"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, June 27, 2009

KIPP: Bill Luckett's Sledgehammer for the Delta

There's a brand of politicians who will believe anything if there is enough money attached to the argument, and there is another variety, the ones who will tell the public anything if there is enough money attached to the argument. We don't know where Mississsippi gubernatorial candidate, Bill Luckett, fits in this dyad, but we do know that he is waving high the KIPP banner as the solution to being 50th out of 50 in state educational attainment. Luckett is just back from a KIPP visit in Helena, Arkansas:
"What I heard, I couldn't believe to start out with, but it turned out to be true," he said. "A group of dedicated teachers and across-the-board fifth grade students got together and started a school effort about five or six years ago. Those same students who were testing in the bottom one-fifth percentile were now testing in the top one-fifth percentile."

Helena and the Arkansas Delta are demographically almost identical to the Mississippi Delta, and parts of Mississippi are very similar to Helena, Luckett said.
If Mr. Luckett is in neither of the above categories of politicians, surely he won't hesitate to look at the SRI study done last year in five Bay Area KIPP schools, where researchers found that 40 to 60 percent of KIPPsters in the five schools "chose" to leave KIPP between grades 5 and 8, and that most of the students who were ridden out were the low scorers who could have damaged the KIPP brand if they had stayed. Or Mr. Luckett may be interested to know that the five schools from the Bay Area lost 65 percent of their teachers over 3 years. From the SRI study:
Since 2003-04, the five Bay Area KIPP school leaders have hired a total of 121 teachers. Of these, 43 remained in the classroom at the start of the 2007-08 school year. Among teachers who left the classroom, at four of the schools they spent a median of 1 year in the classroom before leaving; at one school, the typical teacher spent 2 years in the classroom before leaving (32).
Mr. Luckett, I hope you have some plans to build some TFA teacher barracks along the Delta because without a constant re-supply of Ivy League missionaries you will never keep your KIPP chain gangs staffed.
"It points out that you can make a difference with the right set of dedicated teachers and students," Luckett explained. "With a will to learn, you raise the bar and raise the expectations and they've done a tremendous job at the KIPP school. That really sold me on charter schools."

He said that charter schools would only be necessary in regions where the existing public schools have repetitively exhibited underperformance.

"There are great schools in Mississippi, like right here in DeSoto County," he said. "It's not to say that the public school administrations (of underperforming schools) aren't trying to do something, it's to what degree sometimes. I see them attacking the problem and chipping away, but I think it's time for a sledgehammer now. We've got to do something a little more significantly."
Yes, yes, the old sledgehammer. One may wonder what Mr. Luckett has in mind for those children who can't make it in the KIPP mines, the ones who can't carry the tune of "Sixteen Tons," those children of low-production value who are likely to damage the output numbers if they hang around. But, then, Mississippi has another chain gang for those youngsters, one that has been perfected over the past 150 years.


  1. Anonymous12:05 PM

    From Luckett's PAC website, Progress for Mississippi:

    "Expanding the Teach for America program in Mississippi is an excellent way to bring new talent to our teaching pool..."

  2. Yep, sure is. TFAs are great if you want a quick injection of life into a school. Like a shot of sugary hypercaffeinated coffee, TFAs perk you right up. You get instant energy.

    Of course, if you're looking for a slightly more long-term solution, having TFAs leave after you've provided the free two years of training and job skills that the TFA organization wouldn't really doesn't boost your averages or do much for your students' education.

    That's the problem of TFA. They're in and out so quickly that the school winds up spending time, money, and its other teachers' efforts mentoring a flash in the pan who leaves before he/she can become an effective teacher. They've got that Harvard education to jump them into a real job, you know.

    You also have to train up a bunch of the teachers to be mentors, too. Don't expect your veterans to mentor one of these kids more than once.