL students are better served at KIPP schools because of their extended school days, extra services (such as tutors), additional time spent with ELL students, and the CMO’s focus on serving underserved students in poverty, many of whom are ELL students. These schools positively impact their districts because, often, they are better prepared to provide a tailored education program. However, we found little evidence of collaboration between KIPP schools and the rest of the district. There was sparse information on major budget changes or teacher shortages. The KIPP education method, while heavily focusing on students, unsurprisingly limits communication with the surrounding district on educational innovation. Overall, NYC and Bay Area have a net positive impact on their districts without directly collaborating with them.

1. Conclusion
KIPP has succeeded in very important ways, but is still flawed. It helps more low-income students of color succeed academically and attend college. Nonetheless, its methods have been challenged. This results from the fact that KIPP schools are so different from public district schools in their method of instruction and experiences offered to teachers. Despite this, KIPP’s success is not only evident in statistics, but in the number and size of donations it receives every year. It will be interesting to observe this CMO as it continues to grow, especially in terms of the voice it assumes in public education reform and not only college-access, but college success for KIPP graduates.
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________________
[1] “About the KIPP Foundation,” KIPP Foundation, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.kipp.org/about/.
[2] Julie Mack, “Are Charter Schools Superior?: ‘Waiting for Superman’ Poses the Wrong Question About School Reform,” MichiganLive, October 26, 2010, accessed April 3, 2017,
http://www.mlive.com/opinion/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2010/10/are_charter_schools_superior_w.html.
[3] See section five on student achievement.
[4] Jay Mathews, Work Hard. Be Nice.: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2009).
[5] Hendrick Smith, “Interview with Mike Feinberg, Co-Founder of Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP),” Making Schools Work, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.pbs.org/makingschoolswork/sbs/kipp/feinberg.html.
[6] “About the KIPP Foundation,” KIPP Foundation, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.kipp.org/about/.
[7] “KIPP Commitment to Excellence (Sample),” KIPP Foundation, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.kipp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/KIPP_Commitment_to_Excellence_Sample.pdf.
[8] Jeffrey R. Henig, “What Do We Know About the Outcomes of KIPP Schools?,” (New York: National Education Policy Center, 2008), accessed March 31, 2017, http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/outcomes-of-kipp-schools.
[9] “Schools,” KIPP Foundation, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.kipp.org/schools/.
[10] “Elementary/Secondary Information System,” National Center for Education Statistics, accessed March 2, 2017, https://nces.ed.gov/ccd/elsi/tableGenerator.aspx.
[11] “Civil Right Data Collection Data: Reports,” Office of Civil Rights, accessed March 9, 2017, http://ocrdata.ed.gov/flex/Reports.aspx?type=school.
[12] “What is a Charter School?,” KIPP Foundation, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.kipp.org/schools/charter-schools/.
[13] “About the KIPP Foundation.”
[14] “Equity of Opportunity,” U.S. Department of Education, accessed April 3, 2017, https://www.ed.gov/equity.
[15] See Chart 1.
[16] See Chart 2.
[17] Henig, “What Do We Know About the Outcomes of KIPP Schools?”
[18] Katrina Woodworth et al., San Francisco Bay Area KIPP schools: A study of Early Implementation and Achievement. Final report., (Menlo Park, CA: SRI International, 2008), accessed April 3, 2017, http://www.kippbayarea.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/SRI-International-Report.pdf.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Henig, “What Do We Know About the Outcomes of KIPP Schools?”
[21] Joanne W. Golann, “The Paradox of Success at a No-Excuses School,” Sociology of Education 20 (10): 1-17.
[22] “High Expectations,” KIPP Foundation, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.kipp.org/high-expectations/.
[23] “KIPP Commitment to Excellence.”
[24] Golann, “The Paradox of Success at a No-Excuses School.”
[25] “School Environment,” KIPP Foundation, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.kipp.org/approach/school-environment/.
[26] Ibid.
[27] “Character Strengths, “ KIPP Foundation,” accessed April 3, 2017, http://www.kipp.org/approach/character/.
[28] See Chart 3.
[29] “Our Approach,” KIPP Foundation, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.kipp.org/approach/.
[30] “KIPP,” KIPP Foundation, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.kipp.org/.
[31] “School Environment.”
[32] Ibid.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Mikhail Zinshteyn, “Survey: Many College Students Need A Lot More Than Academic Support to Succeed,” EdSource, March 8, 2017, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.kipp.org/news/survey-many-college-students-need-lot-academic-support-succeed/.
[35] Ibid.
[36] Jeffrey Aaron Snyder, “Teaching Kids ‘Grit’ is All the Rage. Here’s What’s Wrong With It,” New Republic, May 6, 2014, accessed March 31, 2017,
https://newrepublic.com/article/117615/problem-grit-kipp-and-character-based-education.
[37] Anna North, “Should Schools Teach Personality?,” New York Times, January 10, 2015, accessed March 31, 2017, https://op-talk.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/10/should-schools-teach-personality/?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FKnowledge%20Is%20Power%20Program%20(KIPP)&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection&_r=1.
[38] KIPP Foundation: Independent Auditors’ Report and Consolidated Financial Statements (San Francisco, CA: Hood & Strong LLP, 2015) accessed March 31, 2017,
http://www.kipp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/KIPP_Foundation_Financials_2014-15.pdf
[39]http://kippma.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/KIPP-Academy-Lynn-Annual-Accountability-Plan-Report-SY2014-20151.pdf
[40] Ibid.
[41] “National Partners,” KIPP Foundation, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.kipp.org/about/national-partners/.
[42] “Our Supporters,” KIPP Foundation, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.kipp.org/about/national-partners/our-supporters/.
[43] Ibid.
[44] “Watson Foundation,” Watson Foundation, accessed March 31, 2017, https://watson.foundation/.
[45] “Doris and Donald Fisher Fund: Grants K-12 Education,” Inside Philanthropy, accessed March 31, 2017, https://www.insidephilanthropy.com/grants-for-k-12-education/doris-and-donald-fisher-fund-grants-for-k-12-education.html.
[46] “Arthur Rock,” Inside Philanthropy, accessed Amrch 31, 2017, https://www.insidephilanthropy.com/guide-to-individual-donors/arthur-rock.html .
[47] “Our Story,” The Atlantic Philanthropies, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/our-story.
[48] “Professional Development,” KIPP Foundation, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.kipp.org/careers/professional-development/.
[49] “Careers,” KIPP Foundation, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.kipp.org/careers/.
[50] Ibid.
[51] Ibid.
[52] “Diversity,” KIPP Foundation, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.kipp.org/about/diversity/.
[53] “Careers.”
[54] “Professional Development.”
[55] Ibid.
[56] Dora Taylor, “A Former KIPP Teacher Comments on Her Experience,” Seattle Education, March 25, 2012, accessed April 3, 2017, https://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2012/03/25/a-former-kipp-teacher-comments-on-her-experience/.
[57] John Ericson et al., Challenge and Opportunity: The Impact of Charter Schools on School Districts (Jessup, MD: RPP International, 2001), accessed March 31, 2017, https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/choice/district_impact.pdf.
[58] Urban Charter School Study Report on 41 Regions 2015 (Stanford,CA: Center for Research on Education Outcomes, 2015), accessed March 31, 2017, http://urbancharters.stanford.edu/download/Urban%20Charter%20School%20Study%20Report%20on%2041%20Regions.pdf.