The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) is a national network of schools which cater to underserved students, helping them to eventually achieve enrollment in college. The schools are opened in high-need areas throughout the United States. This article focuses on when the program began, how it works, KIPP successes, and how a KIPP school is created. The different commitments that teachers, students, and their parents must make to be part of a KIPP school are also included, as well as some criticisms of the program.
Keywords Adequate Yearly Progress; Charter School; Commitment; Curriculum; Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP); Middle School; Norm-Referenced Examination; Standardized Testing; Teachers; Underserved Students
The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) is a national network of schools which cater to underserved students, helping them to eventually achieve enrollment in college. The program began in 1994 when instructors Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin began a fifth grade program at an inner-city school in Houston, Texas. The following year, a KIPP middle school was established in Houston and another one was established in the South Bronx in New York. According to KIPP's 2012 Report Card, in 2012 over 41,000 students attending 125 KIPP schools located in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Most (95%) of the students enrolled in KIPP students are African American or Latino, and 86% are eligible for free or reduced price meals.
KIPP schools are open enrollment public schools whose mission is to prepare underserved students for college and life. The schools are opened in high-need areas throughout the United States. All students are accepted regardless of their background and academic record. If more students apply than there are spaces available, spaces are filled by a lottery system. Currently, “over 80 percent of all KIPP students are eligible for free or reduced meal programs, and over 90 percent of KIPP students are either African-American or Hispanic” (Mathews, 2005, ¶ 13).
The hallmark of the program is that students, instructors, and parents alike all work hard to enable students to learn in a safe, structured environment. In keeping with the KIPP philosophy of "work hard, be nice," student success is measured not only by test scores and adequate yearly progress but also by how students relate with each other and develop as people. KIPP schools provide a college preparatory education and a broad-based curriculum. Students are in school longer each day and during the summer, which enables students to receive additional time on both core subjects and other subjects, such as art and music and elective classes (KIPP, 2007c). Typical school days run from 7:25 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. on Fridays. There are also half days on designated Saturdays. KIPP schools also have a longer school year than a typical public school, with school running 220 days versus the typical 180 required days for most school districts (Ness, 2004). This equates to close to 20 percent more school days for KIPP students and even more seat time when the extended school days are taken into consideration.
How Does KIPP Work?
KIPP contracts with its schools through what they call "trademark license agreements." For using the KIPP name, a school pays KIPP a percentage of its revenues - one percent the first year and three percent for every year after. KIPP uses the revenues to recoup the cost of some of its training programs and to offset the costs of the services it provides schools. New KIPP schools begin in a small way and usually with 80 or 90 students in the fifth grade. Then the school expands each year after that a grade at a time through the eighth grade with the original students comprising each new grade (Ravitch, 2005).
KIPP does not provide a curriculum for its schools, and it does not mandate either a common curriculum or particular instructional programs at its schools. However, school founders become their schools' principals, so they can bring in elements of the original KIPP school model based on the training they received before they were granted permission to create a KIPP school. KIPP does not help its schools with operational services, such as accounting or payroll.
The Five Pillars
KIPP schools run on the premise of five operating principles, which they call the "five pillars." These principles are:
• High expectations,
• Choice and commitment,
• More time,
• Power to lead, and
• Focus on results.
KIPP schools are expected to “have clearly defined and measurable expectations for academic achievement and conduct, and no excuses are made based on students' backgrounds. Students, their parents, and teachers choose to participate in the program” and as such are expected to make a commitment to the school to put forth the time and effort required to achieve success (Ashford, 2002, ¶ 24). KIPP schools operate on the premise that with an extended school day, school week, and school year, students will have more opportunity and time to learn skills while in the classroom, which in turn enables them to be prepared for more rigorous high school curricula and success in college. The power to lead gives KIPP principals control over their school budgets, curriculum, and personnel. This gives them freedom to move quickly to make changes whenever necessary to maximize the students' learning environment. By focusing on results and pursuing high results on standardized and high-stakes tests and other academic measures, students know they must reach a high level of academic success that will allow them to continue their achievements in high school and college (KIPP, 2007d).
The Point System
KIPP offers students some incentives to attend school and excel. KIPP students can receive credits or points that allow them to purchase items from the school store or join in on a class field trip. Every week students earn points based on their performance and conduct. Some of the behaviors for which students can earn credits include attending school, being on time, coming to class prepared, and completing homework. However, students can also be fined for exhibiting poor behavior, such as not being prepared for class, having a messy desk, lying, cheating, or stealing (Schewe, 2006). Students receive these credits in the form of a paycheck, and both the student and their parents must endorse the form when purchasing something from the KIPP store. Items at the school store include books, shirts, class supplies, and even computers (Grann, 1999).
KIPP schools require their students, parents, and teachers to sign a Commitment to Excellence pledge. By signing these pledges, everyone promises to adhere to the stated standards or risk being dismissed from the school. Although these pledges vary by school, the themes are similar. The official KIPP website provides sample forms that schools may use.
Students commit to arriving at school on time by 7:25 a.m. and remaining until 5:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, remaining until 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. on Fridays, and attending school on designated Saturdays. Students also agree to attend school in the summer. In addition, students may pledge to work diligently, behave properly, and make learning their priority. Students pledge to do their homework every night and come to class prepared each day. They promise to call their teachers if they get stuck on a problem or concept while doing their homework. Students also agree to adhere to the KIPP dress code, follow all directions, and respect their fellow classmates, teachers, and everyone in the KIPP community (KIPP, 2007e).
Parents commit to making sure their children arrive at school on time every day or board the bus every day. They also promise to make arrangements so their children can stay at school until it is over and can come to school on designated Saturdays. Parents also agree that their children will attend summer school, they will allow their children to go on field trips, and they will make sure that their children follow the KIPP dress code. Additionally,...
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