I've been in DC for the holiday weekend and thinking about urban schools.  So, I just read Work Hard Be Nice by Jay Mathews, in which he chronicles the remarkable work of David Levin and Mike Feinberg and their development of KIPP charter schools.

For anyone interested in improving schools and learning, you've got to read this book.  It's inspiring.

A few thoughts: 

(1) The youth and vigor of Teach for America teachers clearly helps.  But it's also clear that Levin and Feinberg would have gotten nowhere without the mentorship of highly skilled and experienced master teachers that had strong connections to the communities where they honed their skills, especially Harriet Ball, but many others as well.  It seems to me that continued efforts to find and learn from similar master teachers should be a big part of ongoing efforts in school reform.

(2) It seems a key reason white boys and girls with privileged backgrounds could succeed in teaching in poor, ethnic neighborhoods was because they went to extraordinary effort to reach out to the parents and community in a personal way.

(3) As fairly clearly chronicled in Chapter 46, more careful work needs to be done to measure the actual effectiveness of the KIPP schools in comparison to other schools.  While it's clear these guys are onto something big, there are some troublesome selection issue surrounding some performance measures.  Somehow some way they need to get some kids randomly assigned to KIPP and suitable controls so as to track actual progress.  And someone needs to follow up with students that dropped out of KIPP and back into regular public schools or other charter schools.  Furthermore, I wonder how much of KIPP's success can be traced to the selectivity of their teachers.  If KIPP teachers taught somewhere else would they have be just as successful?  How can we measure the success of KIPP as an institution, greater than the sum of its parts?

 (4) If some charter schools like KIPP are this effective, why are we not seeing broader differences between charter schools and public schools?  Is it just a matter of time?  Or is KIPP truly unique?


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