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Charter Schools and the Challenge of Scalability

It's been a pretty great week for experimental-school models and now the data is finally in, for KIPP schools, at least. The findings? They work.

First, a promising new study released by Mathematica Policy Research examined whether KIPP schools (which previously made the GOOD 100) were increasing educational attainment. Turns out, they are. Its findings:

"For the vast majority of KIPP schools studied, impacts on students’ state assessment scores in mathematics and reading are positive, statistically significant, and educationally substantial. Further, estimated impacts are frequently large enough to substantially reduce race- and income-based achievement gaps within three years of entering KIPP.”

Granted, this is excellent news for the students that attend one of the 82 KIPP schools around the country. But as Kevin Drum over at Mother Jones was quick to point out, their structure is a reason for not only their success, but their challenge of scalability:

"KIPP schools demand a lot of their teachers, who work very long hours and are required to be on call at all times. They pay a bit more for this, but only a bit, and this isn't a model that scales well. You can always find a small cadre of dedicated young teachers willing to put up with this, but you're never going to find the hundreds of thousands you'd need to make this work on a large scale."


Drum doesn't mince words: "That's not to say that KIPP is a failure. It's not. It's a success. But it's a limited one, and probably always will be."

Along these same lines, today's New York Times examines the embattled Locke High School in Los Angeles. (Be sure to check out our fantastic video about Locke High, if you haven't already).

After being taken over two years ago by Green Dot, a network of charter schools, Locke is showing great progress: "Gang violence is sharply down, fewer students are dropping out, and test scores have inched upward," reports the Times. But, all of this progress is not without great expense—$15 million, in fact, over the course of four years, largely paid for by private foundations.

As the Department of Education goes about its business of reforming failing schools, doling out a maximum of $6 million for any one school, some wonder whether Locke should be heralded as a turnaround model, saying its success is too costly for others to duplicate.

Finding educational models that work is one half of a huge undertaking, to be sure. But ensuring that enough kids can benefit seems to be the challenge going forward.

Any brilliant suggestions for how we might actually accomplish both?

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