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At KIPP, elementary schools are the next frontier

It’s not news that a KIPP high school is on the horizon. The charter network, which operates schools in 19 states and has drawn commendations and criticism for its “no excuses” brand of instruction, plans to open a high school in the South Bronx in 2009 to receive graduates of the city’s four KIPP middle schools. The rationale: after four years of high-quality instruction in KIPP middle schools (which begin in 5th grade), students shouldn’t have to move on to high schools where the expectations are lower. KIPP already operates high schools for its graduates in other states.

Preparing low-income, often low-performing 5th graders for success in competitive high schools has been KIPP’s strongest selling point. But what if it could nab the kids sooner? That’s the next frontier for expansion, and KIPP appears to be pursuing it with vigor. Already, KIPP elementary schools are open in Washington, D.C., Houston, and New Orleans (where KIPP took over a primary school after Hurricane Katrina). This fall, KIPP is planning to open three more elementary schools, and in Baltimore, the organization is petitioning to convert a middle school charter it received into one permitting an elementary school. With the recent lifting of the cap on the number of charters in New York State — and the seemingly unending positive press KIPP receives — it should only be a matter of time before we see a KIPP elementary school here in the city. The organization will have to get creative if it wants to offer pre-k, however; charter schools cannot legally start before kindergarten in New York.