At ‘A’-Rated KIPP School in OKC, Students Who Leave Are Rarely Replaced

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MIchael Willmus/Oklahoma Watch

Tracy McDaniel, principal and co-founder of KIPP Reach Academy in Oklahoma City, said the school has been working on increasing its retention rate of students.

The story was updated on Mon., July 18.

A little-known trend in KIPP Reach Academy’s school enrollment casts a new light on its achievement record – a record considered when the charter school’s expansion proposal went before the Oklahoma City school board Monday.

The school in northeast Oklahoma City proposed expanding into part of Martin Luther King Elementary and, eventually, Douglass Mid-High School – an idea that drew many protests in the community. KIPP Reach, which serves fifth through eighth graders, is located within F.D. Moon Academy elementary school.

Board members approved Superintendent Aurora Lora’s recommendation that KIPP middle school relocate to part of Martin Luther King Elementary, but that a task force be formed to consider locations for the KIPP elementary and high school.

The KIPP school receives high marks on the state school report cards — an A+ on its latest — and many of its students go on to high-performing and competitive high schools.

School officials have pointed to the success of its eighth graders, especially, as proof that the rigorous school model works.

But comparing KIPP Reach’s eighth graders to eighth graders at other schools is not necessarily apples to apples.

Enrollment data provided by the state Office of Educational Quality and Accountability shows KIPP’s student population dwindles significantly in the upper grades. That means year after year, students who leave the school are rarely replaced.

KIPP Reach, which opened in 2002, enrolls a fairly consistent number of fifth graders: about 95 each year.

Last school year, there were just five seats available to new students in sixth grade and two seats each in seventh and eighth, giving those vying for entry after fifth grade a 5 percent chance of admittance, according to a school document.

By the time the 95 kids who were in fifth grade in 2011-2012 reached the eighth grade, there were just 51 students in their class — a four-year attrition rate of 46 percent.

A nearly identical pattern was seen with the next year’s students. There were 98 fifth graders who started at KIPP Reach in 2012-2013. Three years later, when those students would have reached eighth grade, there were 56 eighth graders – an attrition rate of nearly 43 percent.

Students leave for a variety of reasons, including lack of transportation (the school doesn’t provide a bus route) and discipline issues. The school reported a 69 percent suspension rate in 2011-2012, but Tracy McDaniel, principal and co-founder, later said it inadvertently reported the data inaccurately and the correct rate was 45 percent. In 2014-2015, the rate was under 25 percent, he said.

McDaniel says the school has been working on retaining more of its students. But it’s “almost impossible” for students to come to KIPP in seventh or eighth grade when they are academically struggling.

“It’s like putting someone in a Spanish three class when you’re struggling with Spanish one and you skipped Spanish two. That’s not fair to the child,” McDaniel said.

KIPP Tulsa manages to keep student enrollment fairly consistent across grade levels. Its most recent four-year attrition rate is less than 9 percent. The school received a D- on its latest report card from the state.

KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) is a national network of charter schools, with nearly 200 schools in 20 states plus the District of Columbia, mainly in high-poverty areas. Its model relies on longer school days and school on Saturdays, behavior policies with rewards and sanctions, a high level of parental involvement and frequent academic testing. KIPP supporters maintain the model benefits may low-income students.

School leaders say KIPP Reach could educate as many as 1,250 students by 2022 if it were expanded.

McDaniel says the proposed elementary will be a neighborhood school, drawing kids from nearby, but the high school would mainly be for KIPP middle school students to feed into. If extra high school seats are available, they would be filled through a lottery.

KIPP Reach’s proposal is the first of three charter school expansion plans expected to go before the Oklahoma City Public Schools board. John Rex Charter Elementary and Santa Fe South have also expressed interest in adding schools.