Sep 1 2010

Knowledge Is Power-and So Is Ownership

This section was originally printed with Media’s Favorite School ‘Reformer’.

The national charter school network KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) is frequently cited by media as an example of the cure for what ails the country’s schools. Few outlets are more zealous in this regard than Newsweek, which makes it noteworthy that KIPP’s D.C. branch boasts as a boardmember Donald Graham, chair of the Washington Post Co., owners of Newsweek until August 2010. (Also on the 12-member D.C. board are David Bradley, owner of the Atlantic, and Suzanne Clark, president of the National Journal Group.)

Some of what Newsweek has had to say about the program their boss helps lead:

KIPP schools are mercifully free of red tape and bureaucratic rules. (Their motto is “Work hard. Be nice,” which about sums up the classroom requirements.) KIPP schools require longer school days and a longer school year, but their greatest advantage is better teaching.It takes a certain kind of teacher to succeed at a KIPP school or at other successful charter programs, like YES Prep. KIPP teachers carry cell phones so students can call them at any time. The dedication required makes for high burnout rates. It may be that teaching in an inner-city school is a little like going into the Special Forces in the military, a calling for only the chosen few.—Cover story (3/15/10)This issue cleaves the Democratic Party. On one side are Obama and the reformers, who point out that we now have a good idea of what works: KIPP and other “no excuses” charter models boast 80 percent graduation rates in America’s roughest neighborhoods, nearly twice the norm. On the other side are the teachers’ unions and their incrementalist enablers in the political class.—Jonathan Alter (11/9/09)

Whenever he gets depressed about education, [Bill] Gates says he visits one of the more than 60 KIPP schools nationwide, where the energy is palpable and the results irrefutable.—Jonathan Alter (12/15/08)

The irony is, we know what works to close the achievement gap. At the 60 KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools, more than 80 percent of 16,000 randomly selected low-income students go to college, four times the national average for poor kids. While KIPP isn’t fully replicable (not enough effective teachers to go around), every low-income school should be measured by how close it gets to that model, where kids go to school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and part of the summer, and teachers are held strictly accountable for showing student improvement.—Jonathan Alter (7/21/08)

Newsweek doesn’t really explain how a national program can be built around a “high burnout” job for a “chosen few.” Or why such a non-replicable program—that doesn’t actually “randomly select” students but requires them to find out about and enter a lottery, and to sign (along with their parents) a contract, requiring the kind of ongoing parental involvement many kids, unfortunately, can’t rely on—should serve as a standard. One imagines they don’t even ask themselves why only “low-income” children would benefit from a school day longer than most adults spend at work.