Recently, a report came out claiming the KIPP charter network spends significantly more per pupil than comparable traditional district schools. The report is fairly straightforward but it’s conclusions highlight a disturbing paradox about the policy position a high-performing charter network such as KIPP and Achievement First find themselves in:
“These findings, coupled with evidence from other sources discussed earlier in this report, paint a compelling picture that ‘no excuses’ charter school models like those used in KIPP, Achievement First, and Uncommon Schools, including elements such as substantially increased time and small group tutoring, may come at a significant marginal cost.”
While KIPP disputes these findings here, it’s hard not to see how the network will continue to be hounded by anti-charter lobbies about how this proves that charters aren’t so great and only make gains because they can afford to outspend traditional public schools due to private money. Furthermore, this private money, they argue, is not guaranteed and these philanthropic pots could run dry at any time if they find a more novel interest.
That might be true, but on the other side, one must understand that KIPP’s success depends not only on achieving significant academic gains with low-income, minority children, but also on demonstrating a sustainable schooling model that is both effective and cost-effective. The problem is when KIPP shows success in keeping down costs while getting results, proponents of cutting education costs use it to claim that traditional schools don’t need more money to be successful; they claim: “KIPP does more with less, so can traditional schools!”
At the same time, when chatter schools fail, proponents of traditional public schools are quick to cite the failure as evidence that schools need more funding to succeed since they are serving kids who have greater needs.
So, who is right?
As Barack Obama would say: “it isn’t a question of either-or; it’s both-and”
As my college classmate and TFA colleague states in this inspiring video: “how can our students focus on learning in crumbling schools, in crumbling neighborhoods, in a crumbling economy that offers few opportunities for decent jobs even after they graduate from high school or college?”
And that, my friends, is the question we should all be asking if we seek true transformational leadership and change.