Saturday, November 13, 2010

A KIPP charter school struggling to deliver

The KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) is one of the most successful charter models nationally, making reports of trouble in its Indianapolis outpost worth attention.

The Indianapolis Business Journal account describes a program that may have embraced the KIPP vision and then missed other key elements of school operations.  The school has struggled with financial requirements, from misusing Title I funds to  poor record keeping and an imbalanced budget.  Staffing stability has also been a major problem, with five school leaders in seven years and a 55 percent staff turnover rate last year.  In past years, student performance also fell short of expectations.

The Indianapolis school may have turned a corner in the last year or two, with yet another leadership change, new financial guidance, and test scores that rose impressively last year. This year, the city's mayor will decide whether that's enough to justify another seven year charter.

The key truth under this story could be that creating a great charter school is a huge undertaking, requiring skill at recruiting staff, supporting staff, recruiting students, leading instruction, managing budgets, tracking paperwork and many other aspects of a complex endeavor.  Even the KIPP network can't guarantee that every branch it opens can combine all those skills well.

Actually, I think the key truth is that creating any great school is a huge undertaking.  

Charter legislation may make the effort slightly easier, but the main hard work of creating excellence is the same no matter who organizes, authorizes, and owns the school in question.

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