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    KIPP Memphis charter school lands $3M to expand Growth fund touts its 'solid academic track record'

    Ohanian Comment: I add this story not for any particular newsworthiness but "for the record," to keep track of what WalMart is up to. I post it as a reminder: hen you shop there, this is what you're supporting. Ditto The Gap.

    Shop local.

    By Jane Roberts

    KIPP Memphis will tell the city today what it has quietly known for weeks: The school received $3 million from a venture-capital fund focused on expanding high-test charter schools.

    The Denver-based Charter School Growth Fund identifies strong performers, then pours money into them, hoping to grow strains of charter schools capable of transforming America's poor, urban pockets.

    "First and most important is a solid academic track record," said the fund's CEO, Kevin Hall. "We're not interested in helping people grow who don't have solid academic performance."

    The Memphis KIPP (part of the national Knowledge Is Power Program network) is the first Tennessee charter to receive a multimillion-dollar infusion from Charter School Growth.

    The North Memphis school in the old Caldwell Elementary will use the money to expand from 520 students in two schools to 4,500 students in 10 schools by 2015.

    The Charter School Growth venture capital fund was formed in 2005 by Donald Fisher, co-founder of The Gap, and John Walton, son of WalMart founder Sam Walton.

    Since 2005, the fund has given more than $100 million to support 30 charter groups, including KIPP schools in other states.

    "The application process is rigorous and highly competitive," said Jamal McCall, KIPP's executive director.

    Enrollment in the schools supported by the fund is now more than 100,000, or four times 2005 levels.

    One of the fund's largest donors is the conservative Wisconsin-based Bradley Foundation, which has given $16.5 million and a $5 million revolving line of credit.

    Charter School Growth focuses on assessing charter business plans and student achievement statistics to find out what processes and course plans get results.

    The fund helped advise former governor Phil Bredesen on Tennessee's Race to the Top application, including a provision to convert a handful of failing public schools each year to charter schools.

    "We wanted to help them think about using high-performing charters to help serve students in low-performing areas," Hall said.

    States that applied for the $4.35 billion in federal grants were told they had to have policies that welcomed charter schools.

    The money the fund raises in Tennessee will stay in the state, including $6 million from national sponsor the Walton Family Foundation.

    The growth fund partnered with the Tennessee Charter School Incubator early this year, and received $10 million in Race to the Top funds.

    Together, the partners raised $7 million in Memphis and Nashville, including $3 million from the J.R. Hyde III Family Foundation. Over the next four years, they intend to open 20 new charter schools in each city.

    "We think that KIPP, as a national model and in practice here in Memphis, has a track record of delivering the kind of academic results for kids that we desperately want," said Barbara Hyde, president of the foundation.

    "Charter schools are not all created equal; they depend on strong leadership, dedicated teachers and the freedom to do what is best for kids," she said.

    Under the federal No Child Left Behind program, KIPP Memphis this year fell on a watch list for failing schools because its students, while earning B's in math, got D's in reading and F's in science on yearly progress tests.

    Hyde said many students arrive at KIPP two to three grade levels behind. "We see them making significant progress," she said, despite the scores.

    In 2009, a Stanford University Center for Research on Educational Outcomes found 37 percent of charter schools had achievement gains below regular public schools; only 17 percent surpassed traditional public schools.

    — by Jane Roberts
    Memphis Commercial Appeal


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