KIPP is coming


The nationally recognized Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) is opening a Minneapolis charter school this fall, its first in the state.

KIPP schools feature long school days, a long school year and character development. They are a model for boosting academic success of low-income, minority children.

KIPP arrives as Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) is ramping up its latest strategic plan to close the achievement gap. The KIPP Stand Academy will compete with MPS for students and state resources.

Joe Nathan, Director for the Center of School Change at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute, called KIPP’s arrival terrific news. “We are trying to encourage some other schools to replicate themselves here,” he said—both model public and charter schools.

KIPP will start small, with approximately 90 fifth graders, said School Leader Mike Spangenberg. It will add one class a year until it is a grade 5-8 middle school

In July, the school moves into its home at 1601 Laurel Ave., near the Basilica of St Mary in downtown Minneapolis. (KIPP replaces Fraser Academy, which is moving to the Visitation School building, 4530 Lyndale Ave. S. in Minneapolis. Visitation is ceasing operation.)

In 2006, MPS and KIPP officials discussed transforming a district school into a KIPP school, but those talks fizzled. KIPP became a charter school to have long-term autonomy on teacher hiring decisions, Spangenberg said.

Minneapolis Public Schools Board member Pam Costain said in general, KIPP has a very good reputation and outstanding results particularly with poor kids. MPS has to strengthen its schools, compete on its merits and learn to collaborate in a way that it becomes a cooperative competition.

Speaking for herself, not the board, Costain said: “The days of saying we can just shun alternatives because we don’t like them–reality has overtaken us. Whatever we may think of any alternative, they are there. We have to adjust..”

KIPP has 66 schools in 19 states, according to its website. They are free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory schools targeted in communities lacking resources.

Spangenberg, a former Teach for American and KIPP teacher, said KIPP’s recruiting has focused mostly on the city’s north side, and it is filling up. It had enrolled 78 students as of early June and hopes to enroll 110-120 students, in case some move or transfer.

KIPP Model

Spangenberg chose the name KIPP Stand Academy because he hopes that graduates will have confidence, have a sense of what they stand for in life, “and stand up for what they believe in.”

The KIPP model touts high expectations for academics and behavior.

The KIPP school day runs 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Students have half-day Saturday classes twice a month, and a three-week mandatory summer school.

Teachers are available by cell phone after hours to help students with homework or to answer parent questions.

Students get one to two hours of homework every night. Parents are expected to check their homework. If students arrive at school with no or incomplete homework, they get an hour of detention.

The school will start with five teachers: one each in reading, math, writing/science, social studies/physical education and special education.

What about music and art? Spangenberg said Saturday enrichment classes could include arts, music, foreign language or a sports club.

Mike Spangenberg will be the KIPP “School Leader.”

Spangenberg himself won’t teach classes but will work with students on character development and life skills for 90 minutes on Fridays. That includes teaching the “assumed codes and rules of society,” he said, basic things, such as shaking hands or making professional phone calls.

“Before we go on a field trip we will have lessons about the ways we will conduct ourselves differently inside a restaurant, versus a park, versus a meeting with our local councilman,” he said.

Students will practice walking quietly in the halls—“over and over again until we get it right,” Spangenberg said.

“When you start calling students on the little things at the beginning, sometimes you avoid getting up to the big things.”

The critique

KIPP published a 2007 report card to evaluate itself. It says that more than 90 percent of KIPP students are African American or Hispanic and more than 80 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch. They enter school a year or two behind peers in neighboring schools.

The report card says that students who stayed with KIPP for 4 years jumped from the 40th percentile in math on standardized tests to the 82nd percentile. They go from the 32nd percentile in reading to the 60th percentile.

The 2005 book “The Charter School Dust Up,” suggests the KIPP model attracts more motivated and compliant students and supportive families. The book’s authors also wrote the 2006 article “Worth the price? Weighing the evidence on charter school achievement” for the American Education Finance Association. It said:

“Charter school supporters (and KIPP leaders) often claim that KIPP serves the most disadvantaged students, but careful examination suggests otherwise. Where fourth-grade test scores are available for a KIPP school and for the neighborhood schools from which it draws, test scores of students who transfer to KIPP are consistently higher than neighborhood averages.”

Such analysis doesn’t question whether KIPP schools do a good job, just whether they serve the academically neediest students.

Spangenberg said he has heard the critique before—that proactive parents seek out the KIPP schools. He said he wants to avoid that by actively recruiting kids on Minneapolis’ north side, going door-to-door, or talking to kids in the parks.

“We are seeking out our families as opposed to just putting our name on a billboard and sitting back and waiting for them to come us,” he said. “We have been intentional about that strategy, to make sure we are serving all kids, and serving kids who need the most help.”

Nathan dismisses the critique out of hand. ”One of the reasons there is such a huge achievement gap in Minnesota public schools is that we have allowed these excuses to rule rather than learning from the best schools,” he said.

In process since 2006

Nathan credits the Carlson Family Foundation for coordinating efforts to raise the seed money to bring KIPP to Minnesota.

Foundation President Barbara Gage said many collaborated: “We have been highly impressed with KIPP’s success in serving youth and families, particularly its focus on high expectations,” she said by email.

A Nov. 28, 2006 Star Tribune article cited KIPP officials saying they wanted to open two middle schools in Minneapolis/St. Paul in 2008.

Spangenberg said KIPP plans to expand later, but right now it would focus on opening one quality school and build community support.

To reach Spangenberg, call 612-810-1695, (763) 377-9541 or email

Scott Russell is a journalist. He wrote for the Southwest Journal and Skyway News (now the Downtown Journal) in Minneapolis from 1999-2005. He also wrote for The Capital Times, a Madison Wisconsin daily, from 1993-1999.