"When the acceptance letters started coming in the mail, I was like, 'Yes! Yes! Yes!' I wish I could do it all over again just to get the letters that said, 'Shanequa, congratulations, you have been accepted'."* Shanequa High is in the first graduating class of Gaston Prep, a KIPP charter school in rural Gaston, North Carolina, and the first member of her family to go to college. Of 48 seniors at Gaston Prep, all 48 are going on to college, and like Shanequa, 80 percent of them are the first in their families to pursue post-secondary education.
Although they come from some of America's most disadvantaged communities, results like these are common among the more than 20,000 students who attend KIPP schools. While, on average, less than one in five low-income students attend college nationally, KIPP's college matriculation rate stands at more than 85 percent. KIPP graduates are four times more likely to attend college than their peers.
Defying Conventional Wisdom
KIPP—which stands for the Knowledge Is Power Program—is a national network of free, open enrollment, college-preparatory public schools where underserved students develop the knowledge, skills, and character traits needed to succeed in college and the competitive world beyond. Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg founded the first KIPP School in Houston in 1995 after finishing a two-year commitment with Teach For America. While at the time many had concluded that schools alone could not affect the achievement gap between white students and their minority counterparts, Levin and Feinberg opened the first KIPP Academy with a "no excuses" approach. Today, KIPP's unparalleled student achievement has demonstrated that schools can consistently and systematically prepare children from the most disadvantaged circumstances for success in college and life.
A Shared Commitment to Results
KIPP's innovative approach to education is based on a set of core principles such as high expectations, choice and commitment, leadership, and results, all of which help balance a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum with extracurricular activities, experiential field lessons, and character development. These values also help create a school-wide culture of achievement that impacts all stakeholders in a school system:
- KIPP parents, students and teachers all sign a "Commitment to Excellence" pledge, promising to fulfill a set of requirements that are necessary to ensure that students learn.
- Students—also called KIPPsters—typically spend 60 percent more time in the classroom per year than their peers and are given at least two hours of homework per night.
- Teachers work 15 hours more per week on average than conventional public school teachers, and are on call after school hours to answer homework questions.
- School Leaders are recruited and trained by KIPP through a year-long program that combines classroom learning with in-school apprenticeships and support.
As Levin explains, "when you take that much time and combine it with outstanding teaching, and you mix in great relationships between teachers and students and parents, and you mix in outstanding leadership, you have the ingredients for an effective school."
High-Quality Education for All
Nearly 15 years after inception, KIPP remains committed to its founding belief that when students are given high expectations for academic achievement and conduct alongside the tools to meet those expectations, they will learn and perform. KIPP's President and CEO, Richard Barth, is continuing to expand KIPP's innovative approach to education as the KIPP network pursues its goal of having 100 schools in operation by 2011. When that milestone is achieved, KIPP schools will annually impact the lives of more than 24,000 low-income students nationwide.
*Herbert, Bob. "48 of 48." New York Times, June 5, 2009: A21.