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KIPP: To Infinity and Beyond!

Posted by DK on November 29, 2009

For those of you that have read Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, you probably remember a section in the book that describes a longitudinal study of student performance in Baltimore schools. It finds that the achievement gap can be explained largely by learning that occurs outside of school during the summer. Gladwell then segues to a description of KIPP charter schools that offer a longer school day and a highly structured learning environment.

I had an opportunity to visit a KIPP charter school recently. Here's an example of a sign over the entrance:

KIPP's mission can be achieved if we:
Care more than others think is wise.
Risk more than others think is safe.
Dream more than others think is practical.
Expect more than others think is possible.

Although I visited on a day when most of the classes were taking practice exams (meaning I did not get to see the teachers in full swing), it is clear that KIPP is run differently than the primary schools I attended as a child. The hallways are covered with the names of various colleges, and each class is identified by its expected college graduation year. Details like these make it easy to see the focus on continuing education without even seeing the students. The students themselves walk silently through the halls, but not in a creepy, oppressed, Oliver Twist way.

Now don't get me wrong, kids are kids. They like to test the rules and see what they can get away with. The kids at KIPP are no different. Nevertheless, the techniques and structure provided by KIPP make for a much different classroom experience than many of their urban counterparts. I took part in one of the most organized fire drills I've ever seen, and I am including drills experienced in the office as an adult. In the classroom, it appears that students are constantly 'tested.' They begin the day doing various exercises (e.g., world problems, math, writing). All of their work is saved in binders that can be reviewed at any time. Again, I'm sure there are other interesting techniques that I missed because of the practice exams being administered. It was clear, however, that all the students were applying themselves.

KIPP has gained some high profile exposure over the past few years. Aside from a highlight in Outliers, Bill Gates also used KIPP as an example in his TED presentation last year.

The main question most probably ask is "is the KIPP model scalable?" KIPP appears to be in growth mode, opening a high school in NYC and looking to grow nationally as well. As a result, it is adopting a shared services model to improve the efficiency of school operations. I'm sure someone has a well-argued answer to this question. I just have to find it!


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