By Ericka Mellon
The KIPP charter school system, which started in Houston nearly two decades ago, has earned a prized spot as a finalist for a national education award.
The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation announced Wednesday that the Knowledge is Power Program was one of three finalists for the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. The winner will receive $250,000 to fund college-readiness programs for students.
The Houston Independent School District in March was announced as a finalist for the Broad Prize for traditional public school systems in urban areas. HISD was the inaugural winner of the award in 2002 and also scored a nomination last year.
YES Prep, another Houston charter school, won the first ever Broad Prize for charters in 2012.
"Certainly I think Houstonians should be proud," said KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg. "That's not to say it's time for the 'mission accomplished' banner to come out because we have a lot of work to do, but compared to other urban areas around the country, I think we are well positioned to win the real race to the top."
Big academic gains
The Broad prizes recognize school systems where students, particularly those from poor and minority families, have made big gains in academic performance.
The Broad Foundation noted in its announcement that KIPP has seen a greater percentage of students taking and passing Advanced Placement exams from 2009 through last year. The other charter school nominees are Achievement First, which serves students in Connecticut and New York, and Uncommon Schools, which has campuses in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.
"These charter systems demonstrate that success is possible for all students, regardless of socioeconomic background," Rebecca Wolf DiBiase, managing director of programs for the Broad Foundation, said in a statement.
KIPP has opened schools nationwide, serving more than 41,000 students, since Feinberg and a fellow teacher, Dave Levin, started the program at HISD's Garcia Elementary School in 1994. KIPP became its own charter school outside HISD a few years later.
KIPP, like YES Prep and HISD's new reform program called Apollo, is known for its longer school day and year and no-excuses attitude toward student achievement.
Charter schools do not charge tuition, but students must apply and at KIPP and YES - which have waiting lists - are picked through a lottery. Critics argue that charter schools have an advantage because the students may have more motivated parents, though a recent study of KIPP by Mathematica Policy Research suggested that is not the case.