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By 1996, 100% of Wesley Elementary’s third graders scored at grade level in reading, compared with 70% for other schools with similar demographics. By that time only 3% of his students required special education classes, compared with 10% in Houston overall, saving the district an average of $1,000 per pupil. His methods achieved far better results at lower cost than standard district policies.

Eventually Lott supervised his own mini-district, overseeing three elementary schools and one middle school, bringing both his high expectations and his superior results to a wider area. Even so, desperate parents continued falsifying their addresses in hopes of getting a place in one of Lott’s classrooms. His graduates were eagerly scooped up by magnet schools and private academies looking for high-scoring minority children.

In 1994, fifth grade teachers Mike Fineberg and David Levin started the Knowledge Is Power Program in one Houston school. Today KIPP has grown into a network of 183 charter schools serving 70,000 students. These are free public schools that operate outside the usual mandates of public schools and raise extra money through donations. The number one goal at , first among their operating principles known as the Five Pillars, is “High Expectations: clearly defined and measurable high expectations for academic achievement and conduct that creates and reinforces a culture of achievement and support.” Expectations are held high throughout the system with a student body nationwide that is 57% black and 39% Latino; 88% qualify for free or reduced lunches.

A study by Mathematica Policy Research found that over three years KIPP students advanced almost a year more on average than traditional public school students in math, reading, and social studies, and more than a year in science. This was despite the fact that KIPP had more low-income and black students that average as well as students with lower baseline math and reading scores. In addition to rigorous instruction, the study cited strict standards of behavior as a key element of success.

“In schools where school-wide behavior standards and discipline policies are consistently communicated and enforced, the school rewards students for positive behavior, and the school punishes students who violate the rules, reading and math scores went up, researchers found. No other school climate factors yielded a statistically significant correlation with academic performance.”

So far, 44% of alums have earned four-year college degrees; the comparable national average for low-income students is 9%. Those figures and other markers of success have parents begging for more KIPP-style standards. In Houston alone, where it all started, more than 10,000 hopeful students were on the waiting list for a spot in a KIPP classroom for the 2014-2015 academic year.

Success Academy is a network of 41 charter schools in New York founded in 2006 by Eva S. Moskowitz, based on academic and behavioral standards she believes are “consistent with expectations of students throughout most of the history of America education.” As with other charter networks, students are chosen by lottery from the community which in this case is overwhelmingly minority and low-income.

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