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The bar has been set not by its critics but by KIPP itself: if KIPP and other No Excuses schools are to fulfill their promise as game changers in American education, and rewrite the script on reaching and teaching underserved kids, their graduates must not merely be accepted to college; they must demonstrate success once they get there.

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Outside the education bubble in the broader public mind, however, these high-flying charters are much-adored, attractive young upstarts, and the antidote to the dark, dispiriting “dropout factories” of media caricature.

For years, a central motif of the feel-good narrative surrounding No Excuses charter schools has been their college acceptance rates.

The April 2011 release of KIPP’s College Completion Report changed the No Excuses narrative almost instantly from “college acceptance” to “college completion.” A bold and laudable exercise in transparency, the report gave ammunition to KIPP’s boosters and critics alike. KIPP has held fast to the idea that college is indispensable.

Thirty-three percent of the earliest cohorts of KIPP middle-school students were found to have graduated college within six years, four times the average rate of students from underserved communities and slightly higher than the figure (31 percent) for U. The goal remains to see 75 percent of graduates earn a four-year college degree, comparable to the rate at which top-income-quartile students graduate.

She credits the habits of mind and encouragement she received in middle school, and the contacts she maintains five years later with KIPP teachers and administrators, for propelling her forward. I’m more focused on my classes and what I want to accomplish. Her delivery communicates not hope or aspiration but conviction.

“Nothing is going to keep me from graduating,” she insists, adding for emphasis, “nothing.” Mercado’s story—both her struggle and her determination— will be repeated over the next several years on college campuses across the U. At one level, she’s just one more kid trying to pass biology, graduate, and make something of herself.Classrooms and halls are awash in motivational quotations and college banners, typically from the alma maters of the inevitably young, hard-charging teachers who staff the schools.The signature feature is high behavioral and academic expectations for all students, the vast majority of whom are low-income, urban black and Hispanic kids.Houston-based YES Prep, for example, has made much of the fact that 100 percent of their graduating seniors have been accepted to college; more than 90 percent are the first in their family to attend a four-year college.The original cohort of KIPP students attended college at more than double the rate of their demographic peers: bracing, affirming, “It’s Being Done” data points to warm the gap-closing hearts of ed reform hawks. Yet two out of three former KIPP students were failing to reach the bar, however audacious, that KIPP itself had established as “the essential stepping stone to rewarding work, a steady income, self-sufficiency and success.” The affirming image of smiling, cap-and-gown–bedecked ghetto kids graduating high school and heading off to college and bright horizons beyond lost a bit of its luster.The Coming KIPP Bubble You can’t play the ingenue forever.

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