Some thoughts on KIPP
My concerns are centered on the sustainability of the model. I get the sense (again, I can't back this up) that KIPP burns through teachers, because they commit to insanely long hours (and still have work to take home at the end of the day). KIPP students also spend long hours at school. The take-away message for school reformers is that society is not doing enough for children and families. One solution is for schools to fill in the gaps, providing everything from extracurricular programming to meals to medical care. That's a good model, and it seems to work, but I am worried about models where the teachers do most of this extra support. A more sustainable model would include a second (or third) shift of teachers, doctors, and support staff to meet the students' extensive needs. Otherwise, you're depending on the goodwill of extraordinarily-motivated teachers to provide what should, rightly, be provided by society, whatever the cost, and that is neither just nor scaleable.
(For similar reasons, I wish the press would stop writing so much about individual teachers who do absolutely everything for their kids, staying at school 18 hours a day, spending every Saturday at school, etc. I'm all for hard work and commitment, but that is no way to live and, more importantly, martyrdom is not a long-term solution to the problems in education today!).
I also know for sure that KIPP depends on lots of donations from corporations and individuals to make their special programming possible. Again, the take-away message is that providing music and art and trips to Washington, DC and Paris is beneficial to kids. But should the funding for these enrichment activities depend on philanthropy? I don't think so. If we truly value these programs, then we should fund them in a way that is dependable and doesn't require hours of networking and grantwriting on the part of school administrators. I think the KIPP model lets the government off the hook. They can point to a successful program without confronting the true cost of providing the same opportunities to every kid.
Finally, when we look at what seems to work at KIPP, instructionally and in regards to school culture, I worry that we might miss the point. Here's what I see behind KIPP's success:
- a shared (and very clear) vision, with all staff members (and families?) committed to the same goals and means for reaching them
- a school culture that is strong or tight enough to keep kids who have few (or no) safety nets from slipping through the cracks - when kids live in neighborhoods where teens get involved in gangs and some don't make it to adulthood, there are no second chances, so you have to be fairly strict the first time around
Do these factors require an exact replication of KIPP? I don't think so. I think many models could still share these characteristics while still being quite different from KIPP. I worry that people will adopt the obvious stuff without looking closely at why it works.
And while it is impressive to get kids into good colleges, and that is not something to take lightly, I think the jury's still out on how well the kids do once they get in. I'd like to see a study of how KIPP kids fare after they leave KIPP - can they make it after they leave that tightly-structured environment, or do they totally freak out (like some college freshman who are on their own for the first time)? My principal has said it's a mixed bag when I asked her this question. Does anyone know if there are studies following up on KIPP graduates?