. . . .There is a lot of rote learning and test prep, born of the program's emphasis on demonstrable results. Enrichment programs exist (one Bronx school has a remarkable orchestra) but are necessarily limited, because precious time must also be devoted to teaching social skills that middle-class students take for granted—for example, how to follow a speaker with one's eyes and nod as one takes in information. In addition, KIPP includes an extended summer school. (Research has shown that middle-class students consolidate and even improve on their educational gains during the summer months, while underprivileged students slip backward, negating their progress during the academic year.)
As a result, KIPP teachers typically work 65-hour weeks and a longer school year. Recognizing that students need more out-of-school aid to supplement their educations, the program also requires its staff to be available to students by phone after hours for homework help and moral support. For this overtime (which represents 60 percent more time in the classroom alone, on average, than in regular public schools), teachers receive just 20 percent more pay. Unsurprisingly, turnover is high. The program has relied heavily on the ever-renewing supply of very young (and thus less expensive) Teach for America alums, whose numbers, while growing, are decidedly finite. Indeed, it's unclear whether KIPP would exist were it not for TFA (and its own philanthropic investment in recruitment and training, which has not come cheap).
For example, many of KIPP's now-lauded approaches were first developed not by Levin and Feinberg but by a career public-school teacher in Houston whose methods they admired back when they were TFAers. Levin and Feinberg tried to recruit their mentor to help launch KIPP, but as a middle-aged single mother, she felt she couldn't afford to join their revolution. If KIPP's success is ever to become widespread, it's going to have to find more room for such everyday heroes, who are not less talented than eager, young TFAers but who do have lives, families, and financial needs outside their jobs.
Parents or guardians, too, must be hardy souls at KIPP. They have to sign a contract saying they agree to KIPP's exacting schedule, which serves, intentionally or not, to eliminate kids from less involved or determined families. While KIPP does have outreach efforts to broaden its applicant pool, only the most determined parents are likely to respond to such overtures and sign KIPP's demanding contract. This dedication suggests a higher value on education within these families, and thus kids better able or willing to learn. And the weakest students, not surprisingly, get disproportionately winnowed. In KIPP's schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, the worst-performing kids have dropped out (or been expelled) in greater numbers in the higher grades; the result has been to inflate the schools' grade-to-grade improvement.
Such a regimen isn't for everyone, but KIPP has shown that with the right underprivileged population, it can make a significant, consistent difference—which is a lot more than most charter programs can say. (A 2006 report by the Education Department—i.e., under a Republican administration—revealed that traditional public schools significantly outperform charter programs in reading and math.) Far from finding the boot-camp atmosphere dispiriting, kids—at least, those who stay—clearly adore KIPP. This may be the program's singular accomplishment: It's made "back to basics" fun. However, even Mathews, the KIPP champion, describes an approach to discipline that sometimes seems unduly harsh; in less expert hands, such an approach could easily deteriorate into something more disturbing, and if implemented on a wide scale, might well turn off as many students and parents as it helps. Finally, even with such gargantuan efforts, KIPP helps to close, but does not remotely eliminate, the achievement gap in the inner city. It is not the answer to urban ills that Mathews proposes. . . .
"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
KIPP: "It is not the solution to urban ills that Mathews proposes."
A clip from the piece in Slate (ht to the The Curmudgeon):