Thursday, December 01, 2005

Some thoughts on KIPP

Teaching in the 408 responds to another blogger's post about KIPP schools. I have such mixed feelings about KIPP. I respect their results - they certainly do get kids into good colleges. My principal's son went to a KIPP school in New York, and she found it a positive experience. The lessons and projects she described him doing certainly seemed like quality assignments. I have some concerns about the school culture, which (from what I've heard - I've never visited a KIPP school) sounds a bit severe, and chanting is not my thing, even chanting about high expectations and good behavior. But like I said, I've never seen that stuff first-hand, and my own school has, at my principal's urging, adopted some KIPP methods for ourselves (paychecks, walking in lines). Other teachers from my school who DID visit KIPP came back very, very impressed.

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?

13 Comments:

Anonymous Msss said...

I agree so strongly with you about how martydom is not a sustainable method of systemic change. I went into teaching after working at an educational reform org for 5 years, with the clear mindset that I was going to see if I could be a really good teacher WITHOUT being a martyr. Because, after all, there are over 75,000 teachers in NYC, and it's just not realistic to expect any measurable percentage of us to be martyrs. I HATE hearing those stories about those martyr-iffic teachers. I find it so patronizing. If New Yorkers really thought we were worth it, they'd put their money where their mouth is. Instead, they hear about the martyr, and think why can't all the teachers be like that? Record year on Wall Street, bankers earning upwards of 100% of their salary in bonuses, and my huge raise amounts to about $200/month.

Oh, and for the record, I really do love my job. I guess I just wish I didn't have to sacrifice so much to do it.

8:56 PM  
Anonymous Ms. J said...

This writing by both you and TMAO in the 408 is some of the most relevant and important I've read about the issue of school reform that relies on model programs based on funding from corporate charities, teachers working ungodly hours and lockstep precision. KIPP schools and others like them may produce decent results for SOME students, but they are utterly unsustainable on a mass scale and DO INDEED get our public officials (and we the people too) off the hook.

Teacher burnout is a huge issue; I had lunch today with a new teacher at our school who just moved over from a near-by charter high. I helped lure him (it was actually relatively easy...leaving his students mid-year was his only real concern) and we are thrilled to have him join us as he is a wonderfully effective teacher and has great rapport with at-risk kids. The reason he bolted: he knew if he stayed at the charter he would only last another year or two...the 6 day a week schedule was too much; his personal life was shot and he had no idea how he could ever start a family himself. You simply can't sustain a new generation of teaching professionals this way.

Oh yeah, like msss, I love my job too and know I'm pretty damn good at it. I have little patience for matyrs. Matyrs don't last; I'm a professional who plans to teach for the rest of her working life.

Thanks.

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Chris Lehmann said...

Just a fantastic, fantastic entry.

You hit at two huge points -- one, is the style of education working and two -- is the notion of the 80 hour teacher work week sustainable.

11:46 PM  
Blogger Tom Hoffman said...

I don't know anything about KIPP, but this resonates with my observations of a program we have here in Providence called The Met. The Met is in many ways the opposite of KIPP -- very unstructured and student centered. A rather brilliant design overall as far as I'm concerned, but I've observed the same extreme expectations of staff time and commitment, and the same subsequent burnout and turnover.

If urban educational reform is dependent on chewing through highly educated and motivated Ivy Leaguers in cycles of four years or less, we're all in big trouble.

1:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See if you can contact Rafe Esquith who wrote "There are no Shortcuts". His program (one class in one school) and someone elses program (I do not remember who) were the inspiration for KIPP. Talk with him and see if he is still doing all he did in the book.

Just a thought --

Oh, I think there are probably as many styles of teaching and schools as there are kids. Some kids need a longer day, more structured environment because they get no support at home, others can thrive in a much less structured environment and the rest are probably in between. Kids learn differently -- just like adults. School should never be (but it is what public schools as a rule tend to be) one size fits all. Quality choice programs are vital to our kids success.

THanks!

Elizabeth

5:00 AM  
Blogger Carol said...

Great post! You present your ideas well.

7:13 AM  
Anonymous Norm said...

Great stuff on KIPP. Didn't they just announce they want to pay kids for results? To me that is a sign that the model is fraying at the edges.

Some of what you are saying touches on a number of issues we have touched on in the past. The "using" of young dedicated teachers who do not have families of their own yet. When they do and have to leave when school ends because they have children at home that puts them at "odds" with the fervent school culure. This particularly affects women who suddenly find their careers affected. With the loss of seniority transfers (sorry for bringing up the contract) which gave people a way out - to at least find a school closer to home - things will just get tougher. Next they'll tell us teaching in NYC is for people without families, which might just be happening.

8:45 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

You really nailed it here. You highlighted this, but I wanted to underscore that as much as I don't like schools like KIPP, there are aspects of their educational model that are extremely effective and ought to be reproduced across the board within public, community schools. Longer days, emphasis on outside learning, etc. I think charter schools have a place as places of experiment and innovation, and Districts must view them as such, and implement the ideas that work.

I just discovered that, in addition to the GAP, KIPP is also underwritten by Wal-Mart. That's pretty gross.

10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not know much about KIPP schools.

Thousands of teachers throughout NYC, (public, parochial, and
private school), put in 10+ hour days. I don’ think the KIPP teachers are as much of
an anomaly as people think. If anything, they have it easier because they get to see results from their hours of work.

I doubt that the KIPP schools have the most difficult students in the city. So what that there is a KIPP school in the South Bronx. There are thousands of good, hard working, honest families there.

Location of a school is not nearly as important as the ethics and educational standards of the families of the children that attend a school.

More questions about KIPP schools:

Is there an application process for students who wish to attend a KIPP school or is it just a lottery?

Do KIPP schools have to abide by all the rules and policies of the NYC DOE?

What is their teacher retention rate?

Where is the student responsibility for learning evident in KIPP schools?

Can the students from KIPP schools be ousted?

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I have always admired your dedication, this post has me worried. On Friday I left school at 5:30pm, so I am no slouch. However any teacher who (especially the teachers in your school that visited KIPP) are impressed with a program that makes teachers follow scripted lessons, work longer hours as well as Saturdays are basically saying to the politicians that this is the way to go. George W. always has the founders of KIPP at his conventions.

If KIPP works, then there is just one reason--THE PARENTS!!

What does KIPP do with children who don't perform or misbehave? Private schools throw them out and they wind up in the public school system. (Your teachers who visited the program may want to check on that.)

The students in my class who are working hard and appreciate school, even if they are struggling, are the ones that have strong parental guidance. These parents also support the efforts of the teacher. As a result, my struggling students improve.

KIPPS success has nothing to do with longer hours or working Saturdays. Yet you put a (?) next to "Families" I understand it is politically correct not to blame the parents hence your question mark.

I also have to wonder about any educational program that makes teachers work on Saturday. is Does KIPP hire Jewish teachers and make arrangements to cover their classes on Saturday? If not, so much for religious tolerance and family values.

I am sure the teachers who work for KIPP are dedicated and have families that they don't neglect.
I also hope that these teachers have the freedom to express and discuss any criticism that they may have with their administrators.

1:09 PM  
Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

This is absolutely on target. I remember in my early teaching days. I worked in a parochial school for $10 K a year, and the principal thought nothing about requiring me to be at school until 10 pm running bizarro parent groups about building self-esteem in a school where most of the kids were upper- middle class and driven to school in Mercedes and even a Rolls or two.

I actually had an assistant principal at another school tell me that I should be on yet another committee. When I pointed out that I was already on FOUR others, he told me that I had time because I "didn't have a family to care of." Mind you, I was making tens of thousands of dollars less than these other colleagues who were not expected to all of this off-the-clock work, so they received double the money for doing one-third of the work I was doing.

I was given the impression that my performance was lacking if I wasn't doing all this free work. This continued until I got "tenure," when it slowly started decreasing.

Some people take the meaning of "public servant" way too literally when they think of teachers.

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