I posted last week some of my thoughts on KIPP schools essentially comparing them to a shock and awe military strategy. My general point is that while KIPP schools get immediate resuls, I have doubts as to whether or these schools actually do present the best hope for reforming urban education. This sentiment drew several comments in response, so I wanted to return to the topic for at least one more posting.
First, I should say that I am in no way detracting from the gains or achievements of the students for whom the KIPP schools are successful. There is definitely a kind of child for whom this model of education is very effective. Nothing I wrote last week or will write today is designed to take away from that fact.
However, with that being said, I still have serious doubts about the general wisdom of KIPP schools as a model for urban education.
While I have not visited a KIPP school myself, I have spoken with KIPP employees and school leaders, including KIPP co-founder Dave Levine. From those conversations it's clear that the system employed by KIPP is very similar to that used by the military. That is to say, drilling, no excuses. Levine said, "We try to look at what the military does well." In Ravitch's phrasing that's "rote behavior and rote learning."
This is the point that bothers me. Through education we are trying to prepare students for a world where rote behaviors are not the ideal or the norm. I understand the need to equip students with the tools to move beyond their present station, but one of those tools needs to be the ability to move beyond basic training. I don't see where that falls in the KIPP model.
The other thing that bothers me about those who rush to point to KIPP as the model for urban education reform is that I don't think the model is replicable on the large scale needed to truly reform the system. Expecting to find a huge cohort of exceptional teachers just isn't possible. Not every teacher can be exceptional. Certainly there is more that can be done to recruit, train, and support high quality teachers. But we cannot base a system of educational reform around finding heroic teachers willing/able to work incredible hours and skilled at motivating children. We need systemic supports in place so those who lack the superb talents of the exceptional teachers can still be useful in the system.
Further, the KIPP model has several anomalies regarding student sustainability, as Paul Tough writes here. He cites statistics that students at the KIPP school in the Bronx came in already near the top of their peer group (the oft maligned charter school skimming the cream criticism). He also found that the KIPP school in San Fransisco suffered a 60% attrition rate between fifth and eighth grade. Tough concludes: KIPP schools are "accomplishing an important but somewhat limited mission: providing an excellent education to that group of low-performing, low-income students who are able to keep up with the schools' intense demands."
This is not a model for widespread educational reform.