Thursday, September 18, 2008

Shock and Awe Education

In a recent post on her blog, Diane Ravtich poses the question of whether conventional wisdom is now saying that KIPP-style schools are the solutions to the problems of educating kids in poor urban settings. In particular, is the "regimen of test-prep, test-prep, test-prep, no-nonsense discipline. Drill, drill, drill" really what gets results in these high needs schools?

Paul Tough in his blog write sort of a response that I don't think quite gets to the heart of what Ravitch was saying. Perhaps that's because the answer to Ravitch's questions is so obviously yes.

Look around at the discourse on education and listen to what the people are talking about. When both presidential candidates and school leaders across the country are talking about one school model, you can bet that the conventional wisdom is firmly established. Certainly in the popular mind it is.

Tough, though, pivots the question a little bit. Rather than ask if this is what everyone seems to be believing, he focuses on whether or not it's the right thing to believe. Ultimately, this is a more useful question. As he writes:
I think students from low-income families in blighted neighborhoods who enter middle school way behind grade level need something more than just extended hours and expert teaching (though they need that, too). They also need adults around them who believe in them and care about them and who can guide them toward the behaviors and the mental habits that will help them succeed in school and in life.
Hard to argue that point. There's no question that in these underserved areas, the system we have in place simply isn't working. That's not entirely the fault of the schools (remember there are issues about family life, access to health care, nutrition, etc. that also come into play), but the schools strike me as the best way to reverse the situation. Educating children is providing them with the best chance to escape their circumstances and live a better life.

So, then are these schools the best? Is this the best possible model that we can use in order to give kids the tools that they need to succeed in life?

I can't help but think that the answer is no. While KIPP schools certainly have had success at boosting test scores, I firmly believe that there is more to education than the rote knowledge that enables passing scores on tests. The unanswered question in all this is whether or not the children from KIPP schools continue to succeed in education and in life when the chanting, no-nonsense discipline, and drilling end.

KIPP is the equivalent of educational shock and awe. No question it breaks the kids out of the mindset and educational culture that they knew. That's an unqualified asset to the system. But once they've broken out, what replaces it? Where do they go from there?

Like shock and awe, the initial result can be spectacular. But once the flash and bang have faded, do the kids really have the skills to take control of their lives and create the best possible lives for themselves? I'm not sure that a test-prep, firm discpline, drill-heavy regime is really the best way to go about do that.


malpalus said...

I am currently in a graduate program for school psychology, and as I get further into my studies, it becomes very clear that we also need to remember that students' cultures, knowledge, and families need to be included in the equation. In answer to your question of what happens after intensive test prep, I think a great deal of it should be personalizing and deepening the knowledge that students learn while also giving them a chance to share what they know. It's possible that the best way to get this across is by looking at their own lives/ schemas/ experiences, etc. and connecting them. In a project I am working on with Native American scholars and professors, I am learning a great deal about mediated learning; finding something within a child's culture or previous wisdom, and helping them form the bridge to what it is they need to know in the class by showing the connections between the two. Students are not empty shells we need to fill, but rather great vaults of information that we should be wise enough to let them teach us. Let's empower our children by building on their knowledge instead of dictating our own to them.

Anonymous said...

I see this two ways. First, I am going to infer that KIPP schools are a vast improvement for many of the students who attend them.

But proponents of KIPP often argue not that they are not just an improvement, but that they are the ANSWER--that they are closing the achievement gap for their students. I wouldn't go that far, and I haven't seen evidence that convinces me that it is so.

What would that evidence look like? When KIPP teachers and principals send their own children to KIPP schools, then I will know that the education is truly equal.

In the meantime, I do not buy that low income children of color need a style of education that is vastly different than affluent children. I do not buy that high teacher turnover is okay for some kids and not for others. And I do not buy that a single standardized test score is evidence of equal education and equal achievement.

Anonymous said...

Clearly, before anyone makes sweeping, generalized accusations about a nationwide network of schools as derogatory as "test prep, test prep, test prep" every person interested in this topic and its relation to KIPP should actually talk to a KIPP school leader and visit a KIPP school. Short of doing that, regardless of how much you read or how many degrees you have, you have no basis for your comments.

malpalus said...

I have a quick question. I am unclear of how these KIPP schools are run as a whole: are they all under a KIPP "umbrella" so-to-speak, or is each one started and run according to their own policies? I ask because I have been to one that was really incredible and did a good job to incorporate culturally responsive teaching practices into the curriculum, including during test prep, which I think is VITALLY important in the success as students. I fully support any school that can help students balance their home cultures and the rigors of the testing world they are held accountable in. (I would like to throw out that the one I observed at had the highest scores, not only in the district, but the second highest in the county. As we know, scores aren't everything, so I should tell you that the activities and discussions I observed in the classroom were phenomenal as well). However, it appears that they may not all do this, according to the "test, test, test" quote. What are some experiences, maybe from some KIPP teachers, who probably know better than most of us what the true curriculum and experience is like?

malpalus said...

In response to the anonymous posting above, please know that I was talking about schools in general, not specifically KIPP schools. Understand that I have spent the last year teaching in school where culture was ignored and behavior problems were high with academic performance low, so this is the mindset I'm coming from. I meant no offense to KIPP teachers...