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Gary Rubinstein: That Misleading KIPP Research about College Completion

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Gary Rubinstein has a deep aversion to hypocrisy, hypes, and propaganda.

He read a widely publicized report saying “research shows” that graduates of KIPP have higher college completion rates than their peers.

But then he discovered that the research shows no significant difference between KIPP students and their peers in college completion rates. 

His post debunks Richard Whitmire’s erroneous claim that KIPP students finish college at a rate three to five times greater than students who went to public schools. It is also a valuable lesson in reading and interpreting research findings or claims that “research shows.”

He begins:

The way reformers misuse data follows a very simple and predictable plan:  First they get some skewed data, then pick a ‘researcher’ to interpret the skewed data.  The ‘researcher’ then writes a report which gets touted in The74, EduPost, and eventually even makes it into more mainstream publications like USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.  Since the report is filled with nonsense and half-truths, within a few weeks the truth comes out and the report is discredited, but not before the damage was done and the spin has made it into folklore.  When this happens, the reformers will then ‘move the goalposts’ and get some more skewed data and start the process over again.

An example of this is the July 2017 report by Richard Whitmire called ‘The Alumni‘.  Whitmire has written books about both KIPP and about Michelle Rhee so I think you get the idea of what his point of view is.  In this poorly researched project he concludes that “Data Show Charter School Students Graduating From College at Three to Five Times National Average“.

This was probably the easiest report I ever debunked.  The biggest flaw was that for most of the charter schools, they were only counting the percent of graduating seniors who persisted in college and then comparing that percent to the overall percent of all low-income students — an apples to oranges comparison.  Whitmire acknowledges this in another post about the methodology in which he says that only KIPP counts students who leave the school before they graduate and that their numbers are much lower, but still at 38% which is at least triple the expected graduation rate for low income students.

A second flaw, and this one is very difficult to compensate for, is that charter school students are not a random sampling of all students since many families choose no to apply to them.  So you get a biased sampling even if you do count all the students who get into the charter school and not just the ones who make it to graduate from the charter school.  And even though I and others have discredited his report, it is something that still gets quoted in the main stream media.

Just recently, however, I learned of a report generated by Mathematica and funded by the John Arnold Foundation.  I think that Mathematica is a very reputable company and even though reformers often hire them to produce reports, sometimes those reports reach conclusions that reformers were not expecting.

In this case, the report called “Long-Term Impacts of KIPP Middle Schools on College Enrollment and Early College Persistence” , reached a result that completely contradicts Whitmire’s claim that “Charter School Students Graduating From College at Three to Five Times National Average”.

Read on to see just how overblown is the KIPP myth about the college success of their students

Here’s the relevant summary of what they found:

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