Successful Charters Have ‘College Prep’ Focus in Common

February 2, 2009

For release Feb. 4 and thereafter (680 words)

Students at KIPP LEAD College Prep in Gary spend more time on task than their peers in traditional public schools. A lot more. The youngsters are at school from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, four hours every other Saturday and three weeks during the summer.

It amounts to about 60 to 70 percent more time in class and that “makes a huge difference,” says April Goble, principal and founder. The same applies to teachers, who keep working after the school day has ended. “Our teachers all have cell phones. Students are able to call them at home for homework help.”

It’s little wonder that test scores at KIPP are improving, even as the political debate continues over the effectiveness of charter schools.

In January, the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at University of Indianapolis released a study that compared achievement gains of charter students with a control group of traditional public school students. It found that charter students started out behind their peers but made “significantly more” progress over a two-year period.

KIPP, which enrolls fifth through eighth graders, is a case in point. In the fall of 2006, 36 percent of its entering fifth graders passed ISTEP’s math section and 47 percent passed language arts compared to 52 percent and 56 percent of Gary fifth-graders. By 2008, as seventh-graders, KIPP passing rates were 77 percent for math and 55 percent for language arts, compared to 50 percent and 38 percent for their public school counterparts.

Similar gains can be seen on the Stanford-10, a nationally norm-referenced exam. The inaugural group of fifth graders improved from the 27th to the 49th percentile in reading, from the 37th to the 74th in math and from the 50th to the 68th percentile in language.

Instructional time is not the only distinguishing characteristic of KIPP, or Knowledge is Power Program, a national model offered in 19 states and Washington D.C. Other key features are dedicated teachers willing to use standardized test scores as the primary measure of student achievement.

Goble recruits for her staff graduates of Teach for America of which she herself is an alumni and former program director. Teach for America is the educational version of the Peace Corps, training top college graduates who promise to work in poor urban and rural school systems for two years.

The teachers share “an overarching commitment,” Goble explains. “They want to make sure all our kids are on a path of going to college.”

That’s one trait Indiana’s successful charter schools have in common. Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, created in 2004 by Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, considers college preparation an essential part of its mission.

Lois Jansen, whose son graduated from The Met last year, doubts he would have passed the Graduation Qualifying Exam had he not been enrolled there. “The faculty and administration at the Met constantly evidenced willingness to work with him and respect him as a young adult, giving him opportunities for achievement that — because he was near the bottom of the academic ladder — he would not have had otherwise in another regular academic setting.”

Also in Indianapolis, Foundation Square Academy and Fall Creek Academy, operated by Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation, encourage students to acquire college credit before they graduate from high school. A partnership with Ivy Tech Community College allows students to enroll in classes ranging from Computer Information Systems to College Algebra.

“At our schools, we don’t simply offer college classes,” says Kevin Teasley, president of GEO, which also operates a charter school in Gary. “We expect our students to take college classes and we go beyond the talk and actually help prepare students for college by paying the fees for SAT, ACT and prep classes.”

Not every charter school has been a success, but most are seeing consistent test score gains. They are doing so with less money per student than regular public schools receive. Instead of discussing a moratorium on charter schools, as one legislator proposed, lawmakers should be finding ways to create more of them and support them vigorously.

Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard’s School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at aneal@inpolicy.org.



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