Standards and common assessments were introduced 15 years ago. KIPP took the expectations expressed by state tests seriously and made numerous process improvements to the old model of school. At the middle school I visited Monday, 100% of the Kipsters had passed the state math test.
This KIPP school gives uniform weekly quizzes in every state tested subject and relentlessly evaluates the data from every classroom and student. The school only hires new teachers, trains them on data-driven instruction, and expects hard work (e.g., to go along with their bonus plan, a sign in the principal’s office read, “New Incentive Plan: Work or Get Fired”)
This is the best of the batch-print model. Kids sit obediently in rows in classrooms of 25 students. One teacher per subject per grade yields direct accountability for results. Their homegrown curriculum is mostly worksheets. Quizzes are paper based. Scores are tabulated on a spreadsheet. No fancy learning management system at work here—they just figure out what the state wants, teach it and test it. They are fantastic executors—a critical innovation in a sector that is commonly sloppy and uneven in delivery.
However, I came away from the visit feeling bipolar. This was obviously a great school and its students would be well prepared for high school. But I wondered if the state tests really defined optimal outcomes for students. And I wondered if the heroic effort model is scalable and sustainable. I also wondered, given the lockstep approach, about the kids in the upper and lower quartile. And while there was value in the homegrown approach, the thought of the principal building excel spreadsheets of quiz results seemed inefficient.
As someone thinking about opening schools in similar neighborhoods, I take their success seriously and want to learn everything I possibly can. But I can’t help but believe that there’s an even better way to meet the needs of every student with an engaging personalized curriculum in a technology infused school model that is scalable without philanthropic support. I guess we’ll know in a couple years.