The Knowledge is Power Program (hereafter referred to as KIPP) has been the recipient of much praise. In the recent documentary, Waiting for Superman, KIPP was lauded as one of a handful of educational programs for poor children of color that is making a difference in closing the achievement gap. Diane Ravitch wrote in her recent book, “[T]he charter schools with the most impressive record of success are the KIPP schools” (Ravitch, 2010, p.135). Washington Post Education Columnist, Jay Mathews wrote an entire book on the schools, calling them “the most promising schools in America.”(Mathews, 2009) So, why is KIPP garnering all of this attention and is it really narrowing the achievement gap?
KIPP was started in 1994 by Teach for America alumni David Levin and Michael Fienberg, who had been working in inner-city Houston schools. KIPP was created with a singular goal in mind; to get low-income students of color to college. The data would suggest that these schools have been successful in achieving that goal. During the 2008-2009 academic year, KIPP enrolled 21,831 students, 95% of whom were African-American or Latino (KIPP Foundation, 2009). Of those students who finish 8th grade at a KIPP school, 95% graduate from high school and 88% of them matriculate to college. These compare to national rates of 70% high school graduation and 40% college matriculation for low-income students (KIPP Foundation, 2009). According to a recent study of 22 KIPP schools, within three years, half of all KIPP schools in the study closed one half or more of the black-white achievement gap in math, and one third of the black-white achievement gap in reading. In these KIPP schools, student gains are equivalent to 1.2 years of additional growth in mathematics and 0.9 years of extra growth in reading over three years (Tuttle, The, Nichols-Barrer, Gill & Gleason, 2010).
So, what is KIPP’s recipe for success? KIPP does address many of the cultural, environmental and structural factors that contribute to the achievement gap through what education writer Paul Tough describes as “a counterintuitive combination of touchy-feely idealism and intense discipline” (Tough, 2006, p.254). The factors that KIPP addresses are 1) a lack of cultural capital; 2) less exposure to vocabulary and enrichment and; 3) low expectations for academic achievement.
First, KIPP takes into account the lack of cultural capital that their students bring to the classroom. Education expert Dr. Lisa Delpit sums up the wishes and frustrations of parents of low-income students of color by saying, “They want to ensure that the school provides their children with discourse patterns, interactional styles and spoken and written language codes that will allow them success in the larger society” (Delpit, 1988, p.169). These parents are unable to transmit the attitudes and knowledge needed to succeed in the current educational system because they themselves do not possess this cultural capital. KIPP...