Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Response To My Entry About Kipp

I received a thoughtful and informative response to my entry, earlier this week (here), about Sara Mosle's review/critique of the KIPP schools.

I am hoping this person does not mind my highlighting his/her comment (I assume not, since he or she posted it?) - here is an excerpt from the response:
Wanted to chime in quickly to clear up something that was - and there's really no other way to put it - simply wrong in Mosle's Slate article. Full disclosure - I teach at a KIPP School in Newark.

You write "Mosle claims that KIPP has intentionally limited the number of its schools in most cities (typically, opening just one school in each city) so that it can dramatically highlight the performance of students in its schools versus the performance of students in traditional public schools in the same city."

Ms. Mosle simply didn't do her homework, and she misunderstands the history and structure of KIPP. Until recently, 'KIPP' as one entity didn't really exist. KIPP's early growth was largely decentralized, and driven by school leaders. If you were interested in opening a KIPP school, you got in touch with KIPP, studied the practices of the existing schools, and replicated them in the city you were in. It was entirely bottom-up, not top-down.

Now, if we have an economy of scale problem, it is that KIPP is being *prevented* from clustering and growing in the way that Mosle would like to see. I can't stress this enough - in New York there is a charter cap, which has stopped countless new charters from opening, and in many other states the main impediment to opening more KIPP/KIPP-like charters is the application process.

But don't take my word for it - do a simple search for KIPP and "clustering" and you'll see that Ms. Mosle is wildly off base. To be real, I'm sort of astonished that the editors at Slate green lighted this article without doing some basic fact checking. There are certainly problems associated with scaling the network, but the desire to do so is not one of them.
After receiving this comment, I read the 2006 Education Week article to which the commenter referred me. It's called "KIPP Schools Shift Strategy for Scaling Up" and is here.

According to this article, KIPP has had a strategy of opening multiple schools in certain urban areas:
"'You’re going to see geographic concentration be the center of our growth strategy,' said Richard Barth, KIPP’s chief executive officer...

Although KIPP officials emphasized that they remain committed to supporting all existing KIPP schools, the foundation is now starting to focus its school growth on the cluster model. KIPP officials named several communities where they are looking to grow clusters of schools, from Philadelphia and Denver to San Antonio and Chicago. The first cluster, now with four schools, is in New York City."
This is interesting - the Education Week article contradicts Mosle's premise that there's an effort to limit the KIPP presence in particular cities -- at least as of 2006, the organization was aiming to do the opposite via the cluster concept.

The Ed Week article also gave me additional insight into what exactly it means to "be" a KIPP school:
"The KIPP Foundation licenses its name to independently run schools, or clusters of schools. It recruits, trains, and supports principals as they open and run schools. The foundation may revoke the KIPP name if it is dissatisfied with a school’s quality and fidelity to the model."
This model could be tricky, since it depends on oversight of the individual schools by an outside body (and since outside oversight is an analog to traditional school system bureaucracy, which the charter school philosophy criticizes as misguided (at least in some respects?)).

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