I’ve written about Charter schools being a non-starter in the debate about education reform here.
In today’s Washington Post, there’s more proof of what nobody says on cable television–poor performing students drop out of KIPP and go back to public schools.
In fact KIPP failed to hack it in the same playing field as Public Schools. Here is Richard D. Kahlenberg’s piece from the Washington Post Today:
In the recent education debate between Valerie Strauss and Jay Mathews, a question arose about the attrition rates at the highly regarded Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) schools. The issue is important because if large numbers of weaker students drop out of KIPP’s rigorous program, it would be highly unfair to compare the test score gains won by the top KIPP students against the scores of all regular public school students – who include KIPP dropouts.
In the debate, Strauss mentioned some studies finding that KIPP schools “have had a very high attrition rate.” Mathews responded by saying it is a “myth that KIPP schools have poor retention rates” and cited a 2010 study that found that KIPP school “are doing about as well as regular schools in their neighborhoods” in terms of attrition.
Who’s right? While I respect Jay Mathews’s grasp of educational issues, on this question, the data overwhelmingly support Valerie Strauss’s skepticism.
In a rigorous 2008 study of five KIPP schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, researchers at SRI International found that an astounding 60% of KIPP students left over the course of middle-school. Moreover, the researchers found evidence that the 60% of students who did not persist through the tough KIPP regimen (a longer school day and week, and heavy doses of homework), tended to be the weaker students.
KIPP supporters, like Mathews, respond that a 2010 study of 22 KIPP schools by Mathematica found that the attrition rates were comparable to nearby high poverty public schools that also have lots of kids leave. Poor people tend to move frequently, so high attrition rates are to be expected at KIPP schools, it is argued.
The big difference between KIPP and regular public schools, however, is that whereas struggling students come and go at regular schools, at KIPP, student leave but very few new children enter. Having few new entering students is an enormous advantage not only because low-scoring transfer students are kept out but also because in the later grades, KIPP students are surrounded only by successful peers who are the most committed to the program.
Below is a figure that shows the attendance at KIPP Bay-area schools. (The figure is part of a Century Foundation document entitled “Charter Schools that Work: Economically Integrated Schools with Teacher Voice.”)
Bay Area KIPP Net Student Enrollment by Grade from 2003-04 to 2006-07 (to access the chart click on the link–go to the Washington Post website.)
In the comments section of the Answer Sheet blog, when readers pointed out that KIPP schools don’t generally fill students back in, Mathews responded “KIPP schools DO take in new students beyond the 5th grade.”
This is technically accurate, but as the figure above suggests, the vast majority of students enter during the 6th grade (a natural time to enter middle school) and then the total number of KIPP students in 7th and 8th grade falls precipitously.
The KIPP Bay-area schools cannot be dismissed as an outlier on the KIPP attrition question. Columbia University researcher Jeffrey Henig’s 2008 review of several studies found high attrition rates at a number of other KIPP schools.
It may well be, in fact, that high attrition rates are a key explanation for KIPP’s success in raising test scores. When KIPP tried to take over a regular public school – where the students are not self-selected, but are assigned to the school; and where students not only leave, but large number of students enter — KIPP abandoned the field after just two years. KIPP long ago realized that what we charge regular public schools with doing is far more difficult than what KIPP seeks to do.
Subdivisions are built to squeeze the most humans into one place while keeping them from interacting, “We love our neighborhood, but no, we haven’t really gotten to know the neighbors yet.”
It seems both traditional computer lab setups and subdivisions are designed for individual, parallel play, in a confined space.
But all the research points in the other direction. In computer labs there should be talking. Groups of children talking, sharing, collaborating. Student “experts” (in things like inserting pictures or downloading audio files) should feel free to get up and walk all the way across the room, if somebody over there needs help they can provide. It should be natural ongoing collaboration. You can read about how children cooperatively learn on the computer by reading the blog post titled Interactive White Boards and Joint Computinghere and watch the video by Sugata Mitra outlining the research on which Nicholas Negroponte’s one-laptop-per-child project is based. Sugata Mitra also has a blog.
AssortedStuff blogged we should organize schools to make innovative learners. The 4-minute video he includes from Stephen Johnson is worth watching:
Unfortunately for me, I’m not dealing with a “should.”
I’m dealing with a “do it” and “do it now.”
I’ve got a room, a bunch of computers, just under a thousand students, and need to sort it out in a real way, soon.
As a public school teacher, I’ve got unlimited resources, as long as I don’t spend any money. I’ve got a trailer, 24 rather good desktops without flatscreen monitors. And a decision to try and carve out the next model for computer labs.
We’ve done more with less…
It’s my firm conviction computers are not for teaching technology, but for teaching art. (Read more about art and computers in the blog post “We are Vermeer”here…)
Art casts a wide net including: writing, drawing, photography, design, music, layout, and the organizational and collaborative skills to get those tasks done.
Therefore, the space in which computers are used by children should seem more like a artist’s studio than a factory bench. It should be a creative atmosphere, not an assembly line.
Big Projects & Radical Collaboration:
We have a number of large projects going or in the works. Our 5th Grade does a large-scale project in Social Studies using technology, which Jenny, Jennifer Metcalfe and I presented, in part, at ISTE for the last couple of years.
We’re also gearing up to try and launch a school-wide online newspaper. It’s less a rehash of paper school newspapers with lunch menus and the weather, and more of an online environment in which we can showcase all the online work that’s going on throughout the school. I’ve outlined ideas on how that might work in the blog post titled “Online Workflow for School Newspaper Defined”here.
So the stage is set to create and use a room in which computers are housed for innovation and collaboration. Bringing about all the “we shoulds” about such things being written in educational publications. (That’s not a slam on AssortedStuff. He’s helping.)
Here’s a stab at “doing it.” Please feel free to toss peanuts from the gallery:
1) The students need to be organized in small groups of 4 to 6, each with a computer, but in a concave circle so they can easily see one another’s computer and share ideas, as well as how-to knowledge quickly and easily.
2) Monitors must all face one way, so a single teachers can see everything that’s going on at one time.
3) I have only desktops to work with, no budget and I’m setting up in a trailer (I know, only the best for the next generation.).
3) There should be a relaxed “living room” feel to the place and the artwork should be anything BUT schematics of computers and warnings about Internet safety. The artwork should be artwork. Inspiring.
The Title One school where I work had Open House today. It amounts to registration and meet your teacher day.
Everything went without a hitch, except of course for the parent-initiatied incident of the “extra baby.”
At one point, a family could not get their pram up the stairs, so they rolled it into a classroom near the bottom of the stairs and disappeared for 30-40 minutes. Luckily, the teacher there is a loving mother herself, and although rather surprised to find an unannounced 6-month-old awake and crying, carried the baby around, soothingly, until the mystery was solved.
As the building filled up, I loved it. Schools without children are just tombs of directionless souls, bumping into one another, with no other purpose than to get ready for their purpose. “Purpose,” we learned in our weeks of not having one (or at least getting ready to have one), is critical to happiness. Well, in retrospect, THAT explains a lot.
But the kids were back today. The directionless souls came alive and focused. Hugs were given and received – much more so than when the staff got back together. It’s not that we don’t love one another–we do.
It’s just that we all share a common trait. No matter how much we might love our co-workers, our husband, wife or soul-mate. We all know, down deep in our hearts, that children are just better than adults.
This realization came to me during my first interview to become a teacher, six year ago. When asked by my interviewer why I wanted to spend all day with children instead of adults. I said, almost to myself, “Unlike adults, the personality foibles of children, are rarely self-inflicted.”