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

Monday, September 22, 2014

KIPP Teaching: "Sprinting a Marathon for Two Years"

At some KIPP schools teachers ride the buses so that children come to school ready to learn and go home ready for homework. What can be effect on children who have to remain silent from when the leave home until the time they return?

From a former KIPP teacher:

It was ultimately unsustainable.  It felt like sprinting a marathon for two years.  Probably worked somewhere between 80 and 100 hours every single week for two years and that’s unsustainable, even for somebody who didn’t have a family, I was living with my girlfriend.  No kids.  The money was fine.  I had no chance to spend it.  I was literally at school from 6:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night six days a week, and then working on Sundays as well.  It was extremely unsustainable from the time perspective. 
The second piece, the second part of that answer I think, comes not just from the hours, but the intensity of the hours. It wasn’t just working on being at the office or something like that.  It was we had to create and own an environment that was difficult to manage, and had to do that over a very long period.  I’ll give you two or three examples that will hopefully illustrate what I’m speaking about.  In the mornings, we decided, or the school decided, that kids should be reading as much as possible.  The bus drivers picking the kids up and dropping them off wouldn’t be able to discipline them or create the same kind of culture that we had expected of our students and that a lot of the culture that we’d created would break down on the way to school and after school.  We thought that if kids were unsupervised on those busses, they would inevitably lead to some sort of drama, fighting or conflict of some sort, and that would carry into the school day and distract them from their learning.   
Our kids came in performing well below grade level and we were trying to get them not just on track and caught up, but prepared academically and propel them forward.  We felt that was a risk that we couldn’t worth really taking in terms of the amount of potential disruption that might come from getting off the bus with the three conflicts, three fires to put out before 7:30 in the morning.  Our solution was to ride the bus with the students.  This is actually something that a bunch of schools do.  I don’t think we were the only ones to do it.  I don’t know how many people do this, but it certainly wasn’t something that just we were doing.   
What we did on the bus, was we had policy that we introduced that kids were not allowed to talk.  They could read their books.  They could look out the window.  They could sleep.  They could just relax.  But you’re getting ready for school, get yourself prepared.  Take a moment, gather yourself, read.  That was the policy.  As you can imagine, that’s not something that’s very typical for a group of 10, 11, 12 and 13 year-olds to abide by, especially at 6:30 in the morning.  Actually it was certainly harder on the way home from school. It became an exercise in discipline, where the teacher was expected to ride the bus each day, either going out or coming back or sometimes both.  The ride would be an hour and you had to sit there and make sure that the kids didn’t talk.  That’s an extra hour or two added on top of the school day that’s already extremely intense where as a teacher I felt like I had to be extremely focused.  I had to be extremely professional.  I had to be extremely consistent. 
In retrospect, the benefit of that policy was probably extremely limited.  But it was something we decided to do.  We were on board with it.  We executed to the best of our ability.  However, it had a long term cost of creating this experience for the teacher that was very intense.  And the experience with the kids that were very intense, too.  That created, as I mentioned briefly earlier, almost a pressure-cooker kind of environment where you felt, or I should say our strategy was trying to put our fingers on every potential leak.  But you’d feel like it’s going to explode if you’re not putting your hands in the leak.


  1. Is there a point in the day when KIPP kids are allowed to socialize?

  2. Some KIPP schools allow students to "earn" the opportunity to talk quietly during lunch, but where this occurs, it seems that this privilege is suspended as often as it is in practice. Socialization is most often viewed as getting in the way of academic behavior that produces results.

  3. Anonymous7:57 PM

    I was an employee at a KIPP sweatshop. All the horrible stories about KIPP are true. Nobody will ever work 30 years in a KIPP school. (That is exactly the model they are looking for as they will never have to pay high salaries)