Sunday, October 05, 2008

Surprise. KIPP suffers from the same problems as everyone else.

I've been interested in the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) model of schools for a few years now, actually since reading Joanne Jacobs (link right) book Our School, which has a philosophy much like KIPP schools.  I liked the book overall, although I had problems with the image it generalized with regards to public school teachers.  KIPP has long been the darling of various media outlets and charter advocates because it manages to get students with low socio-economic status to score very well on standardized tests at the primary grade levels, and the program helps motivate kids towards a college prep environment.  What those same advocates don't like to admit is that the KIPP program suffers from the same problems as public schools; secondary school student achievement, discipline, and teacher retention.  A study was released recently that evaluated the KIPP program and came up with some very interesting results.

1.  5th and 6th grade KIPP kids are doing much better than public schools on the tests.  In fact, statistics show that up to 40% higher scores were received at KIPP, proof that this is a serious improvement that should be looked at by other institutions.

2.  Student attrition before the end of 8th grade is an incredible 60%.  This answers quite a few questions regarding whether the mighty KIPP can all of the sudden hold sway over the elephant that is the Great American Teenager.  It also explains some of the secondary test results, which may be inflated because some of the lower level students are gone by high school.

3.  Teachers are usually from high end colleges.  Personally, I find little difference from a teacher that has a degree from Stanford versus someone that has a degree from Sacramento State.  Subject matter competency only goes so far when dealing with high school students and learning the in's and out's of a classroom isn't something that any college will prepare you for.

4.  Teachers are leaving KIPP.  Up to 50% of all teachers leave KIPP for some other function.  Teachers also report an average 65 hour work week.  Welcome to the profession.  I spend about 45 hours a week actually in my classroom, and that doesn't include basketball, Model UN, or grading papers evenings and weekends.  I would agree with 65 being the regular hours.  During basketball season, I pull way more than 65. 

5.  KIPP schools are struggling to operate at current funding levels.  That's interesting because when public schools state that they are struggling, it's called whining.

6.  KIPP students go to school 9.5 hours a day.  Public school students aren't forced to attend classes above the required credits, and parents often don't want them to.  Students, especially high school level, are encouraged to get a job when they are of age.  Most Seniors don't attend school more than 4 hours at Ukiah because they don't feel that they need to when they are finished with credits.

The teacher retention piece is what is fascinating to me because when you read the report, you find that the young teachers who are quitting are simply saying that the workload is much too demanding to take on year after year.   

The time is really challenging. I am coming up against a wall of how much I can give. It is getting
to be too much. This is not a place I plan to leave anytime soon. I just need to find a way to
balance my life. I definitely plan to see it through as far as possible. It is dear to me. I just need to
figure out how to make it work.

That comment comes from a teacher in the report.  It is not something that is unfamiliar to me.  I've heard this from young teachers everywhere that feel like they are giving up their lives to a profession that won't allow them to live otherwise.  And while I think higher pay is part of the answer (simple economic reasoning), the real issue is more along the lines of "is MORE teaching actually EFFECTIVE teaching".  The study showed that teachers at both KIPP and public schools spend the same amount of time in classroom instruction, but that KIPP teachers end up doing more outside of that instruction environment.  Yes, test scores for some grade levels is up.  But is it really working?  Teachers and students are leaving in substantial numbers.  Is that necessarily success?

Hopefully society wakes up sometime and realizes that it needs to work on the whole system of education, not just create a "different" model that does some things better, yet fails in other areas and disregards some of the essential issues within the problem.  Why not work on making education better for everyone?  Simply shifting valuable education funds to something else is definitely not working.  You know what does work?  Good academic institutions that have good leadership from the top down, regardless of whether or not they are charter or public.  I've been watching Michelle Rhee's reorganization of the Washington D.C. schools with interest, and I see it as a prime example of someone who is coming in, making the tough decisions and actually working towards creating a fine academic institution.  When the teacher's union comes in-between the implementation of progress, she ends up making them a professional offer that any good teacher couldn't refuse and puts the pressure on the union to concede, or decides that accountability is necessary and starts to clean house.  Oh look, a competent administrator who wants to pay teachers a lot of money, kick out teachers that suck, and expects that with that money comes actual education.  Looks real nice to me. 

And it isn't even a charter school.              

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