Sunday, April 07, 2013

Who Attends KIPP's Schools, and Why

Elliott Witney, a former leader of a KIPP charter school, claims,
Finally, I want to address your question of whether or not KIPP leaders send their children to KIPP. The answer is yes, absolutely, they do. But KIPP's mission is not educating the children of their leaders, but educating the children of their communities. KIPP's #1 Essential Question is, Are we serving the students that need us? With hundreds of families on waiting lists at KIPP schools across the country, the focus is on making progress toward that goal.
I have a few problems with that statement. First, KIPP uses the term "leader" pretty loosely, and it's not clear if the statement relates to categories of worker who would normally be regarded as teachers, school principals and school administrators. I would like to see Witney give his statement some meaning - break down "leaders" into meaningful categories, and tell us what percentage of them have children and, of those, what percentage of the children actually attend KIPP schools. Please note, I have no problem with KIPP teachers taking the position that I would expect most middle class parents to take - that KIPP schools follow a model and offer an experience that is inferior to that available to their children in their own, local schools - but to the extent that Witney is suggesting that KIPP teachers and administrators believe KIPP to be an appropriate or superior choice for their own children I would like him to substantiate his claim.

Second, doesn't KIPP take the position that children are children? That it's not a question of community or home environment, but what the school can offer any child from any background? If so, why cavil with a statement like, "KIPP's mission is not educating the children of their leaders"? What is different about the children of KIPP leaders? If there are significant differences between the children served by KIPP and the children of KIPP leaders, what are those differences and how do they play out in an educational environment? If there are no significant differences, why make the statement?

Similarly, when Witney speaks of KIPP Schools "educating the children of their communities", how is that relevant? Is he stating that the KIPP model is tailored to a certain type of community, and would be unnecessary or perhaps even harmful in other communities? If so, what are the elements of a community that make the KIPP approach appropriate or desirable, and what are the elements of a community in which KIPP would not bring anything to the table or would be inferior to the presently existing options?

What are the factors that, for a given child or community, translate into what Witney describes as a "need" for KIPP? The thing is, we know the answers, or at least what KIPP and its backers implicitly believe to be the answers , so why is it so difficult for them to state those answers out loud?

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