Learning First Alliance

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More Evidence There is No Silver Bullet

obriena's picture

An article from November 6’s Indianapolis Business Journal recently caught my eye: It may be do or die for Indianapolis charter school. Bold title, but what shocked me was the second line, which began, “Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) College Preparatory School.”

This article was about a KIPP charter school that may not be reauthorized? But KIPP is the darling child of the education “reform” community, with a model that includes extended day and year coupled with extremely high expectations for students and staff. The Secretary of Education sings their praises, and they recently won an i3 grant from the Department of Education. What is going on here?

According to the article, this Indianapolis KIPP school has struggled. Now in its seventh year, the school is on its fifth leader. It has had considerable staff turnover (last year, 55%). It has had questionable financials, in one instance returning more than $8,000 in Title I funding that had been used improperly. There were at one point concerns about how the school upheld its special education files. And the school’s test scores reflect it all. The school is not performing well.

But there is hope, including recent improvements in test scores. Yet the question remains: is it enough to get the school reauthorized? I don't have the answer. It depends on a number of things, including the ultimate purpose of charter schools (there is an interesting debate on that in Rhode Island right now, by the way).

So why write about this? To call out a struggling school, embarrassing those who work hard at it every day? Absolutely not. To criticize KIPP in general? No way. The vast majority of their schools do not have these issues.

The point is to remind us, yet again, that there is no silver bullet. Branding a school as KIPP doesn’t mean it will perform well, just as lengthening the school day or year, dividing a large comprehensive high school into small schools or putting a school staff into professional learning communities doesn't mean a school will perform well. The structure of a school doesn't dictate its performance. The actions of those in and around the building, combined with a strong academic program and a supportive environment, do. And those are the things we should focus on in our efforts to improve our nation's struggling schools.