The national KIPP Foundation, which operates nine schools in the L.A. area, has been awarded the prestigious Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools and a check for $250,000.
KIPP was honored in particular for helping students from low-income and minority communities reach high levels of academic achievement.
More than 86% of KIPP students are eligible for free or reduced lunch and 95% are students of color. KIPP schools offer an extended day that provides extracurricular activities such as music and physical education.
"We see not challenges, but opportunities. If given the chance, kids will not only do well, they will excel," said Stephen Mancini, a spokesman for the KIPP Foundation, headquartered in San Francisco. "The credit goes to the teachers, the school leaders and the families who work hard to climb the mountain to get kids to and through college every day. They're all supporting the kids as they climb."
Charters are free public schools that are operated independently of local districts and exempt from some rules that govern traditional campuses. The annual Broad prize was set up to honor the best of the charter group. The L.A.-based Broad Foundation also hands out a separate award to honor school districts.
Achievement First, based on the East Coast, and IDEA Public Schools of Weslaco, Texas, were also recognized as finalists, selected by a review board of education, policy and business experts who considered test scores, graduation rates, district demographics. Reviewers also visited the schools.
Many charter schools "are making remarkable progress in the toughest of circumstances," said Broad Foundation President Bruce Reed. "KIPP is a true pioneer in the charter school movement. … It's been a success story for a long time."
Educators Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin started KIPP in 1994 after completing a stint as teachers with Teach for America. They initially established programs in Houston and New York City.
Now KIPP, or Knowledge is Power Program, serves 50,000 students at 141 schools in 20 states and Washington, D.C. The Los Angeles campuses are concentrated in the east and south parts of the city and county. Two more will open in the fall. KIPP expects to enroll about 4,000 local students.
KIPP students have graduated at five times the rate of their peers of similar socioeconomic or racial background, according to the Broad Foundation. The top score for the statewide Academic Performance Index is 1,000. Across California, the average score in 2013 was 790. KIPP reported that its schools averaged a score of 883. The KIPP Empower Academy had the second-highest API in Los Angeles County at 991.
"The results are showing that demography doesn't determine destiny," Mancini said. The KIPP Foundation plans to use the prize money to fund its KIPP Through College Program, which helps students stay on track to graduate.
"That's the ultimate prize that we should all be focusing on — getting a college diploma for our kids," Mancini said.
KIPP plans to share the prize money with the other two finalists, Achievement First and IDEA Public Schools.