The KIPP model goes to college

The City University of New York’s experimental New Community College, which will have more resources, structure and paternalism, resembles the KIPP model for middle schools.

KIPP = Nazi Germany?

In musing about democracy on Bridging Differences, Deborah Meier equates KIPP and other “no excuses” schools with Nazi Germany‘s schools.

What troubles me most about the KIPPs of the world are not issues of pedagogy or the public/private issue, but their “no excuses” ideology implemented by a code that rests on humiliating those less powerful than oneself and reinforcing a moral code that suggests that there’s a one-to-one connection between being good and not getting caught. It tries to create certainties in a field where it does not belong. . . . Life is never so simple that we can award points for “badness” on a fixed numerical scale of bad-to-good. As we once reminded colleagues, Nazi Germany had a successful school system—so what? I’d be fascinated to interview some KIPP graduates to learn how its work plays out in their lives.

KIPP schools don’t suspend students for misbehavior or send them out of class. Instead, they sit in a separate area with the school polo shirt inside out until they’ve apologized to their teacher and classmates and the apology has been accepted. I assume that’s what Meier means by humiliation.

The moral code that equates “being good and not getting caught” baffles me. What is she talking about?

Life is not simple, but surely it’s possible for teachers to award merit or demerit points to students for good or bad classroom behavior without turning into Nazis.

After all, very few schools try to operate as democracies.

K-8 charters show reading, math gains

Charter elementary schools outperform traditional public schools in reading and math and charter middle schools do better in math, according to The Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement, an analysis of 40 high-quality studies by economists Julian Betts and Emily Tan of the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE).  Overall, the gains are “modest but positive.”

Middle-school reading scores and high school math and reading were about the same.

Charter school effects vary dramatically, the meta-analysis found. Urban charter schools perform better than suburban or rural charters, especially at the middle and high school levels. In particular, Boston charter schools performed significantly better than traditional public schools; New York City charters also showed strong gains.

KIPP  middle-school students showed “significant and large improvements in both math and reading.”  A student who started at the 50th percentile could expect to move to the 59th percentile in math and the 54th percentile in reading in a single year.

Kindergarteners at the keyboard

Kindergarteners spend an hour at the computer each day at KIPP Empower School in Los Angeles, writes Jill Barshay for the Hechinger Report. The “blended learning” experiment has worked so well, it’s spreading to other KIPP schools.

While 14 students play learning games on computers during two half-hour periods, the teacher works with the other 14 students in the class.

Principal Mike Kerr says 95 percent of his kindergarteners scored at or above the national average in math after the first year, while 96 percent scored at or above it in reading. Nearly all KIPP Empower students come from low-income families: Only nine percent arrived in kindergarten ready to read, according to a pre-reading test. By the end of the year, 96 percent of kindergarteners reached the proficient mark on the same test, Kerr says.

Computer time shouldn’t replace “active, hands-on, engaging and empowering” activities with “electronic worksheets and drill and practice,” says Chip Donohue, director of distance learning at the Erikson Institute in Chicago.

Each day, KIPP’s technology instructional assistant, Elisabeth Flottman, collects data from the educational software on each student and gives the information to teachers.

The software can report, for example, if a student has been struggling with beginning sounds, ending sounds or blending sounds. This can help the teacher zero-in on individual student needs. It also reports if a student sat idly at the computer for an extended period of time.

There isn’t much good learning software for kindergarteners, says Kerr.

Are poor kids failing our schools?

“Are poor kids (especially poor black and Latino kids) failing our schools, or are schools failing our poor, minority kids?” asks Whitney Tilson in the Huffington Post. It’s hard for schools to make a difference for children from troubled communities with poorly educated parents, he concedes.

In fact, if I could fix either all of the parents (broadly defined, meaning ending childhood poverty, making sure every child had plenty of books and both parents in the home, etc.) or all of the schools in America, I’d choose the former in a heartbeat. But I’m not sure it’s possible to fix the parents — and I know it’s possible to fix the schools.

Disadvantaged children will do as poorly as their parents if they attend “mediocre (or worse) schools,” Tilson writes. But “a high-quality school with excellent teachers” can improve life outcomes for many.  He’s “visited over 100 schools that are generating extraordinary academic success with the most disadvantaged children” and serves on KIPP‘s New York City board.

How do KIPP and a handful of other (mostly charter) schools succeed with the same students who are failing in regular public schools?

  1. They identify and train top-notch school leaders who are empowered and held accountable for building outstanding schools.
  2. The school leaders focus on recruiting, training, motivating and retaining top teachers.
  3. There is an extended school day and school year (KIPP students get 60% more class time than they would in regular public schools).
  4. There is an intense focus on character (as discussed in this recent NYT Magazine article). One study showed that grit and determination were twice as powerful as IQ in predicting life success. At KIPP, work hard, be nice, there are no shortcuts, we’re climbing the mountain to college, etc. aren’t just slogans.

It’s very hard to change the life prospects of disadvantaged children, Tilson writes. But it can be done.

Lots of failure, little effort to learn from it

John Thompson writes about “no excuses” schools after reading Paul Tough’s New article, What if the Secret to Success is Failure? Tough describes how KIPP co-founder David Levin tries to teach “perseverance and empathy” as well as academic skills.

In inner city schools, there is plenty of failure but rarely is there an effort to cultivate grittiness, resilience, and skills for rebounding from failure.

High-challenge schools have imitated the easiest of Levin’s methods by putting up signs saying “Whatever It Takes!” and “Failure is NOT an Option!” Thompson writes. They forget Levin’s concerns about the “socio-emotional aspects of learning.”

Here’s the model:

First, principals and teachers who supported Levin’s vision would start by calling a faculty meeting and proclaiming an unflinching focus on instruction, as well as a system for providing remediation. . . .  a system of rewards and punishments for students and teachers, along with additional paperwork would be announced.

. . .  at first, these initiatives always worked pretty well, and often they were spectacular successes. After a few weeks, however, the issue for teachers would become the minority of students who failed to comply.

By October, teachers push loudly for consequences. Faculty meetings degenerate into shouting matches. Eventually, complaints about students’ behavior are labeled “excuses.”  If the principal tries to send the worst discipline problems to alternative schools, they’re sent back quickly.

Thompson wonders what could have happened if the system had tried to teach perseverance and empathy.

What if the failure to meet classroom behavioral standards had not been dismissed as the teachers’ failures with classroom management? Think of the difference it would have made if educators in neighborhood schools had the ability to draw a line and enforce standards. Then, the failure of a student to control his or her behavior could have become “a teachable moment.” We could have helped students develop the resilience required to be a good citizen in class.

“Had we been just as serious about teaching students to be students as we were about teaching subject matter, could we have avoided our reform wars?” Thompson asks.

True grit

What if the Secret to Success Is Failure? asks Paul Tough in the New York Times Magazine. Both Dominic Randolph, principal of the elite Riverdale Country School in New York City, and David Levin, superintendent of KIPP schools in New York City, are trying to teach character, the “essential traits of mind and habit” that lead to success in life. It’s more of a challenge for Randolph because private school parent don’t see the need.

 “Whether it’s the pioneer in the Conestoga wagon or someone coming here in the 1920s from southern Italy, there was this idea in America that if you worked hard and you showed real grit, that you could be successful,” he said. “Strangely, we’ve now forgotten that. People who have an easy time of things, who get 800s on their SAT’s, I worry that those people get feedback that everything they’re doing is great. And I think as a result, we are actually setting them up for long-term failure. When that person suddenly has to face up to a difficult moment, then I think they’re screwed, to be honest. I don’t think they’ve grown the capacities to be able to handle that.”

Both men met in 2005 with Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Learned Optimism, which helped establish the Positive Psychology movement. Seligman showed them his new book (with Michigan Psychology Professor Christopher  Peterson), Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, a “manual of the sanities.”

Seligman and Peterson consulted works from Aristotle to Confucius, from the Upanishads to the Torah, from the Boy Scout Handbook to profiles of Pokémon characters, and they settled on 24 character strengths common to all cultures and eras. The list included some we think of as traditional noble traits, like bravery, citizenship, fairness, wisdom and integrity; others that veer into the emotional realm, like love, humor, zest and appreciation of beauty; and still others that are more concerned with day-to-day human interactions: social intelligence (the ability to recognize interpersonal dynamics and adapt quickly to different social situations), kindness, self-regulation, gratitude.

These strengths represent a reliable path to “a life that was not just happy but also meaningful and fulfilling,” they wrote.

Eventually, Randolph and Levin developed a shorter list: zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity.

One of Seligman’s graduate students, Angela Duckworth, a former teacher who’s now a psychology professor, focused on two key traits: self-control, which is essential to achieve basic success, and grit, which is needed to excel.

Levin had seen the first KIPP grads go off to private and parochial high schools; most went on to college. But those who persisted in college were not necessarily the top students academically.

. . . they were the ones with exceptional character strengths, like optimism and persistence and social intelligence. They were the ones who were able to recover from a bad grade and resolve to do better next time; to bounce back from a fight with their parents; to resist the urge to go out to the movies and stay home and study instead; to persuade professors to give them extra help after class.

KIPP’s New York City schools now integrate discussions of character traits into lessons and issue a character report card that’s used for parent-teacher-child discussions.

But Riverdale’s character education remains focused on being nice to others. Randolph worries that his students think success is guaranteed.

“The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure,” Randolph explained. “And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.”

If you read my book, Our School, (which you should), you’ll encounter the Spanish version of grit, ganas. Downtown College Prep, a charter high school in San Jose, recruits underachievers from low-income and working-class Mexican immigrant families. They need a lot of ganas to make it to college and even more to make it through. Many in the first graduating class struggled academically in college, counselor Vicky Evans told me. But they weren’t discouraged.  “They know what it’s like to start a new school and get hammered. They can handle failure. They’ve done it and survived.”

Magdalena Villalvazo gave the commencement speech for the first graduating class, recounting all the challenges they’d faced. “Slowly, our fears became our strengths,” she said.

Houston schools try charter ideas

Houston’s Apollo 20 experiment is trying to improve low-performing schools by  using successful charter schools’ tactics, reports the New York Times.

Five policies are common to successful charters, says Roland Fryer, an economist and head of Harvard’s EdLabs, who advised Houston.

. . . longer days and years; more rigorous and selective hiring of principals and teachers; frequent quizzes whose results determine what needs to be retaught; what he calls “high-dosage tutoring”; and a “no excuses” culture.

The Apollo schools have a longer school day and year, though not as long as KIPP schools.

Lee High School hired 50 full-time math tutors, who are paid $20,000 a year — under $14 an hour — plus benefits and possible bonuses if their students do well.

Lee High’s new principal, Xochitl Rodríguez-Dávila, described a torrent of challenges, including the exhaustive review of transcripts and test results to organize class schedules and tutoring for 1,600 students; persuading parents to sign KIPP-style contracts pledging that they will help raise achievement; and replacing about a third of Lee’s 100 teachers.

“Teachers by far have been the biggest struggle,” said Ms. Rodriguez-Davila, 39, who previously had been a middle school principal.

In faculty meetings, she said, some people insisted that Lee’s immigrant students would never master biology or physics. Other veterans, though, told the complainers to stop belly-aching and get on with the turnaround.

Lee High’s gains pushed the school into the “acceptable” category after years in “unacceptable.”  Overall, five of the nine Apollo schools moved up.

 

KIPP on college completion

One third of KIPP’s middle-school graduates go on to complete a bachelor’s degree. That’s a tad higher than the national average and much higher than the average for the low-income black and Hispanic students that KIPP educates. But it’s much lower than KIPP’s goal. KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth tells Rick Hess what the 99-school network is doing to meet the college completion challenge.

The number one thing is academic rigor. We’ve committed to going kindergarten through twelfth grade in KIPP schools across the country. The original cohorts that we just [reported upon] only got fifth through eighth grade. So [we're going to] start with our kids earlier and stay with them longer. The second thing is we’ve got to do a much better job of finding the right match when it comes to college. We are sending too many of our kids off to campuses that have low graduation rates. . . . one of the simplest and clearest things we can do is to form partnerships with colleges that are doing a better job of not just taking kids, but seeing that they finish. We also think we can do a better job of making sure our KIPPsters are better aware of the financial costs of college and are preparing for that. It is pretty clear that as the original KIPPsters went off to high school, they weren’t sure what it was going to take from a financial standpoint to get to college. We’re piloting a match savings program, so for every dollar a family commits, they can get a match dollar.

KIPP is partnering with  the University of Chicago on a financial literacy program to help families plan for college costs.

The network also hopes to start 25 pilot programs on college campuses to help first-generation students cope with choosing the right classes, financial aid and other demands. In addition, KIPP will strengthen counseling to encourage more KIPPsters to choose the same colleges, so they can support each other.

KIPP, which started as fifth-to-eighth-grade middle schools, now has 15 high schools and is building more.  “We sent a lot of our kids to high schools that we thought would keep the progress going and they didn’t.”

KIPP is rethinking its academic program, Barth says.

As we’ve gotten into the high school business ourselves, there’s been a really big push on writing, which we think is a proxy for critical thinking skills. And we’re trying to learn how to let go of the supports and scaffolding [so as] to let kids be more responsible for decisions on their own. Our middle schools are highly structured, and as we’ve gotten into high schools, we’ve realized we have to prepare them for a world with far less structure. We’ve got to get better at that.

The difference between “to college” and “through college” is huge, Barth says.

This is a challenge facing all the college-prep charter schools that focus on low-income, minority, first-to-college students. It’s easy to get graduates into college because so many aren’t selective. It’s very hard to get students to a college degree. In addition to strong academic preparation, they good work habits and time management skills, financial literacy and the kind of support that college-educated parents can provide to their kids. The school in my book and other college-prep charters now ask their counselors to work with graduates (usually via e-mail) to help them cope with college challenges.