The Download: KIPP success a matter of degrees

In the world of high-achieving urban charter schools, seeing graduates ultimately go on and finish college has always been the Holy Grail, the goal that school leaders say truly represents the ticket into the middle-class for students who have grown up in poverty.  For the vast majority of students in this country who grow up in poverty – some 92 percent of them to be exact – the dream of a four-year degree will never be realized. All of this is what makes a new study of college graduation rates among those who attended KIPP charter schools so important.

KIPP, which runs 99 schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia, is by far the largest operator of charter schools in the country. Its model has in many ways become the template for other charters:  rigorous academics, a longer school day, and a school culture that works to give students not only the academic skills needed in higher education but the “social intelligence” – coping strategies, character building, confidence, self-control, and grit – that is also a necessary ingredient in success.  It all gets boiled down in KIPP’s motto: “Work hard. Be nice.”

KIPP, which was started in the mid-1990s and mainly operates middle schools, has now been in operation long enough for some assessment of how its earliest graduates have fared on the college-completion benchmark.  In the new study, among those students who had completed a KIPP middle school program 10 or more years earlier, 33 percent had graduated from a four-year college.

Is the glass half-full or half-empty?  Because KIPP has set a goal of having 75 percent of its student reach the four-year-degree milestone, school leaders say they are focused on what they can do to dramatically ratchet up college completion rates among former KIPP students.  But the 33 percent college graduation rate actually puts KIPP graduates slightly ahead of the cohort of all Americans, aged 25 to 29, among whom 30.6 percent have  earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. What’s more, 95 percent of KIPP students are black or Latino and more than 85 percent are from low-income households, groups that sit at the bottom end of the achievement gap.  Among students nationally from this demographic, just 8 percent end up receiving a four-year college degree.

In that context, the KIPP results show it is possible, at least for a sizable chunk of low-income students, to demonstrate that demography is not destiny when it comes to educational outcomes. The gap between the 33 percent college graduation rate that KIPP grads have achieved and the KIPP network’s 75 percent goal shows just what a challenging task it is to propel low-income students over the college completion bar.

                                                                                                                                                                        –MICHAEL JONAS   


Here’s the main Globe story on the killing of Osama bin Laden.  And the reaction on Boston’s streets. The Outraged Liberal says “savor the moment” because he suspects terrorists are plotting revenge and conservatives will find fault with President Obama by about lunch time. The Washington Post provides comprehensive coverage and explains what the death means for the inside-the-Beltway scene.  George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Bill Clinton comment. Reaction from several Republican presidential contenders here, courtesy of Political Wire.

The National Review has a paean to the potato in response to a government panel trying to blacklist the spud for food subsidy programs and school lunches.

Rep. Niki Tsongas launches an effort to keep her district intact.

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New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushes for national immigration reform in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column.


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Several senators tell the Lowell Sun that they want to preserve collective bargaining rights of public sector unions on health care issues.

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