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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More time in the classroom?

This week’s announcement by former Chicago politicos Barak Obama and Arnie Duncan that American schools should add more class time to the schedule has brought a lot of attention to charter schools. KIPP, the Knowledge is Power Program system of schools, has been especially singled out by the press for their long class hours and extended schedule.

KIPP has 87 campuses in 19 states across America. Chicago is home to KIPP Ascend Charter School, and it serves grades 5-8 in the Lawndale neighborhood. Students there spend around 70% more time in the classroom than their CPS counterparts and have an 80% rate of college enrollment. Don’t let that number be misleading: though there are nearly 16,000 KIPP students nationally in 2009, the 80% applies to all alumni who graduate the program, which has existed since 1994. That percentage is far and above the schools’ surrounding communities. Clearly, the system is doing something right.

Additionally, Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby’s recent study of New York charter schools brought light to a previous study in Chicago that came to the same conclusion: charter schools outperform public schools. She notes a direct correlation to a student’s time in a charter school to their academic performance, such that a student when stays in the charter system from K-12 will perform better than a student who attends, say, from 5-12.

Charter schools are truly unique entities that deserve a chance to show the American educational system what, exactly, they’re capable of doing. Though it isn’t easy to pick just one reason they succeed, the Obama/Duncan call to action is a step in the right direction. Just ask someone from KIPP.

-Jim Publicover

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