If your parents are in the top quartile (wealth) in the US, there is an 80% chance you will go on to college. If your parents are in the bottom quartile, there’s an 8% chance.
But what if we found ways to change that? What if we found that a certain way of teaching could give kids born to the lowest quartile a 95% chance of graduating high school and an 87% chance to go on to college?
This is the record of KIPP, and as Richard Barth, CEO of the KIPP Foundation, told a group of us on May 22, it’s a record shared by some pockets of public schools and the best charter schools in the country. We had assembled because Westchester Community College offers a series of salons, where they bring the community into people’s homes to discuss literature, media, politics, sports, and arts with national figures.
How does KIPP achieve its results with at-risk students? Barth revealed that KIPP is predominantly middle schools, and the program features
- Curriculum that includes both character and academics
- High expectations for each child, that he or she will graduate and go on to college
- Schools days lasting from 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM
- Homework practically every night
- Individual support for any student struggling to learn
- High degree of autonomy for each school
- Training, coaching, and supervised teaching for new teachers
- Variety of assessments of teaching used to inform ongoing teacher professional development
- Compacts with parents that children will come to school every day with their homework completed
Other high performing schools outside of the KIPP system may have found other effective systems, but this is what has worked for KIPP. KIPP has 125 schools, reaching 40,000 students. KIPP’s growth goal is to double the number of students it serves, but that’s just a tiny fraction of the 55 million students in K12 across the US, or 31 million students in poverty (receiving free or reduced price lunch).
Barth asked the audience a question, “How many of the kids in this country woke up today and went to a school that gave them a shot to compete in today’s global economy?” After a pause, he answered, “1 in 11.”
He then pointed out, that while we would all like to change this immediately, no one knows how to do it; there is no magic pill. And even if someone did know what to do, we don’t have the systems or the resources to effectuate this type of change overnight. Barth proposed a more realistic goal: suppose we wanted to change this ratio to 1 in 3 students over the next ten years; wouldn’t that be remarkable progress and something more likely to be achieved?
Someone in the audience proposed that we look at the charter schools as education laboratories, learn what they do best and how they do it, and then figure out how to apply those lessons to public schools. She asked how KIPP was interacting with public schools.
Barth said that KIPP decided that they would focus their efforts and resources where they had enough control to ensure success. KIPP has conducted leadership academies, where principals or district administrators spend time in KIPP schools and learn KIPP methods, and these have had some success. In terms of KIPP directly working with public schools, the average superintendent lasts for only two years. If KIPP were to set up a program to mentor the public schools in a community, and new leadership came in, what are the chances that the program would continue? (I had the distinct impression that this was not a hypothetical situation, but that’s just a hunch.)
As with other charter schools, KIPP has two funding mechanisms. First, KIPP receives state and federal funds for each student, and those funds come from the same pool as public schools. Second, KIPP receives money from philanthropy, and has raised $195 Million since its founding in 1994. It’s clear that KIPP as an organization will not solve the educational problems of the country: they will not have the reach, their expenditure per student is not sustainable over 30 million students, and public schools do not have the flexibility to try some of their methods.
Yet, thousands of kids have been able to graduate high school and attend college because KIPP gave them the confidence, support, and tools.