When it comes to KIPP (the Knowledge is Power Program), what’s not to like? Dedicated teachers start their days early and work late. There are Saturday classes much of the time, as well as summer school for middle school students. All this professional drive and extra class time exemplified by the winning motto, “Work hard. Be nice” — have helped explain KIPP’s extraordinary success with low-income students.
The problem isn’t holding KIPP up as an example. It should be applauded, and schools should explore many of the policies and practices that have made it a winner. But when KIPP is used to denigrate regular public schools and minimize the challenges they face in educating disadvantaged students — in a kind “They did it; why can’t you?” way — the discussion becomes hopelessly distorted and politicized.
The main criticism of this comparison is that it underestimates the degree to which KIPP draws the more motivated students and teachers into its competitive programs. Is it really accurate to equate the challenges facing KIPP’s 82 charter schools with those facing the vast majority of regular public schools serving disadvantaged students? In books like The Charter School Dust-Up: Examining the Evidence on Enrollment and Achievement, Richard Rothstein and other policy experts argue that it is not.