Sunday, March 22, 2009

KIPP: Margaret Wente and Education

Down in the states, they've created an educational program called "KIPP" (Knowledge is Power Program) and Margaret Wente wants you to know how wonderful it is.

She tells us that "Nearly 80 per cent of KIPP alumni - who are overwhelmingly black and Hispanic - go to college." Now I'll grant that getting 80% of a minority population in the United States in to post secondary education would be a wonderful achievement.

Unfortunately, KIPP does not come close to achieving this. What KIPP does is first weed out 40% of its population, preventing them from being "alumni" of KIPP. Of the 60% that remain, 80% go on to college or university. 80% of 60% is actually 48%. So it would be more accurate to say that "slightly less than half of KIPP students go to college or university".

On the good side, students are scoring well on standardizes tests. Margaret dedicates a large chunk of text to a set of claims in this regard. "Almost every KIPP school decisively outperforms its district", she says, failing to add the phrase "on standardized tests". Believe it or not, it's easy to have your school get good marks on standardized tests. You just drop the rest of the curriculum and do nothing but focus on the standardized tests. It's a very typical technique and it's ironically destroying education everywhere.

Now you might wonder why 40% of students drop out and a lot of the teachers "move on, too". That might have something to do with burnout. Students go to school for over 8 hours a day, are given homework every night, classes on alternating Saturdays and 3 weeks of school in the summer. Teachers are on call at all times of day, accessible to students by cellphone.

Of course you're going to do well on standardized tests. But you're also going to burn students out and make them hate learning. No wonder only half of them make it to college or university.

What is good about KIPP? Apparently the KIPP administrators have convinced the parents of their students that discipline is very important. They have created a culture of pro-educational behaviour that has been removed from a lot of other places in North America. If you can actually force students to pay attention, discipline those who don't and have parents who agree to that discipline, you can get a lot further in education. That cultural shift, more than the sweatshop mentality, is undoubtedly what is propelling KIPP students forward.

Yes, KIPP sounds like a wonderful, equalizing education system. But it isn't. It's just a sweatshop that makes children do well on standardized tests.

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Skinny Dipper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Skinny Dipper said...

I'm reposting this comment because the original had a serious error which changed the meaning of my text. Sorry for the lengthy comment

If you ever get a chance to read a book by teacher, Rafe Esquith, you will see his sweatshop model. I don't know if he is still teaching. When he write his book, he was a very dedicated teacher who put many hours into his work. He had his students coming to school on the weekend. He wrote that the students loved him when they were learning with him. He also wrote that many of the students hated him the year after. He doesn't clearly answer that himself. I would guess that his students missed out on a year of "education of life" where students get to learn by playing outside of school.

If a teacher spends weeks and months teaching their students how to write standarized tests, the students will perform better on the tests. Unfortunately, you are correct in that students do miss learning much of the curriculum other than what might be on the tests. Were I teach in the greater Toronto area, students are taught good thinking answers to comprehension questions that follow the EQAO standardized test model questions. They are taught how to understand certain questions by understanding key words such as list, compare, expand, and explain. There is nothing wrong with that. However, with students learning how to answer test questions throughout the year, they don't get a chance to explore and discover while they are at school.

At some schools, principals place extra resource teachers and educational assistants in grades three and six classes so that those students will learn better and eventually perform better on the EQAO tests. This also means that students in the other grades may be short a teacher or EA to work with them.

In grades one and two, students do get assistance from their teachers when they write in-class tests. When they get to grade three, they have to be trained how to write standardized tests without receiving any help from the teacher as the students are not allowed to receive any assistance from their teachers.

As for the teachers who work in a KIPP school, they are obviously working in sweatshop conditions. This means that they will burnout and seek employment elsewhere. I will guess that most of the teachers who are in the KIPP schools are recent graduates who are unable to get work at a public school. Their salary is probably on the lower end for teachers with their level of experience--even with merit pay.

Sweatshop schools are not ideal for students or teachers.

Anonymous said...

The post and comment here reveal an extreme ignorance of the facts of KIPP schools. First of all, KIPP schools teach a broad-based curriculum with time spent on all subjects. Whereas many public schools will skimp on everything besides reading and math, most KIPP kids have daily classes in science, social studies, writing, and music.

As to the comment above, it couldn't be further from the truth, particularly this part:

"As for the teachers who work in a KIPP school, they are obviously working in sweatshop conditions. This means that they will burnout and seek employment elsewhere. I will guess that most of the teachers who are in the KIPP schools are recent graduates who are unable to get work at a public school. Their salary is probably on the lower end for teachers with their level of experience--even with merit pay."

First, KIPP teachers most certainly work hard, but KIPP makes no attempt to hide this from the outset. You can read it on the website. The teachers work hard because they believe it is the best way to educate their students. Secondly, KIPP schools are very selective in hiring. If you aren't a very good teacher, you will not be hired. As for not being able to get a job at a public school, you clearly don't have much of an idea of what it takes to get a job in most urban American public schools (a credential and a pulse). At most KIPP schools, teachers are paid on the same salary scale as the local district, plus an extra percentage for the extra time they work.

Far from a sweatshop, KIPP schools are places where the teachers are committed to working hard to educate children and are treated and compensated well for it.

By the way, 99% of what I wrote in this comment could be easily found with a few google searches.

Anonymous said...

One more thing I forgot to mention. I've heard several commentators rail KIPP as "testing factories" or the like, none of whom have actually set foot inside a KIPP school. It always strikes me as racist that people's immediate conclusion when confronted with statistics that show poor, inner-city, students of color performing well on standardized tests, is that "they must spend all day teaching to the test." As if that's the only way "those kids" could do well. It's sickening. Try visiting one of the schools (or at least look at the website) before you jump to conclusions about what they do, and how.

Greg said...

Here are the facts from the article
1) 40% student drop out rate
2) teacher burnout
3) 8 hours of classes
4) Homework every night
5) Classes on alternating Saturdays
6) 3 extra weeks in the summer
7) Teachers on call on cell phones

That is a sweatshop. That is a recipe for students reaching college burnt out on learning.

The worst part is that all of that homework actually does very little besides help pass tests. Information absorbed that way doesn't stay in the brain. Otherwise I'd still be able to do calculus and quote formulae from my university days.

I suppose a better question is this: if every school in the U.S. adopted the KIPP methodology, how long would it be before we burned out all of the teachers?

Skinny Dipper said...

Thanks again for your post and coments, Greg.


Skinny Dipper said...

"A September 2008 study of five KIPP middle schools in the San Francisco Bay Area found that, as a group, they experienced much higher teacher turnover than the typical high-poverty urban school. In one school, 65 percent of the faculty left between one academic year and the next."

Greg said...

Thanks ... with a kid about to start school, it's become a recent obsession to see that he enjoys learning and sees it as something other than drudgery. I've been through that kind of nonsense at least once in my life and it was both awful and pointless.

Fan of Paulo Freire said...

Hi Greg

I'm so happy I found your blog, and I love this statement and if it's okay I will be using it alot!!
~~"measure of a society is not the wealth of its richest, but the poverty of its poorest. Simply put: we will all do better when we rid ourselves of ignorance and look out for each other".
I could not agree with you more!! That is so beautifully stated!!

I just spent the weekend with a so called "liberal" friend who is a total KIPP supporter. He really believes they are the answer to all societies problems and this style of school will fix everything. He is an ignorant, arrogant person, and I wish I would have asked him, if he had children, would he enroll them in a KIPP school. Or would he enroll his niece or nephew in a KIPP school, since he thinks KIPP schools are so great. I would actually like to ask that question to all KIPP supporters. I have been searching the web for information on KIPP'S curriculum and disciplinary policies, and from what I have found, it's a total sweatshop, militarization, and prison mentality directed at children.
~~Thanks Greg for your very insightful post and comments!!

Greg said...

Hey Fan,

I think it's more likely that those parents in question would want their kids in the overworked classes.

There's a theme there where a lot of people in North America feel that our schools aren't working our kids hard enough.

Once they put their kids in the sweatshop, they'll do everything they can - including their children's assignments - to prove that everything is okay.

Meanwhile, the kids will just be burning out.

Thanks for your comments.