Monday, April 13, 2009

What KIPP is Yet to Prove

Until KIPP tries to succeed within an entire, single community,
it is, for all its remarkable rise and deserved praise,
just another model program that has
yet to prove it can succeed with all
—or even most—disadvantaged children.

This from Sara Mosle in Slate:

The Educational Experiment We Really Need
What the Knowledge Is Power Program has yet to prove.

In his new book, Work Hard. Be Nice., Jay Mathews claims that the Knowledge Is Power Program is the "best" program serving severely disadvantaged, minority-group students in America today.

Let me begin—before I'm denounced as a traitor to the cause of educational reform—by saying that I'm inclined to agree. The improbable story of how KIPP was founded in 1994 by David Levin and Michael Feinberg, two young Teach for America alumni in Houston, is thrilling and worthy reading. KIPP's mission has been akin to putting the first man on the moon: an all-out education race, requiring extraordinary, round-the-clock dedication from parents, students, and teachers alike.

But the program is not the proven, replicable model for eliminating the achievement gap in the inner city that Mathews imagines, and this distinction is crucial. KIPP may be something more important: a unique chance to test, once and for all, the alluring but suspect notion that there actually is an educational panacea for social inequality. As of yet, the evidence for such a thing doesn't exist.

There have always been model school programs that work. There have even been some that have been successfully replicated in different parts of the country. But no program has shown it can work for all, or even most, disadvantaged children within a single city or neighborhood.

Instead, as critics point out, such model programs tend to skim off those kids who are already better positioned (thanks to better home environments, greater natural gifts, savvier or better-educated parents, etc.) to escape the ghetto. Meanwhile, regular public schools are left with a more distilled population of struggling students...

Mathews insists that KIPP has solved this riddle.

It's true that perhaps no other model program has risen so far so fast, with such consistently strong test scores. KIPP now has 66 academies in 19 states. Still, 66 academies amount to just three schools, on average, per state. Houston has far and away the highest concentration with, currently, seven middle schools, three elementary schools, and one high school. But this is in a school system with 200,000 students, nearly 80 percent of whom qualify for reduced or free lunches.

At the moment, like every other model program before it, KIPP serves only a tiny fraction of disadvantaged students within any given district. And as education researcher Richard Rothstein has rightly noted, comparing students from different schools, even within the same disadvantaged neighborhoods, is very difficult to do in a rigorous, scientific way. Just because KIPP uses a lottery for admissions, for example, does not tell us anything about the self-selecting nature of the pool from which this lottery is drawn. (Rothstein's own research—here and here—has shown that KIPP students come from families that are better off, or better educated, than their regular public school or special-education counterparts.) ...

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...


Jesse said...

 I am a veteran teacher in Houston seeking a dialogue with Teach for America teachers nationally regarding policy positions taken by former Teach for American staffers who have become leaders in school district administrations and on school boards. I first became aware of a pattern when an ex-TFA staffer, now a school board member for Houston ISD, recommended improving student performance by firing teachers whose students did poorly on standardized tests. Then the same board member led opposition to allowing us to select, by majority vote, a single union to represent us.

Having won school board elections in several cities, and securing the Washington D.C Superintendent's job for Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp's friends are pursuing an approach to school reform based on a false premise: that teachers, not student habits, nor lack of parent commitment or social inequality, is the main cause of sub-par academic performance. The TFA reform agenda appeals to big corporations who see our public institutions as inefficient leeches. This keeps big money flowing into TFA coffers.

The corporate-TFA nexus began when Union Carbide initially sponsored Wendy Kopp's efforts to create Teach for America. A few years before, Union Carbide's negligence had caused the worst industrial accident in history, in Bhopal, India. The number of casualties was as large as 100,000, and Union Carbide did everything possible to minimize its responsibility at the time it embraced Ms. Kopp. TFA recently started Teach for India. Are Teach for India enrollees aware of the TFA/Union Carbide connection?

When TFA encountered a financial crisis, Ms. Kopp  nearly went to work for the Edison Project, and was all but saved by their managerial assistance. The Edison Project sought to replace public schools with for-profit corporate schools funded by our tax money. Ms. Kopp's husband, Richard Barth, was an Edison executive before taking over as CEO of KIPP's national foundation, where he has sought to decertify its New York City unions.

In 2000, two brilliant TFA alumni, the founders of KIPP Academy, joined the Bush's at the Republican National Convention in 2000. This was pivotal cover for Bush, since as Governor he had no genuine educational achievements, and he needed the education issue to campaign as a moderate and reach out to the female vote. KIPP charter schools provide a quality education, but they start with families committed to education. They claim to be improving public schools by offering competition in the education market-place, but they take the best and leave the rest.

D.C. Superintendent Michelle Rhee's school reform recipe includes three ingredients: close schools rather than improve them; fire teachers rather than inspire them; and sprinkle on a lot of hype. On the cover of Time, she sternly gripped a broom, which she presumably was using to sweep away the trash, which presumably represented my urban teacher colleagues. The image insulted people who take the toughest jobs in education.

TFA teachers do great work, but when TFA's leadership argue that schools, and not inequality and bad habits, are the cause of the achievement gap, they are not only wrong, they feed the forces that prevent the social change we need to grow and sustain our middle class.. Our society has failed schools by permitting the middle class to shrink. It's not the other way around. Economic inequality and insecurity produces ineffective public schools. It's not the other way around.

Ms. Kopp claims TFA carries the civil rights torch for today, but Martin Luther King was the voice of unions on strike, not the other way around. His last book, Where do we go from here?, argued for some measure of wealth distribution, because opportunity would never be enough in a survival of the fittest society to allow most of the under-privileged to enter the middle class.
Your hard work as a TFA teacher gives TFA executives credibility. It's not the other way around. Your hard work every day in the classrooms gives them the platform to espouse their peculiar one-sided prescriptions for school improvement. I would like a dialogue about what I have written here with TFA teachers. My e-mail is

Dean said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Jesse. As a California teacher I have observed that the only variable that correlates well with student achievement is SES - socio-economic status. There is certainly variability among teachers - for some teaching is just a job, but if one looks at statistics, it is SES that truly matters. The only way to attack this problem is to create academies where at risk kids are given board and an intensive academic oriented education, away from their home environment. It's expensive, but it works. I must add that SES is sometimes hard to define. There are immigrant communities where the average family income is low, but the push for education is extremely strong. In this cases, parental influence overwhelms any measure of economic wealth or lack thereof.

Dean Schonfeld

Anonymous said...

Wow all that writing and the closing argument is. Its not our fault its the commuinty and the students. Thats the same excuse thats been used over and over again.

We are generation Obama focused on results and no more excuses. Its pathetic that you choose to attack and lash out at a program that actually works If students aren't improving at least some of the blame falls on teachers. The teachers have the most contact with the students. If after 180 days there is no student improvement the teacher is ineffctive and needs to be replaced.

Be part of the solution. As a veteran teacher you should know what works and what doesn't or maybe you are more interested in collecting the paycheck.

Richard Day said...

In my view, KIPP seems to be the best of a host of different efforts to make charter schools work. They focus on individual attention, long hours and hard work. This is the same formula that seems to be associated with those public schools that have defied the odds and improved student achievement in tough neighborhoods.

But there is an agenda behind KIPP.

Those who claim that KIPP has solved all of the problems (and in doing so demonstrate that public schools don't work) are in error. As Slate effectively demonstrates, while there are certaijn locales where the public school is lousy and the charter school is better, that is a long way from being true across the board.

Taken as a whole, charter schools seem to perform about as well as public schools. In some places charters perform better, in others worse. Overall, about the same.

See the latest Rand Report:

I think you are all correct to a degree. Teachers do not control enough of the variables to be held solely responsible for student achievement results. On the other hand, teachers must be held accountable (under a fair system) for the value they add to student learning. The mistake lies in thinking that one approach, or the other, is sufficient to gain all students a proficient education.

Some of the problem lies in the community. some of the problem lies in the schools. We need a comprehensive approach.