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Quoting Your Critics

As much as I rant about Jay Mathews, the education reporter for the Washington Post, I have to give him credit for not shying away from his critics.

This week he turned his Class Struggle column over to them, offering clips from some not-so-nice posts (with links to the full articles) about his recent cheerleading for KIPP schools.

That doesn’t mean I think he’s right about KIPP, charter schools, and his “challenge” index.

Just brave.

Spinning the KIPP Story

A few days ago Jay Mathews used his Class Struggle column for another KIPP fan club entry, as well another ad for his new book about the charter school program (and no, I haven’t read it yet).

I didn’t really find anything to write about from the post but someone else certainly did.

It is no secret that Mathews is a charter cheerleader and champion of KIPP schools. His columns and recent book have made that much clear. Opinions and a viewpoint are to be expected from columnists. However, [I] think an ethical line is crossed when — as in Mathews “Turmoil at Two KIPP Schools” – that biased columnist leaves out crucial information while giving the appearance of examining developments contrary to his or her well-established positions. It is a line of trust that is broken and line between journalist and flack that is crossed.

That’s near the start of a long entry by Thomas Mertz on the blog Advocating on Madison Public Schools in which he deconstructs Mathews column.

He also includes a whole bunch of information about KIPP that I never seem to read in the Post, Mathews’ employer.

If you’re at all interested in the legendary KIPP magic, read Mathews column first and then follow it with Mertz’ rebuttal.

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.

Is This Anyway To Run A School?

Another favorite education reform program of the last few years is KIPP (knowledge is power program) and that’s the focus of the Class Struggle column this week (he also has a couple of books about the program coming).

KIPP focuses on children from low socioeconomic neighborhoods in upper elementary and middle school and, as Mathews points out, they’ve had a pretty good record of improving student test scores.

But there’s really nothing different to the way they achieve their success. The curriculum and classroom processes KIPP uses are very traditional. They simply require the kids to spend more time immersed in it.

Despite that, there is much to be admired in what is being done in the program, especially how they’ve been able to help inner city kids. But is this a model that can continue to be replicated?

Many education experts wonder if KIPP will be able to find enough principals and teachers with the energy and dedication to work 9 1/2 -hour school days, plus every other Saturday and three-week summer sessions.

The KIPP administrators are trying some innovative ways of helping their teachers avoid burnout but in the end, there won’t be many people who will last long in such a high pressure, low paying environment.

However, the bottom line to all this is that there really isn’t anything revolutionary about KIPP.

Isn’t this just another example of trying to “fix” American education by tweaking the same old structure and doing it on the cheap?

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