By Nancy Thorner -
In sync with the idea of charter schools, and with an interest in education which befits my music education teacher background, I was intrigued when the Illinois Policy Institute e-mail invitation arrived which invited me to register for a Thursday, June 28, luncheon which would feature KIPP Co-Founder, Mike Feinberg, and KIPP Chicago Executive Director, April Goble, to discuss how KIPP (The Knowledge Is Power Program) Chicago is closing the achievement gap and bridging the digital divide.
Mike Feinberg anounced at the luncheon meeting that a new KIPP middle school, Chicago's 2nd, would be opening up in mid-September (a college prep school) on Chicago's West Side with a mission of creating a better world by setting a path to and through college. Kate Mazurek would be heading up KIPPs 2nd middle school.
To qualify as a leader (principal) of a KIPP school, Ms. Mazurek had to go through a year of training. As a leader she will have the freedom to fire and to hold teachers responsible and accountable to achieve great results.
Revealed was that 90% of the first two KIPP classes established in Chicago went to college, bucking the national trend of 41% college bound after high school.
Even more amazing is that the children enrolled in Chicago's KIPP classes -- drawn from low income areas who would otherwise be trapped into their own neighborhood school -- bucked the education achievement gap between the poor and the more privileged which nationally stands at 8% to 82% and even exceeded that of the privileged!
An admission was forthcoming that college wasn't for everyone, but KIPP schools do open up the door to those to attend college if they so desire.
Cited was that nationally 31% of adults in the U.S. have a college degree. Although this figure has not gotten worse, it has flattened out, while at the same time other nations are figuring out how to do much better Further noted was how unemployment is linked to a college education; unemployment never hit 5% among the college educated even during these tough financial times.
A video was shown to introduce the KIPP program as a national network of free charter schools which has now grown to 109 schools. 3,000 students are involved in the KIPP program.
Expectations are high. Extra time is spent on reading, writing,and math during a school day. Most KIPP schools runs from 7:30 am. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on select Saturdays (usually twice a month). There is also a summer school.
KIPP students are admitted through a lottery system, and, if accepted, the teacher chosen to meet with the family of the prospective student must sign a contract with the student and parent (called consumers) agreeing to fulfill specific responsibilities, promising that they will do everything in their power to help the student succeed and go to college.
KIPP schools belie the mindset of society that poor children cannot learn, but instead prove that learning can take place if the learning conditions exist to make it possible. Extraordinary teachers are hired with no limits placed on the learning process. There is one-to-one communication between a teacher and student which also includes the blending of great technology.
According to the New York Times in an article by Paul Tough published on November 26, 2008, "The most influential schools are run by KIPP." http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/magazine/26tough.html?_r=1&ei=&en=&ex=;5087=;1182142800=;f88b748bf061ed7e=&equals=&pagewanted=all
Back in September of 2010 the Chicago Tribune did a lenghty article about students who were attending KIPP Ascent on the city's West Side which at the time served 330 students in fifth to eigth grade from the Austin, West Garfield Park and North Lawndale neighborhood.
According to the artricle, the day at KIPP Ascent started at 8 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m. Class time also included one Saturday a month and lasted longer into the summer than traditional public schools.
The Tribune in highly praising KIPP Ascent had this to say:
"The halls are plastered with upbeat posters and university pennants. It's not just a pipe dream. Last year, every eighth grader was accepted to a colletge preparatory high school.
A typical day varies, depending on the grade, but a fifth-grade schedule might have three hours of literacy instruction (which also includes social studies and science), 80 minutes of math and 80 minutes of leadership development, which hones such skills as conflict resolution." http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-09-25/news/ct-met-charters-time-20100925_1-charter-schools-traditional-public-schools-charter-students <http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-09-25/news/ct-met-charters-time-20100925_1-charter-schools-traditional-public-schools-charter-students>
The largest number of KIPP schools are located in Houston,Texas where there are twenty schools with 9,000 students and a waiting list.
It was in Houston where co-founder, and luncheon speaker, MIke Feinberg, in 1994 developed KIPP Academy Houston into a charter school. His co-founder partner and teacher, Dave Levin, went on to establish KIPP Academy New York in the South Bronx.
In that the Houston Public Schools are losing students to the KIPP schools, the Houston Public Schools are waking up and are struggling to keep more of the market share of students by lengthening the school day and making improvements in teaching the necessary skills of reading and writing.
There is so much talk about school reform, but reform seldom happens from within the system. It must happen from the bottom up.
The KIPP schools and other charter schools are succeeding where the public schools have failed. Students in under served communities in Chicago certainly deserve a chance for success in college and in life.
In a city where only 55% of students graduate from high school, what if all children in Chicago could attend a school where college wasn't just a dream, but an expectation. What a wonderful transformation this would be for a city that is riddled with crime and gang activity. Multiply this accomplishment by children in many large and under served cities in America and the results would be mind-boggling!