Thursday, March 31, 2011

Report: WHAT MAKES KIPP WORK? A Study of Student Characteristics, Attrition and School Finance

by Gary Miron, Jessica L. Urschel, and Nicholas Saxton, College of Education and Human Development, Western Michigan University


To date, most research on KIPP has focused on outcomes (I.e., student achievement).

This study does not question the body of evidence on student achievement gains made in KIPP schools. Instead of looking at outcomes, this study examines two critical inputs: students and funding. Understanding more about these inputs allows for a better understanding of how KIPP works and whether the model can or should be replicated.

This study’s research questions examine KIPP’s student characteristics and compare them with those of the local school districts. The study, which is national in scope, also compares student attrition at KIPP schools with local school districts, and finds that high levels of attrition are pervasive across the KIPP network—a finding congruent with findings presented in earlier research.

A second topic addressed in this study is an analysis of KIPP revenues and patterns of expenditures. Using the most recent federal dataset on school finance (2007-08), we compared KIPP schools’ revenues and expenditures relative to local districts and to national means for charter schools and traditional public schools. Beyond the federal dataset, we systematically reviewed IRS Form 990 tax filings from KIPP schools so that we could calculate the amount of private revenues KIPP has received, most of which comes from philanthropic groups.


Student Characteristics: A Cross-Sectional Look at KIPP Schools Relative to Local Districts

• During 2008-09, KIPP enrolled a significantly higher proportion of African American students (55%) than did the respective local school districts (32%). However, KIPP schools served a substantially lower proportion of Hispanic students (39%) compared with local districts (50%). KIPP also enrolled substantially fewer white students (2%) compared with local districts (11%).

• KIPP schools enrolled a higher percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch (77%) than did the local school districts (71%).

• KIPP schools enrolled a lower percentage of students with disabilities (5.9%) than did their local school districts (12.1%).

• KIPP enrolled a lower percentage of students classified as English Language Learners (11.5%) than did their local school districts (19.2%).

Distribution of Students Across Grades in 2008

• Although a few of the KIPP schools now serve students at the primary and upper secondary levels, the overwhelming majority of KIPP’s enrollment is still at the middle school level.

• KIPP schools have experienced a sharp increase in enrollment and in the number of schools, with enrollment tripling between 2005-06 and 2008-09.

Student Attrition

• KIPP schools have substantially higher levels of attrition than do their local school districts.

Our analysis revealed that on, average, approximately 15% of the students disappear from the KIPP grade cohorts each year.

• Between grades 6 and 8, the size of the KIPP grade cohorts drop by 30%. The actual attrition rate is likely to be higher since some of the KIPP schools do fill in some of the vacated places after grade 6.

• When these figures are further broken out by race and gender, we can see that a full 40% of the African American male students leave KIPP schools between grades 6 and 8. Overall a higher proportion of African American students than other ethnic groups leave the KIPP schools, and girls are much more likely remain in the KIPP schools across all ethnic groups.

• Attrition rates for students qualifying for students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch are approximately equal for KIPP schools and their host districts.



Using the federal dataset on school finance (2007-08), we were able to obtain detailed revenue from 25 KIPP schools and their local districts.

• During the 2007-08 school year, KIPP received more per pupil in combined revenue ($12,731 per student) than any other comparison group: the national average for all schools ($11,937), the national charter average ($9,579), or the average for KIPP schools’ local school districts ($11,960).

• KIPP received more in per-pupil revenue from federal sources ($1,779) than did any other comparison group: the national average ($922), the national charter district average ($949), or KIPP schools’ host districts ($1,332).

• None of the 12 KIPP districts reported any private revenues in the NCES finance survey; however, a separate analysis of these districts’ 990 tax forms for 2007-08 revealed large sums of private contributions. Per-pupil contributions for the 11 KIPP districts that we could include in this analysis equaled an average of $5,760, much more than the $1,000 to $1,500 additional per-pupil revenue KIPP estimates is necessary for their program. Two KIPP districts or groups received more than $10,000 per pupil in private revenues.

• Combining public and private sources of revenue, KIPP received, on average, $18,491 per pupil in 2007-08. This is $6,500 more per pupil than what the local school districts received in revenues.


• As a whole, KIPP districts spend more per pupil in total current expenditures ($10,558) than do other charter school districts ($8,492), slightly more than their host districts ($10,101) and more than the national average for all schools ($10,121).

• KIPP spends more on instruction ($5,662) than the average for charter schools ($4,617) but less than the national average ($6,196) or KIPP host districts ($5,972).

• KIPP’s per-pupil spending on student support services ($460) is comparable to that of charter schools nationally ($464), but much less than the national average ($1,003) and even less than KIPP’s host districts ($1,179).

• KIPP’s per-pupil spending on administration ($972) is more than the national average ($746) or KIPP host districts ($687), but lower than the average for charter schools ($1,336).

• KIPP spends more on operations per pupil in dollars and as a percentage of total current expenditures than any other comparison group. KIPP’s additional spending in this area is focused in transportation, food services, and other support services.

• When spending on salaries is examined on a district-by-district basis, 11 of 12 KIPP districts spend less per pupil on salaries. The same pattern emerges when examining employee benefits. Eleven of the 12 KIPP districts spend less on employee benefits than do their host districts. KIPP also spends less per pupil on special education teachers’ salaries than does any other comparison group. The finding likely reflects the fact that KIPP enrolls fewer students with disabilities, particularly students with moderate or severe disabilities.

• As noted above, KIPP receives an estimated $6,500 more per pupil in revenues from public or privates sources of revenues. Our evidence on expenditures, show that KIPP reports spending $457 more per pupil than local school districts. From publicly available sources of information, however, we cannot determine whether or how KIPP spends its private sources of revenues.

How and Why KIPP is Successful at Improving Student Performance

Selective entry of students. The findings in our report show that students with disabilities and students classified as English language learners are greatly underrepresented. The relative absence of students with disabilities and English language learners results in more homogenous classrooms. Secondly, in both traditional public schools and KIPP schools, the additional costs for these students—especially students with moderate or severe disabilities—is typically not fully funded, and therefore some of the costs for regular education is devoted to students requiring additional remediation. Because traditional public schools have a higher proportion of students with disabilities, and a higher concentration of students with severe and moderate disabilities, the burden of having to subsidize their education falls more heavily on them.

High rate of student attrition with nonreplacement. The departure of low-performing students helps KIPP improve its aggregate results. Unlike local school districts, KIPP is not replacing the students who are leaving. When a student returns to a traditional public school after the autumn head count, KIPP retains most or all of the money (the amount depends on the particular state) allocated for educating that student during that school year. Traditional public schools do not typically benefit in the same way when they experience attrition, since vacancies are typically filled by other mobile students, even in mid-year. The discussion of findings at the end of this paper describe how “peer effects” play to KIPPs advantage, especially given its practice of filling few of the large number of vacancies from students who leave.

High levels of funding that KIPP schools receive from both public and private sources. The additional resources KIPP receives are further compounded by the cost advantages it enjoys based on the students it serves compared with traditional public schools. Such advantages may be offset in part by the additional resources KIPP requires for its program’s longer school day and longer school year. KIPP estimates that the additional costs for its expanded hours of instruction amount to between $1,000 and $1500.

KIPP’s practices that result in selective entry and exit result in homogeneous groups of students that mutually benefit from peers who are engaged, have supportive families, and are willing and able to work hard in school.

What Makes KIPP Work? A Study of Student Characteristics, Attrition and School Finance

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