On September 27, 2011, Brian Williams, news anchor for NBC, interviewed President Bill Clinton during an “Education Nation” event. The purpose of this interview was to hear what a past president thought about present day and future education in the United States.
During that interview, President Clinton mentioned that politicians and educators need to examine the various schools throughout the country that are meeting the needs of students, promoting success in learning, and solving the problems linked with our schools that are constantly discussed in Washington, D.C. One of the models Clinton mentioned was KIPP.
As one looks at the website for KIPP…the Knowledge Is Power Program (www.kipp.org), it can clearly be understood why this program would be an exemplary model for other schools. Each section of their website defines what the school offers students, what achievements have been accomplished by graduates of this school, and what the key ingredients are to insuring that every child receives the best education possible.
The history of KIPP helps others understand that success in schools is linked with passion for teaching. In 1994, “Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, launched a fifth-grade public school program in inner-city Houston, TX, after completing their commitment to Teach For America”. These two men believed that every child can learn regardless of their home environment, economical status, and individual abilities. What began as a dream within one school has developed into over 100 schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Presently, KIPP schools exist in Pennsylvania within Philadelphia.
What is especially interesting are the Five Pillars (http://www.kipp.org/about-kipp/five-pillars) around which the schools are focused. These include high expectations, choice and commitment, more time, power to lead, and focus on results. Out of those five principles, choice and commitment is one that should be examined closely by failing schools.
The philosophy at KIPP schools is that teachers, parents, and students are partners who are committed to excellence in education. This philosophy is so important that each partner signs a contract that states what the commitments actually will be. (http://www.kipp.org/files/dmfile/KIPP_Commitment_to_Excellence_Sample.pdf)
As one examines this contract, it becomes very apparent as to why these schools are successful. There appears to be no room for negligence…especially on the parts of the teachers and the parents.
KIPP founders and leaders believe that in order for students to be successful and reach their goals, which for this program involve every student graduating from college, teachers must be available to students. The contract actually states specific hours and the fact that teachers should be open to helping students on Saturdays and during the summer. However, it is also equally important that the parents insure that their children attend school daily and make arrangements for their children to come to KIPP on Saturday, as needed, and attend KIPP summer school.
The partnership that KIPP models is one that needs to be examined by the public schools. It would be ideal if teachers and parents could agree to the standards that KIPP has created. Of course, this would mean a change in the school calendar and in the contracts for teachers. Budget increases would also be necessary in order for schools to remain open on Saturdays and throughout the summers as well as to pay teachers for additional hours (http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2011-03-16/news/bs-md-ci-kipp-union-agreement-20110316_1_kipp-teachers-marietta-english-baltimore-teachers-union).
As President Clinton had stated several times during his Education Nation interview, in order for school improvement to succeed we must examine the educational programs that are already successful. The focus, unfortunately, tends to be on the schools that are failing, the teachers who are greedy, the parents who do not care, and the students who are not learning. Rather, education majors who are preparing to be teachers need to study the schools, including charter schools, private schools, and public schools, that are meeting the needs of students in every way possible.
When educators open their minds to innovative methods and strategies for teaching, students reap the benefits. The idea of change in education being a challenge is quite true. However, challenge should not be synonymous with impossible. Rather…challenge means closely looking at what works and fixing what does not.
Other links regarding KIPP, Education Nation, and Teach for America:
Donna Hupe teaches ED 101 – Field Experience I and has been a Pre-Student Teacher/Student Teacher Supervisor at Saint Vincent College for the past five and a half years.