KIPP or Knowledge is Power

The most common criticism leveled against the successful charter schools, including the Massachusetts network of "no excuses" schools, KIPP, and Achievement First schools, as well as a number of others, is that their impoverished, minority students at the start of their new school careers test out a bit higher than their peers remaining in the district schools, and even more significant they are said to have parents who are motivated to seek out the best possible school experience for their children. And that’s not fair! These critics pretend that the success of these charters is not meaningful because it simply follows from having found (selected) better students and more motivated parents to begin with. Who couldn’t do as well, they imply, given this above average student body?
This is the criticism that Richard Rothstein levels against the KIPP Schools in the book, The Charter School Dust-Up: Examining the Evidence on Enrollment and Achievement. Rothstein, a lecturer at Columbia University and a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, writes extensively about education and his writings most often, while admitting the existence of failed inner city schools, do not so much fault the schools themselves as the societal problems (poverty, inadequate health care, abusive family situations etc.) that the kids bring with them into the schools. The fault, dear Reader, lies not so much in the schools and students as in the communities where the kids live and where these "essential services" are sorely lacking. Now when the KIPP School takes these kids without essential services and brings their reading, writing, and math skills up to grade level or above, and the district school serving the very same population fails to do so, who is to blame and who is to be praised? Well we have already learned from reading Rothstein that the schools are not to be blamed when they fail, and when they succeed, as in the case of KIPP, are not to be praised because these kids were not, in spite of appearances, enough like the kids they left behind in order to justify the comparison. Their overall test scores were higher and their parents were, what, better parents? You don’t praise the schools whose kids have better parents.
So, what are we to make of all this? There are those, many of those at the Economic Policy Institute, who cry foul whenever people succeed without having begun the race from a level playing field. First make everybody the same, equal, and only then take the next step. In the instance of charter and district schools first make sure that the student bodies are exactly the same and only then arrive at any conclusions regarding the outcomes.
Well this will never happen. To change the outcomes the students, as well as the teachers, parents and the schools themselves, must also change. So it’s true as Rothstein et al. say. At the very beginning the charter school students are different. But the charter school requirements, what the charter school is, make them different. And if you want different outcomes this always has to be the case. You cannot take the students and the parents as they are, and leave them as they are and expect to make important changes in their lives. Inner city schools have been doing just this for generations and they have failed to raise the achievement levels of their students. Tell the students they have to work harder, and tell the parents they have to care about their children’s education, and do that from the very beginning. That’s what the KIPP Schools do, and that’s why their students are different. For that Richard Rothstein ought not to have blamed, but to have praised the founders and leaders of these schools.

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