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Providing Some Context

In what I would call a major conflict of interest, the book review section of the Sunday Post reviews the new book, Work Hard, Be Nice, written by Jay Mathews (the paper’s education reporter).

I haven’t read the book (it’s in my Amazon wish list) but from what I can tell from reviews like this, it’s another extended love-fest for KIPP, a chain of charter schools which have been more successful raising student test scores than most.

Their success with actually improving student learning is a matter of great debate.

Anyway, at least the reviewer included some context about KIPP’s success that probably managed to miss the final edit of the book.

Moreover, KIPP’s experience does little to rebut the longstanding social-science consensus that poverty and segregation reduce achievement because in many respects KIPP schools more closely resemble middle-class than high-poverty public schools. KIPP does not educate the typical low-income student but rather a subset fortunate enough to have striving parents who take the initiative to apply to a KIPP school and sign a contract agreeing to read to their children at night. More important, among those who attend KIPP, 60 percent leave, according to a new study of California schools, many because they find the program too rigorous. As KIPP’s reputation grew, it could select among the best teachers (who wish to be around high-performing colleagues), and it became funded at levels more like those of middle-class schools.

KIPP, as with many other school reform programs, is successful by focusing on a cherry-picked population.

It is not, as many of its fans claim, a model that can work for every student enrolled in a “failing” school, especially in high poverty areas with poor parent support.

I also wonder about finding enough “best teachers” who are willing to put in the kind of hours KIPP expects from their staffs.

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5 Comments

  1. I have to admit that I’ve not been brave enough to pick up this book. I’m afraid it would raise my blood pressure to much if I read it.

    I am reading Paul Tough’s book ‘Whatever It Takes’ about Geoffrey Canada’s work in Harlem. Aspects of it are frustrating me as well, but Canada’s take on KIPP is fascinating. He believes that his goals are very different from KIPP’s. He wants to ‘contaminate’ Harlem with hard work, positive attitudes, and good parenting. In that way he believes that it is possible for the entire area to improve. He believes that KIPP wants to isolate the best students in a bad neighborhood in order to get them out of there.

  2. Jay Mathews

    Come on guys. Read the book. I often have the same fears about stuff written by people with whom I don’t agree, but am often surprised. Let’s not turn this fine blog into another exercise in unexamined assumptions. And its only $10.17 on amazon.

  3. Tim

    Ok, I guess I need to bump Jay’s book up a little higher on my reading list. :-)

  4. I will read it. It’s not yet in the Fairfax County library system, but I’ll be watching for it. I make an effort to read things written by folks with whom I don’t agree. There is much for me to learn from them. I’ll be back with more comments after reading, I’m sure.

  5. Jay Mathews

    Thanks! And while I am here, I thought I might correct a tiny factual flaw in the otherwise brilliant review of my book in the Post on Sunday. The reviewer did what i sometimes do, read the material a bit too quickly. That 60 percent attrition rate is NOT for all KIPP schools in California, but for just the first class that attended just one school (KIPP Bridge in Oakland) which has since gotten much better at persuading students to stay. When I told the Book World folks that I was going to be a grown up and not take a peek at the review in our computer system before it ran, they laughed and informed me that they had erected long ago some kind of firewall that would have kept me from seeing it anyway. The story is the wall went up after another Post reporter, one of the really famous ones, checked out the Post review of one of his books in advance and complained about something. I am sure he was just striving for accuracy, as I would have if I had had the chance.

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