Charter school? Wrong question. Right question: Is it good?

This article originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle on April 25, 2017. Please click here to read the original post. 

Within education circles in Houston, there are often two mindsets about school reform. There are those who long to return to the last century and reminisce fondly about the days when your school was determined solely by your address.

Others celebrate the freedom of school choice and would gladly do away with neighborhood schools altogether.

Though these differences might feel urgent for educators and policymakers, there are two other stakeholders who are often not included in policy debates: Parents and employers.

When parents consider whether to send their children to a particular school, they want to know practical information, such as safety, academic performance, quality of teachers and leaders, ease of the commute, which careers students pursue when they graduate. Rare from parents are questions about whether it’s a traditional public, public charter, public magnet, or any other type of school.

Houston parents want a great school for their children. Period. They don’t care how it’s governed; they want to know whether there is space for their child.

Houston employers also have simple needs when it comes to finding talent. Employers are looking for workers who possess specialized industry skills, possess honesty and integrity, work hard and collaborate well. Like parents, Houston employers aren’t concerned whether a potential hire attended a traditional public school, public charter, magnet or private school.

What if we followed the lead of parents and employers and started thinking in simpler terms about how to improve public education in Houston?

Rather than polarizing choices between privatizing the system or fixing school districts by focusing solely on public charters, we could commit to increasing the availability of great schools in all neighborhoods to meet the demands of parents and employers.

This might sound naïve, but there is one thing I’ve learned in more than 25 years of working to improve school outcomes in Houston: No one solution or program will fix everything. Great schools are the unit of change, and we’ve got to have more of them, of all types, especially in our underserved neighborhoods where parents by the tens of thousands are on district magnet and public charter waitlists.

Fortunately, we’re not starting from scratch, as there are many examples across Houston of high-quality schools, whether district schools, public charters, private schools or other hybrid models, that are beating the odds and producing strong outcomes for all students.

The problem is that we don’t have enough seats to enroll the number of kids who need – and want – to attend. How can we remove the barriers and increase the number of great schools in Houston?

Here are three ideas we can try right now.

1) Educators and policymakers need to stop debating and start working together. Everyone involved in education in Houston, including district leaders, charter leaders (including me, too), elected officials, private school advocates and education philanthropists must pivot from arguing with each other and begin the important work of starting more great schools.

From Spring Branch to Aldine to Grand Prairie to San Antonio, there are promising signs across Texas that educators can put aside their policy differences to work together for the common good of all children.

2) We’ve got to find ways to recruit and retain more high-quality teachers and leaders. The most important ingredients of a great school are its teachers and its leadership.

Our local universities and alternative certification providers produce some talented teachers and leaders, but they are not enough. We need additional talent pipelines like Teach For America, Relay Graduate School of Education, and others to attract and keep the best possible teachers and leaders for our schools.

3) We should find ways for public charter schools to grow in partnership with local school districts. There are currently ISD schools and public charter schools in Houston – including KIPP, YES College Prep, and others – that are outperforming state averages with underserved populations.

It makes sense for these networks to grow in response to parent demand and results. But charters and school districts also need to work together to share ideas, resources and best practices and to scale the impact of these innovations to benefit more students.

In the end, no one will remember what type of school it was that helped Houston’s students meet their full potential. But history will record if we continue to ignore lessons learned, stay in our silos and let our children down by failing to deliver the education they expect and deserve.

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A Trip of a Lifetime

NYtripAs the Coed National Champions, KIPP Houston High School’s KIPP Krew dance group recently traveled to NYC to train in dance on an Education Performance tour. Priscilla, now a junior, who was part of the founding KIPP SHINE class, shares her experience. Please read her reflections below.

Not many dancers are able to say they get the chance to travel to the city of dance with their high school team. This year KIPP Krew, notorious for our lively and passionate dances, decided to take a year to focus on the fundamentals of dance. Through fundraising – selling t-shirts, sweaters and chocolates, hosting dance clinics, and selling tickets to our very own Winter Gala – we made a trip to the Big Apple! Although the weather tried to bring us down, 29 dancers and four chaperones embarked on a trip to the city of lights on Friday, March 17.

Our excitement arose as we saw the city from above at 30,000 feet. We landed in the cold city, buzzing with excitement. New York’s harsh winds tested our sun-dependent skin, but we persevered itching to explore. Our first stop was to see the Wicked on Broadway musical which was a lively two-hour show of song and dance. The talented actors brought to life characters that captivated us with their ability to convey realistic emotions, while singing and dancing. Our second musical, Cats, entranced us with its uniqueness to display the characteristics of cats and tell a memorable story through dynamic music numbers as well.

The beautiful landmarks in the city (Statue of Liberty, One World Observatory, 9/11 Memorial Museum) helped us see the beauty of New York and learn its history. The Statue of Liberty gleamed in the sun as we marveled in its significance to American immigrants back in the 1900’s. The One World Observatory took our breath away entrapping us with a 360 view of New York City, allowing us to see the city’s beautiful skyscrapers and buzzing streets. The 9/11 Memorial made us commemorate the lives that were lost on September 11, 2001 and see the severity of the devastation first hand. This enabled us to have a newfound respect for the city that took a tragic event and used it to unite and build-up its community.

Chinatown and Little Italy allowed us to test our bargaining skills and buy copious amounts of souvenirs for our friends and family. At night, Times Square came to life. Its lively stores with bright lights and street performers acting, singing, and dancing, fascinated us. We even became celebrities for the night with a live billboard on Times Square above American Eagle Outfitters.

The wide array of food also kept us happy. From enormous pizza at John’s Pizzeria, to paninis, and spaghetti and meatballs at La Nonna in Little Italy, we experienced eating traditional meals at amazing restaurants. Ellen’s Stardust Diner amazed us when their workers brought Broadway to breakfast. Broadway hopefuls sang around the restaurant and served us delicious food entertaining our minds…and our bellies!

Our college visits to Columbia University and New York University gave us a glimpse of our possible futures. As we viewed the university’s beautiful architecture, we saw determined students walking to class, hoping one day to be in their shoes.

And what opened our eyes the most on this trip, was taking classes from a professional Broadway dancer, Alvin Ailey Dance Company member, and NYU dance instructor. These experiences showed us how busy the industry is, as well as how hard dancers have to work doing what they love.  Their stories inspired all of us as they told us about their journey to be able to get where they are now. It wasn’t easy. They each shared how they stayed true to their passion, regardless of any opposition they might have gotten from family or friends. This motivated us in a way that pushes past dance, and ties into a KIPP value that teaches us every day to strive in our academic and personal lives: Work Hard and Be Nice.

By: Priscilla Takyi 

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Closing the Career Opportunity Gap

This blog originally appeared on LinkedIn on March 7, 2017. Click here to read the original post. 

In America today, young people from higher income families are eight times more likely to earn a degree than students without these resources. At KIPP we are proud that our alumni are graduating college at a rate above the national average for all kids and four times the rate for low income students, but we still have a way to go to level the playing field.

To learn more about the obstacles that keep our well-prepared and motivated alumni from graduating from college, a few months ago we conducted our first ever survey of KIPP alumni who are enrolled in higher education.

The process was simple: we sent an online survey to the approximately 10,000 KIPP alumni enrolled in college, and we received around 3,000 valid responses. The respondents completed middle and/or high school with KIPP and are enrolled in either two or four year colleges. The vast majority grew up in low-income households.

The findings illuminated two big challenges KIPP alumni face in college: paying for living expenses and accessing job opportunities that are aligned with career goals.

While we knew that many of our KIPP alumni face financial struggles, we were surprised to learn how many are skipping meals to pay for books and other expenses. In fact, about 60 percent of our KIPP alumni reported experiencing “food insecurity,” saying that they often don’t know where their next meal will come from.

Our survey uncovered another issue for KIPP alumni: access to career-relevant jobs and internships. The survey data show that while most KIPP alumni could find summer jobs, less than a third were in fields related to their career goals. Affluent college students can afford to take unpaid or low-paying internships, but our KIPP alumni must prioritize summer jobs that can pay the bills, even if it means sacrificing important career opportunities.

Fortunately, KIPP is working with our college partners and funders to address this career ladder gap. Georgetown University offers qualified students free housing and/or stipends to allow them to stay on campus during the summer and work in the unpaid internships on Capitol Hill and elsewhere that are integral to post-graduation employment. We hope more schools will follow Georgetown’s lead as this is an essential way to diversify our nation’s professional workforce in politics, tech, business, and more.

And KIPP just launched a new program we’re calling our Alumni Accelerator to make sure KIPPsters who graduate from college get the kind of coaching and mentoring that their upper income peers take for granted. The KIPP Alumni Leadership Accelerator is a nine-month, fast-track early-career fellowship supported by Mellody Hobson, a KIPP Champion from Chicago. Fellows receive intensive, individualized career coaching through a partnership with Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), along with opportunities to develop and hone tactical skills, expand networks, present to key stakeholders, and more.

The American Dream should be equally available for all students who are prepared to pursue education beyond high school, including our KIPP alumni. As we learn more about the obstacles that prevent KIPP alums and other first generation college students from completing college and accessing career opportunities, it’s imperative that we put our collective will towards addressing these issues.

If our nation is going to solve the challenges of today and the future, we need to make sure the talented and motivated leaders of this generation do not slip through the cracks before they have a chance to reach their goals for college and beyond.

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KIPP Leaders: 4 Critical Areas Secretary DeVos Should Focus on to Ensure All Students Succeed

This blog originally appeared on THE74 on February 14, 2017. Click here to read the original post. 

More than 95 percent of the jobs created since the recession went to people who had completed education or career training after high school. This means that young Americans with only a high school diploma, along with those that never finished, have been largely left out of the economic recovery over the past eight years. And the pace of change in the job market — driven by both automation and globalization — shows no signs of slowing down.

Talent can be found everywhere in America, in small towns and big cities alike. Yet today, affluent American students are eight times more likely to complete a four-year degree than students from low-income backgrounds. It doesn’t have to be this way.

We need to grow opportunities and our economy by investing in the talent that exists in America’s young people. As the leaders of KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program), a national network of 200 high-performing, non-profit public charter schools, we have over 20 years of experience helping students from low -income communities get to and through college. Today, 10,000 KIPP alumni are currently enrolled in college, including over 100 at the University of Houston and over 50 at the University of Pennsylvania.

The college graduation rate for KIPP alumni — 88% of whom are eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch —  exceeds the college graduation rate of Americans from all walks of life. And the college completion record for KIPP alumni is four times greater than the national average for students from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. We know that with support and high standards, all students are capable of completing college or career training beyond high school.

Now is not the time to back away from big ideas for America. We urge the new administration and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to focus on four critical opportunities to invest in American talent:

1. Reward success in higher education. Right now, far too many young people begin college only to drop out before they graduate. From supporting our thousands of KIPP alumni on their journey to earn a college degree, we know that there are dozens of colleges committed to the success of first-generation college students from both rural and urban communities. These colleges are intentionally putting student support systems in place that include career-relevant work opportunities and financial affordability to increase perseverance to graduation. The U.S. Department of Education can help more college students access these supports and complete college by protecting Pell Grants and modernizing work-study guidelines to incorporate and promote career-related internships

2. Support the bipartisan BRIDGE Act. As public school educators, it is our duty and responsibility to educate all children who enroll in our schools, regardless of their immigration status. That is why we are encouraged by the bipartisan BRIDGE (Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy) Act, which would continue protections for those young people who were granted Deferred Action status and — most importantly — ensure that they can continue to work and study while Congress debates broader immigration legislation. Many of the young people protected under the BRIDGE Act have already made an important contribution to our communities and to the economy, and they are poised to keep doing so with continued legal protections. One of the core promises we make to each student who enrolls at KIPP is to provide them with a rigorous public education that prepares them for success in college and life. We want to see all our students achieve their dreams to make our country as strong as it can be and the passage of the BRIDGE Act can help make this a reality.

3. Highlight states that hold schools accountable for their results. If we are to grow the number of great public schools in America, we must ensure that any school receiving public dollars is held accountable to high standards for academic quality. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the federal law that empowers state and local education leaders to develop accountability strategies that address their communities’ unique challenges and needs. As this new law becomes implemented, we hope the Trump administration and the Congress will work together to continue to challenge states to hold a ‘high bar’ when it comes to preparing students for success in the workplace. For example, if the majority of students in a state are deemed proficient in middle school reading and math, but less than a third earn a college degree, there are talented kids slipping through the cracks. Or the tests are simply not rigorous enough. The states with high education standards will set their economies up for success in this century. It’s that simple.

4. Continue federal funding for efforts that work. The U.S. Department of Education has long played an important role in funding programs that help schools and students around the country. Secretary DeVos should evaluate the federal programs that are improving student outcomes and expand them to reach more children and educators. Since 2010, the Charter Schools Program’s Replication and Expansion grant competition has supported the growth of 400-plus new, non-profit charter schools with proven track records of success. This program, which reflects an intersection between government and school choice, should be continued and expanded. In addition, more communities across the country could benefit from the Supporting Effective Educator Development program, which is successfully helping schools recruit and train high-quality public school educators. It is vital that the U.S. Department of Education fund these investments but not by reducing its historic commitment to special education funding or Title I aid, which supports students from low -income families. One worthwhile investment need not come at the expense of the others.

Making these changes will take serious, sustained work. But the benefits of getting it right — and the costs of failure — are enormous, both for students and families and for our nation. To secure our economic future, we must make sure that America is truly the land of opportunity for all students.

By: Mike Feinberg, Dave Levin and Richard Barth

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Now Is a Great Time to Become a Teacher

This blog originally appeared on LinkedIn on November 29, 2016. Click here to read the original post.

1.6 million. That’s how many teachers will be required to staff America’s schools in the next 10 years. And the worrisome reality for educators like me is that we don’t have an adequate supply of qualified people who are ready to fill these open spots. Technology is a terrific tool in the hands of a great teacher, but tech can’t yet solve our talent pipeline challenges. And without great teachers in our nation’s classrooms, the future for the next generation of students could be compromised.

But the good news is that there are many innovative programs around the country working to attract new people to teaching, especially in urban and rural school districts. Along with traditional teacher education and preparation programs, there are a growing number of alternative pathways for people who looking to change careers or become teachers right after college.

KIPP has a long partnership with the best known of these programs, Teach For America (TFA). My KIPP co-founder Dave Levin and I got our start in education through TFA back in 1992, and KIPP schools have been lucky to hire thousands of TFA alumni over the past 20 years, including 60% of KIPP’s school leaders. TFA has certainly been a big help in terms of bringing new teachers to KIPP.

But TFA and other alternative programs alone are not sufficient.  The reality is that KIPP needs to engage directly to increase the number of qualified people available to teach in our schools. In 2011, we partnered with Uncommon Schools and Achievement First, two other high performing public charter schools in NYC, to form The Relay Graduate School of Education. This partnership combined the best of practice and theory based preparation for teaching in both charter and district schools. There are currently Relay programs in 13 locations around the country and they have plans to continue expanding in response to growing demand.

While some people are ready to jump into the classroom quickly and succeed, it takes most new teachers three to five years to master the many complex tasks involved with teaching. So Relay and KIPP in Houston created the Graduate Teaching Fellowship, which pairs teaching residents with a master teacher for an entire year, allowing many opportunities for observation and supervised practice before fellows are in charge of their own classroom during the second year. With this approach, we believe Relay graduates will not only enter the classroom ready to succeed, but also be more likely to stay with the teaching profession over the long term.

But don’t take it from me; our KIPP Houston Graduate Teaching Fellows are proving the power of the Relay Education approach. And what’s most exciting is that some of them, like Carlos Vega, are alumni of KIPP Houston schools.

In 2002, Carlos was a fifth grader in Mr. Arturo Martinez’s class at KIPP Academy; today he’s a Graduate Teaching Fellow learning how to be a teacher from the man he now calls ‘Arturo.’ Carlos graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in engineering, but a passion for education led him to consider a switch to teaching. And where better to learn than at KIPP Academy, where Carlos could work side-by-side with a teacher whose support was such an important part of his journey to college?

As Carlos said, “Arturo has encouraged me along the way. He’s going to be there for me, just like he was 15 years ago. I’m thankful for the opportunity to come back and be able to give back to the community that has given so much to myself and my family.”

We teach our KIPPsters the value of giving back, and it’s simply awesome to see Carlos guide the next generation of KIPP students learn to, as we say, ‘Work Hard and Be Nice.’

People often want to know what makes KIPP schools special, and our answer is simple: Teachers like Arturo, Carlos, and hundreds of others like them who believe in the potential of every student and are willing give their best to help our KIPPsters succeed. That’s why we are dedicated to finding ways for more people to experience the joy and power of becoming a teacher, whether it’s through Relay, TFA, or other training programs.

And while the teacher shortage offers a challenge, we also see it as an opportunity to open classroom doors to a new wave of educators who are excited to make a difference in the lives of young people in KIPP schools in Houston and across the country.

So if you’ve ever thought about becoming a teacher, or you’re wondering how to help America move forward together, now is the perfect time to get started. Our kids – and our country- need you.

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Guest Post from Ileana Astorga: College Application Advice for KIPPsters and the Adults in their Lives

This post was originally published on Mike Feinberg’s LinkedIn page on September 26, 2016. Click here to read the full article.

Fall is the time that KIPPsters join thousands of other students in the journey of applying to college, seeking financial aid and finding out which school- if any- is right for them. That’s why this month I’m turning my post over to a KIPP alumna- Ileana Astorga- who has wise advice for her high school peers and the adults who support them. Thanks to Ileana for sharing her story and the chance to celebrate the amazing and lasting power of a great teacher!

They say that all it takes to change a student’s life is one committed adult who cares, and that’s certainly true for me. While I have a loving family and have known many great teachers, my story pivots around my AP English teacher at KIPP Denver Collegiate High School, Mr. Eden.

I first met Mr. Eden when I was a junior at KIPP Denver Collegiate. My goal at the time was to attend  state university, which felt ambitious as no one else in my family had ever graduated from college. But Mr. Eden saw my academic abilities and willingness to work hard, and would not let me settle.  Instead he advised me to apply to selective schools outside of Colorado, including Duke University.

Why Duke? Mr. Eden had many friends and family members who had attended Duke and he knew it was a fantastic school. Plus, he was a die-hard Duke basketball fan (Go Blue Devils!). His excitement was infectious and soon I started to set my sights beyond Colorado too.

During the fall of my senior year, I began the difficult process of applying to college. My parents were extremely supportive, but as they did not attend college themselves, I had to figure things out on my own. That’s where my KIPP college advisor Mrs. Chapelle came in. She narrowed my focus to schools where I was ‘likely’ to get in, along with slightly more difficult ‘target’ schools and a ‘reach’ school, which was Duke.

In addition to my KIPP college advisor, Mr. Eden also continued to provide support, despite his departure from Denver to California. He guided me to become a strong candidate throughout the application process, from reviewing my essays to conducting mock interviews.

And, when my parents questioned the idea of applying to schools so far from home, Mr. Eden was one of the people who helped bolster my confidence.  My family made many sacrifices so my brothers and I could pursue our education, but they never envisioned that I would end up on the other side of the country for college.

However, when I got accepted to Duke, my parents were thrilled for me and proud of my achievement.  Their joy only increased when I received a scholarship to help pay for a majority of my Duke tuition. One of my happiest memories of that time is calling Mr. Eden to share the news that I would be joining the Duke Class of 2017.  He was so excited for me then, and he’s promised to be there when I cross the stage in Durham this spring.

Four years after graduating from KIPP Denver Collegiate, I can safely say that everyone in my class has taken a slightly different route. A college or university thousands of miles away is not for everyone, but we are all on track to pursue our goals, and we continue to help each other along the way. I have been proud to see my two younger brothers graduate from KIPP Denver Collegiate, and to support them as they have balanced jobs and college classes close to home. This path is right for my brothers and just as valuable as the one that I have taken.

I am certain that no matter what we all do in the future, the strengths, work ethic and skills we learned at from our KIPP Denver Collegiate teachers will help us be successful throughout our lives.

I often get asked for advice about applying to college. While each student’s journey is unique, here are my four suggestions:

1) Don’t be limited- be curious and open to a different path than the one you may have envisioned;

2) Seek support from people who have your best interests at heart;

3) Aim to exceed the highest standards you have set for yourself and finally;

4) Remember your roots and from where you come.

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KIPP: 200 Schools and Counting

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on August 29, 2016. Click here to read the full article.

As I write this post, KIPP is opening 17 new public charter schools around the country, bringing our new total school count to 200. This is a big jump from the first Knowledge Is Power Program school that Dave Levin and I founded in Houston with 47 students 22 years ago.  While reaching 200 schools isn’t all that important per se, KIPP is very proud of the thousands of teachers, principals, KIPP students, and parents that have helped us reach this milestone.

Why did KIPP decide to grow beyond Houston to become a national network of schools? Some of it had do with geography and strategy, but mainly it’s because as long as KIPP schools have unfilled waiting lists, we have an ethical and moral mandate to keep growing. Parents are knocking on the door saying, “We want a seat in your school.” Right now in many places the answer has to be, “Sorry, there’s no space.” That breaks my heart because every one of our communities’ children deserves a chance.

In Houston alone, this last year we had 14,000 kids and families express interest in attending a KIPP school. Even with our hyper growth in Houston, we only had room for 2,000 of them. That means we turned away 12,000 parents who know that education is the ticket for their children’s future, and who are looking for better school options than their zoned public school down the block. 

And these parents are not just applying to KIPP; they’re searching everywhere for a place where their kids will thrive. They’re applying to other high performing public charters and magnet schools, they’re exploring private schools (which are mostly unaffordable), and they’re seeking a spot in parochial schools. But because most of these efforts are dead ends, it means we as a society are saying, “We know you have these hopes and aspirations for your children, but the inn is full.”

Thinking of these parents makes it hard for me to sleep at night. That’s why KIPP has to grow and open more schools.

But we realize that opening a few more KIPP schools is not going to shorten the wait list. As long as there is a gap in outcomes between KIPP students and their peers in district schools, the demand will continue to grow. I’ve been asked if KIPP should just basically take over all the schools in Houston and become the ‘new monopoly.’ The answer is:  No. KIPP exists to be a high quality public school option for families, but not the only option.

The more interesting question is, “How much demand must there be for KIPP and other high quality school options before school systems have no choice but to change their practices and reach better outcomes, beyond the standards set by state and federal governments?”  In other words, “How can KIPP help other schools get better so kids and families stop wanting to come?”

That’s why we are working now to share ideas to help bridge the gap between KIPP and traditional district public schools. We recently launched a initiative – called Beyond KIPP – where we are making all of KIPP’s practices – including principal and teacher training – available to the public.  If we can help other local schools improve to the point where kids and parents are happy there, we consider that ‘mission accomplished’ for KIPP.

Our ideal scenario for the future is that KIPP continues to do a great job, and our colleagues in district schools are also helping children reach their full potential. I think it’s possible to find an equilibrium point where kids and families are satisfied, and both public charters and district schools provide support and accountability for each other.

And I’m not the only charter school founder that feels this intense obligation to help as many children as we can. The leaders of YES Prep in Houston, Achievement First in Connecticut and New York, Noble Street College Prep in Chicago, and countless others all are motived to simultaneously grow the size of our networks and build bridges with the larger public school system.

You can read more about other charter school leaders (including KIPP’s co-founder Dave Levin) in a new e-book by Richard Whitmire called “The Founders,” published by education news site called The74. Through video interviews and other interactive media, Richard shares reflections from some of my favorite people in the charter school world. You’ll find we agree on the need to keep growing and to help other schools integrate some our best practices into more classrooms across the country.   After all, each of our kids deserves no less than the best.

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This year’s big idea: sticking with what works

This article was originally posted on June 20, 2016 on Mike Feinberg’s LinkedIn Account. Click here to read the original post.

Psychology professor Angela Duckworth’s new book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, makes the case that ‘grit’ is the defining character trait of those who are successful in life. Duckworth defines grit as passion + persistence towards a goal over a long period of time. Those new to her work may consider Duckworth’s ideas on grit novel.

But at KIPP, the public charter school network that I co-founded with Dave Levin in 1994, grit is not a new, “big idea.” It’s a trait that has defined KIPP from the beginning, and has been around far longer than KIPP’s 22-year history. Although it’s been called lots of different names (mettle or tenacity to name a few), parents have worked to teach their children grit since the beginning of time.

Just like Duckworth explains in her book, KIPP teachers know that helping kids discover grit and other character strengths can lead to success. By staying “gritty,” and keeping our commitment to children, KIPP sees results: 45 percent of our students are earning a four-year college degree, a rate that is roughly four times the rate of students from similar economic backgrounds.

Today, KIPP is growing to serve nearly 70,000 students in 183 schools across the country [and 200 schools with 80,000 students in 2016-17] and is creating a culture of achievement and responsibility under the motto: “Work Hard. Be Nice.”

Along with a focus on academic achievement, KIPP schools also help students discover the power of ‘purpose,’ which Dr. Duckworth describes as the desire to help other people. That’s why over 100 KIPP alumni in 20 states are choosing to return to our schools as KIPP teachers, staff members, and more– including two members of our 1994 founding class at KIPP Houston.

Duckworth’s research around grit backs up what both KIPP schools and parents already know: kids need help developing their ‘muscle memory’ around character strengths like grit. To be sure, many children growing up in poverty have a lot of grit already. What teachers can do is foster a learning environment where students can understand the character strengths they possess, and use them to persevere through challenges.

KIPP teachers like Leyla Bravo-Willey at KIPP Infinity Middle School in NYC use a ‘lead by example’ approach to teaching character. In The New Republic, Leyla explains how she inspired her students by sharing her story of growing up in Miami as an immigrant from Nicaragua, earning a degree from Harvard University, and embarking on a career in education to help other students live their dreams.

When it comes to our organizational goals, KIPP is about as ‘gritty’ as it gets, sticking to a few key ideas for over 20 years to produce results that prove what is possible for undeserved students.

But KIPP and other high quality charter schools can’t do it alone. That’s why last year’s big idea, “Stop arguing, and start collaborating,” will continue to be a focus for KIPP. To scale our impact and help all students reach their full potential, we need to partner with local public school districts in new and intentional ways.

Our commitment to collaboration is paying off. In rural Arkansas, KIPP Delta has extended its KIPP Through College (KTC) program to include students in two neighboring district schools: Central High in Helena-West Helena and Lee High in Marianna. This partnership means that students at Central and Lee receive support from KIPP college advisors to navigate process of applying to college, from writing essays, to visiting campuses, to figuring out financial aid.

As a result, we doubled the 4-year college going rate the first year of the partnership at Central High School; we increased the four-year college going rate at Lee High by 40%.

And in Texas, where KIPP was founded, district and charter schools are working more closely than ever. Houston’s Spring Branch Independent School District partnered with KIPP and another outstanding charter school group, YES Prep, to form the SKY Partnership, which unites teachers at both charter and traditional schools to share resources and classroom practice ideas.

Now, students and families have greater educational options, and teachers in district and charter schools are able to learn from, and collaborate with, one another.

After 22 years of “Work Hard. Be Nice,” KIPP doesn’t have all the answers, but we do have some big ideas about what works for kids. And we’ve got the grit to stick to our commitment to help all students succeed in both college and in life. After all, promises to children are sacred.

#BigIdeas

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My Metric for Success: A Long-term Game Plan to Measure Student Success

In this series from April, 28, 2016, professionals describe what numbers govern their happiness. Write your own #MyMetric post here.

Imagine reading the local news to learn how schools in your community stack up against each other.  But instead of finding this year’s state test exam results, you could see how many students from each school have graduated from a post-secondary school with a college degree or job skill certificate. This vision for a different measurement of student learning comes from my experience with KIPP, the national network of 183 high performing public charter schools that I co-founded with Dave Levin in 1994.  After more than 20 years of work in public K-12 education, I have learned three reasons why I think college and career readiness and program completion are better metrics of our kids’ future success than traditional test scores.

The first is financial: Pure and simple, a college degree is the key dividing line in potential earning for high school graduates in the United States. On average, Americans with a college degree earn 98 percent more an hour compared to those without a degree, according to a 2013 Labor Department study.  This increase translates into a million dollars more in lifetime earnings, on average, per graduate.

The second is philosophical: focusing on college and career program completion gives teachers and administrators a long-term view of their goals for student learning, rather than solely focusing on the one-year results that come through a one day, two-hour snapshot of learning via standardized testing.  This one-year focus causes schools to throw a party and confetti falls from the ceiling just because a group of 4th graders passed a reading test—as if that was the end goal. At KIPP, we track college completion starting  with our 8th graders because we believe this measure is key to knowing whether we are truly fulfilling our mandate to set students up for lives of choice and opportunity. And while college might not be for every student, the skills required to attend college certainly are there to ensure maximum freedom in what to do in life–not just when a person is 20, but also at 30, 40, 50, and beyond. As a KIPP school leader, I have seen that, when we as educators shift our sights to the long view, we focus on the deeper skills and learning that will help ensure students succeed throughout their lives.

The third is about school culture: a commitment to college and career program completion requires a shift from top-down school leadership to empowering teachers to prepare their students to thrive in future grade levels and beyond K12 as well. We know that students need both academic and character skills to prepare them for college, careers, and choice-filled lives. The only way to deliver these skills in a place where children spend most of their waking hours is to provide great teaching and more of it.  In KIPP schools, our leaders are committed to giving teachers autonomy, while also providing feedback to help them grow and improve.

KIPP’s long-term game plan is not just about hiring great talent to sustain a strong school culture; it’s also about what we are doing to keep them here. Using our “Healthy Schools and Regions Survey,” KIPP leaders measure staff satisfaction and identify what teachers need to feel motivated, whether it’s recognition, family-friendly hours, financial incentives, or mentoring. KIPP school leaders are connected to what their staff needs because many come to the role after working in KIPP schools as teachers, which supports the development of the adults in our schools so they can continue supporting our students.

With only nine percent of students from low income families completing college by their late 20s, we know that getting our students all the way to the finish line requires sustained support and encouragement, even after leaving KIPP schools. That is why we created KIPP Through College, which helps KIPP students navigate the social, academic, and financial challenges of college. We also have formed more than 70 college partnerships across the country to increase on-campus support for students, with various institutions of higher education such as Duke University, San Jose State, Spelman College, Franklin and Marshall College, and my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania.

The results show that KIPP is making a difference: KIPP students are completing college at a rate at more than four times higher than for their peers from similar economic backgrounds.

Andrew Grove, one of the founders of Intel, said it best: If you want something done, measure it.  KIPP has seen the power of measuring how well our students progress to and through college and into their careers. We hope other schools and districts will be inspired to shift their focus in the classroom from one-year results to setting children on a path towards lifelong success.

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How a Personal Mission becomes Meaningful Action

The KIPP Federal Policy Fellowship in Washington, D.C. places KIPPsters as interns on Capitol Hill, in the White House, and think tanks across the city. Access to these opportunities don’t often exist for low-income youth. KIPP and our partners are working to change that. 

The Fellowship has grown to include 10 KIPPsters, all of whom blew us away with their wisdom and maturity. Read the words of Shirin Vetry in her application essay about how her political awareness transforms her personal mission into meaningful action.

I have always joked that my life is the definition of international relations. With a Bolivian mother and an Iranian father, dinner at home was a fusion of differing foods with conversation rolling in and out of three different languages. Inevitably, our apartment chats became diplomat-like exchanges between the two opposing cultures. Once my father joined the military, this life of international relations expanded to include American foreign policy. International political decisions soon directly influenced my life and subsequently developed into a commitment to understanding and answering the bigger questions facing the American government both internationally and domestically.

Blending both the foreign and domestic, Washington, D.C. is the national and a world capital that inspires growth and change on the daily. If I could spend the summer interning in Washington, D.C., I would be able to work at the hub of political thought. Indeed, this internship opportunity would be my chance to explore my fields of interest: political science, law, and international relations. Living in the heart of political thought, I would be immersed in my passions.

While my dedication to politics drives my interest in working at nation’s political core, it is my resourcefulness, willingness to live and work outside of my comfort zone, and thoughtfulness that make me a great candidate. Going to boarding school, I was forced to be independent and search for my own opportunities. This resourcefulness was particularly useful when working and volunteering abroad.

Moreover, during my time interning abroad, my ability to push myself outside of my comfort zone enabled me to facilely approach people for interviews, travel to rural areas and spoke with people of all backgrounds, and consistently cold call for interviews and meetings. It is thus clear that there are no boundaries for my resourcefulness or comfort level. If given the chance to work in Washington DC, my passion would motivate me to do impactful work, and my resourcefulness and adaptability would assist me in accomplishing this goal.

In addition to these attributes, the most important aspect of my personality is my cultural awareness. As seen through recent marketing work done as publicity chair of one of my clubs, I have the ability to think outside of the box critically. Furthermore, my international background has forced me to consistently think of the bigger picture and consider the perspective of others when making decisions. That is, in having to maneuver two separate cultures my entire life, I have learned how to work in the context of multiculturalism. Therefore, I am certain that this awareness will help me transform the mission that drives me into meaningful action within one of the world’s political capitals.

For more words of wisdom from our KIPPsters on their paths to D.C., read Josue Coronado’s commitment to giving a Voice to the Voiceless and Thomaia Pamplin’s essay about Leveling the Playing Field in D.C.

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