Saturday, September 08, 2007

Alternative thoughts

While we were at Dragon*Con (wow - it's a whole week ago, now!) there was a talk show on the local public television channel with some representatives from KIPP schools about how wonderful the whole Knowledge Is Power Program (I had to look that up) is. Over at, it says that such schools are "free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public schools."

First: the "free." KIPP schools have a longer school day, longer school week (four hours on Saturdays) AND a longer school year. That means a higher per-student cost. The website has a "Support KIPP" page that gives a list of donors. So apparently they've got some talented grantwriters; this is something that typical public schools could emulate. Interestingly, they say both that: "KIPP students are in school learning 60 percent more than average public school students, typically from 7:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on weekdays, every other Saturday, and for three weeks during the summer" and that "KIPP teachers typically earn 15 to 20 percent more in salary than traditional public school teachers for this extra time."

On the "bring KIPP to your area" page, the site mentions looking for communities who "have demonstrated the commitment and resources to support a number of KIPP schools within that community over time." This does not sound, to me, like "high quality public education for ALL children" (which is the caption below three little pictures at the top of each page).

Second: open enrollment. Anyone can apply; however, the schools have a limited number of spaces. Whether this applies to general enrollment or only to out-of-district applicants is not clear. Additionally, the fact that there is an application means that only students or families who CHOOSE to go to that school will possibly be enrolled there. KIPP administrators do not have to attempt to educate every student who lives in a particular area. Finally, while there is no information about disenrollment on the site (at least not that I could find), I have heard that KIPP will expel students who act out or do not maintain a strong work ethic. Thus, KIPP's failures are punted back to the district's other public schools, while the district does not have the option of puntint its failures over to KIPP.

Third: college preparatory. Most of the KIPP schools are middle schools; I really like their alumni program, which gives additional support to KIPP students in high school (if they do not continue in a KIPP high school).

Conclusion: KIPP schools do not serve all students. They accept students who have a high work ethic and strong family and community support. As a result, even though their students may not be currently successful, they have a fairly high potential for success. KIPP is able to serve these students very well. This shows the effectiveness of education that focuses on students who WANT to be educated.

I'd like to look at KIPP's teacher retention rates; it may actually confirm my thought that positive results are more likely to keep excellent teachers in the profession than anything else, since in looking at pay-for-time, KIPP teachers are LESS well-paid than teachers in regular public schools. The job's attraction is clearly billed as a greater possibility to make a difference.

Questions that remain: Is it wasteful to spend money on educating young people if they do not want to be educated? What should be done about them? What alternatives to traditional programs might be more effective?


Mrs. Chili said...

"Is it wasteful to spend money on educating young people if they do not want to be educated?"

This is a question that I struggle with ALL THE TIME. Working, as I do, in an open-enrollment community college, I'm astounded by the number of kids who, in one way or another, are paying for educations they don't seem to want. Apathy is in abundant supply in the halls and classrooms of TCC, and I often wonder what, exactly, motivates the obviously unmotivated to even show up. Example? I've got a student with a 21.3 average (yes, I typed that right - he's got a 21.3). Mathematically, I think it's impossible for him, with only two weeks left in the semester, to earn a passing grade, yet the boy still shows up to class.

I just don't get it.

(oh, and just as a coincidence, my word verification is "loesra" which, to my mind, sounds an awful lot like LOSER (or, as we say in New England, Loo-sah!). How appropriate.

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