KIPP visitor's critique, KIPP leader's response
A reader signing in as "suegjoyce" recently posted a comment on this blog describing her visit to a KIPP middle school "in the Delta." KIPP is the Knowledge Is Power Program, the most successful charter school network in the country and the subject of my most recent book. I was pleased to see suegjoyce's comment, since I have been urging readers curious about KIPP to ignore the myths they read on the Internet and instead visit a KIPP school. The vast majority of people I have encountered online with negative opinions of KIPP give no indication that they have ever been inside one of those schools, so she was setting a good example.
She had some critical things to say. She was not specific about which KIPP middle school she visited, but only one has the word "Delta" in its title, the KIPP Delta College Preparatory School in Helena-West Helena, Ark. So I asked Scott Shirey, executive director of the KIPP schools in that area, to respond. Neither Scott nor I know how to reach suegjoyce, but if she sees this and has more to say, I would be delighted to post her thoughts prominently on the blog.
Scott broke down her post into its different parts, and commented on each. I would be very happy if more readers sent me reports of their visits to schools that we don't know enough about, either as comments here or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
suegjoyce: “Having heard so much about the success of Kipp schools, I visited one, a middle school in the Delta. This is what I observed and was told by students and staff. First, they take all students BUT if the students do not follow the rules, they are put out. I was told that the boot rate was 41% but I have not seen any official data. The kids who flunk out and misbehave go ... guess where? ... yep, the public schools.”
Shirey: While we have had high rates of attrition in the early years, they have stabilized over time.Last year our attrition rate was 17.6 percent, down 7.6 percent from two years ago. So far we have expelled less than one percent of students who have enrolled at KIPP. Expulsion is a serious matter, and requires a formal review with the board. We have had some of our greatest success with Special Education students and low performers, many of whom have been accepted to college this year.
suegjoyce: “Second, The longer days are not everyday and not for all students. Only students needing extra tutoring stay later and only a couple of times a week. Saturday mornings are for the same students.”
Shirey: We still offer an extended day, week and year at KIPP. Over time, we have modified our program to take into account students’ and teachers’ needs. We dismiss at 4:00 each day because of our long bus routes and because our kindergarteners now ride the buses as well. Teachers are available 4:00 to 6:00 and beyond to tutor students who need even more time. The earlier dismissal also offers teachers more time for planning. While Saturday school is mandatory for elementary and middle school students, it is optional for high school students.
suegjoyce: “They have another late day for a celebration. In the celebration, the kids who have done well receive rewards by 'buying' items with the 'dollars' they earned for being successful during the week during the week. They can save from week to week to get a really good prize.”
Shirey: This refers to KIPP’s paycheck and auction system. This is a well-established part of KIPP’s model, and is separate from the extended school day described above.
suegjoyce: “In the spring, for $100.00, kids have the choice of touring Atlanta, Washington, or camping out in Utah.”
Shirey: We do organize trips for students who earn enough ‘KIPP dollars’ to be eligible during the year. Our 5th graders travel to Washington D.C.; our 6th graders go to Utah; our 7th graders visit Boston, New York, and Philadelphia; and our 8th graders do a Civil Rights trip which includes Atlanta. In the early days, we covered all expenses for every student for these trips, but this proved to be too costly. Currently we ask families to contribute a nominal fee of $100, which is much lower than the actual cost. No student is excluded from these trips because the family can’t pay. For students whose families cannot afford the $100 contribution, we work with the families to set up a payment plan or waive the fee altogether.
suegjoyce: “Kids are drilled and tested over and over again with scores posted in hallway for all to see. ALL scores, good or bad.”
Shirey: We do have an interim testing program, and believe strongly in posting data, but this is only a small part of what we do. In addition to regular classwork, we have students engaged in arts activities, science labs, and Socratic seminars. As an example, our high school engineering class recently participated in a large competition. They took second place behind historic Central High in Little Rock, which has a student body about 20 times larger than ours.
suegjoyce: “Kipp is using a token economy, an old reward method that works well with some students, but not all. Since so many Kipp students are disadvantaged, this is a good motivator.”
Shirey: We use the paycheck system that was developed at the original KIPP Academies, and have adapted it for use at KIPP Delta with positive results. We recognize that no one system meets all the needs of every single student, so we continue to adapt our policies and implement additional strategies as we see fit. We do find that the paycheck system serves as an immediate incentive to students, especially when college can seem like a long way away. Parents also appreciate the paycheck, because it serves as a virtual ‘progress report’ on how their child is doing in school.
suegjoyce: “If the public schools could ditch all students who misbehave and fail academically, we could be a Big Success too!!”
Shirey: KIPP’s success is built on helping underachievers become overachievers. One example of many: one of our high school seniors entered our program as a fifth grader at the 19th percentile—a “failing” student. After eight years with KIPP, he was accepted to Vanderbilt University with a full scholarship, and will be attending there next year.
| March 31, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: KIPP Delta College Preparatory School, KIPP leader responds, KIPP visitor critiques school, suegjoyce
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