Ewing Marion Kauffman Charter School Evaluation

Prepared for
Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

For many years, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation has focused efforts on improving education for children in its home city of Kansas City, Missouri. The foundation operated several programs that addressed the challenges faced in urban education, leading the foundation to consider the impact it might have on students in Kansas City by establishing a charter school. The foundation opened the Kauffman School in fall 2011, promoting an approach to education that includes high attendance and behavioral expectations, ambitious academic goals, an extended school day and year, extensive teacher professional development, and increased mathematics and reading instructional time.

The Kauffman Foundation commissioned Mathematica Policy Research to conduct a nine-year study. The intensive evaluation has three components: (1) an impact study, using academic performance data provided by the Kauffman School and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to estimate the impacts of the Kauffman School on student achievement, attendance, and suspensions; (2) an implementation study that uses data from surveys of students, teachers and parents, and classroom observations to gauge the degree to which the school is implementing its vision; and (3) a narrative study that involves conducting focus groups with students and teachers and interviewing school staff, Kauffman Foundation staff, and parents to track the ways in which the school’s mission and programs evolve during its first years. Lessons learned from the first five years of the Kauffman School’s operations may be of interest to those working to found and/or improve charter schools.

In the latest report, Mathematica’s analysis of data from the first five years of operation showed sustained academic growth in math, reading, and science, as measured by the state’s standardized tests (Figure 1).  On average, after attending the school for three years, students achieved academic growth equivalent to 4.5 years of learning in mathematics and 4.3 years in English language arts. By their fourth year, student gains in mathematics, English language arts, and science reached 6.4 years, 5.6 years, and 6.1 years, respectively. And by the fifth year, student gains reached 7.6 years of learning in math and 9.4 years of learning in science. 

Figure 1. Impacts on Kauffman students represented as years of learning growth 

Graph of estimated years of learning growth for each year students attend the Kauffman school.

Notes: The conversion presented in this figure assumes that students in the comparison group on average achieve one year of learning growth per year. 

In addition, before entering the Kauffman School in fifth grade, 36 percent of students scored at the proficient level on the math state assessment, and 38 percent scored at the proficient level on the English Language Arts state assessment. After three years of enrollment, student proficiency rates averaged 63 percent in math and 65 percent in English language arts. After four years, these rates increase to an average of 84 percent in math and 79 percent in English language arts. 

Comparisons to other charter schools:

  • In addition, the positive impact of the Kauffman School on its students compares favorably to the average impacts reported in other charter school studies from around the country (Figure 2).
  • The Kauffman School’s three-year impacts are large enough to close approximately 78 percent of the black-white test score gap in math and 66 percent of the black-white test score gap in English language arts in Kansas City. 

Figure 2. Charter school three-year impact estimates from various studies represented as years of learning growth 

Graphic of charter school 3-year impact estimates

Notes: The figure presents three-year effect-size estimates converted to years of learning growth. This conversion assumes that students in each study’s comparison group on average achieve one year of learning growth per year, as indicated by the black horizontal line.