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Class Struggle
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Posted at 09:50 AM ET, 04/19/2011

Finding common ground on KIPP

Oklahoma City teacher and author John Thompson, known on this blog as johnt4853, has a thoughtful post in the Huffington Post attempting to reconcile the pro- and anti-KIPP types that often pass through here.

I am a pro-KIPP person, and am mentioned favorably, as are the arguments of Gary Miron of Western Michigan University, whose recent mostly anti-KIPP report was analyzed here.

Thompson provides a good marker for a fair-minded view of KIPP’s place in our efforts to raise significantly the level of achievement for students from low-income families.

“I will never begrudge KIPP the praise that it deserves for the good it does for some students,” Thompson writes. “Neither do I begrudge the extra resources that KIPP gets from private donors. The problem is the claim that neighborhood schools could replicate those successes if we had higher expectations.. . . By pretending that KIPP serves our most vulnerable students, society is given an excuse for starving alternative services for our most traumatized kids.”

I agree that there are students KIPP is unable to help. The KIPP standards are too much for them, and they go back to their regular schools. Thompson accepts in his piece my view that they do this in spite of pleas from KIPP staffers to stay. Those teachers' experience is that the longer a kid and his family can be persuaded to stay, the better their chances of preparing for college and many choices in life.

I hope Thompson will refrain in future posts from citing Miron’s estimate of a 40 percent attrition rate for black males in KIPP. That is a shaky number, contradicted by more detailed research from the Mathematical Policy Research. Their data suggest the KIPP’s black male attrition rate is less than that for regular public schools in their neighborhoods. The 40 percent is better than the last deceptive number KIPP critics used to throw around, a much-out-of-date 60 percent attrition rate for Bay Area KIPP schools. But best to be careful with iffy numbers. That is my only complaint about Thompson’s piece, which is one of the most sensible things written about KIPP in some time.

My view is that KIPP, and the many schools organized like it with longer school days and careful selection and support of teachers, can make great strides for the millions of students in urban neighborhoods who are ready for a challenge in school. But they do not yet have a solution for the millions more who are not ready. Thompson is right to say they need more, including health, housing and job services that schools usually cannot provide.

I think our debate over these matters is corrupted by ignorant commentators who actually believe, and say out loud, that KIPP and groups like it have the problems of the inner city solved. I know of no one at KIPP who has ever said that. I know of no one on this blog who has said that. If someone posted a comment here like, “Why are you wasting your time with this drivel? Just build a thousand more KIPPs and we’re good,” they would be laughed off the page.

But some — including people running for high office — do occasionally utter such inanities. I appreciate Thompson pointing out that they are not the people who understand KIPP best, and not the people who argue its benefits here.

Thompson has it exactly right when he says, “KIPP is the answer for some students. But our toughest secondary schools need far more investments for our most damaged children if we hope to provide educational futures for them and their classmates. Why not give our neighborhood schools the same chances to help poor kids that we give to KIPP?”

Anybody disagree?

By  |  09:50 AM ET, 04/19/2011

 
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