Chapter 9 Summary

Marita’s Bargain

Gladwell briefly introduces KIPP Academies, privately owned schools started in the 1990s to help lower-income families give their children advantages they needed to succeed. KIPP students have a rigorous schedule and study regime; as a result, they perform better and often receive scholarships and opportunities that students from regular public schools do not.

Then Gladwell gives a brief history of the general philosophy of education in America, which in its beginnings centered around two main elements: the harvest season and not overstraining children by pushing them too far. The harvest season influenced the current 9-month school year, with a long, extended break. That break used to be necessary for families because their children were needed to help with the harvest. However, even though that need has diminished in the country, we still follow that model, and it has a negative impact on students’ education. Over the summer, many children struggle to retain what they learned the previous year.

Gladwell gives some statistics on testing that indicate that when students first start school, income levels and social classes do not have much of an impact on their results. However, as the years pass, assessments at the beginning of the school year show lower-income students performing worse and worse each time. When researchers looked into the situation, they discovered that if students have access to books, reading, summer programs and camps, and other academic resources through the summer, they tend to retain what they learned better. They found that many lower-income students did not read because they did not have access to books or it was not a fostered activity in the home. So they consistently fell further and further behind.

Gladwell ties this back to the KIPP Academy. The students that attend these schools are chosen by lottery and put into the schools on a very long, difficult schedule. They go to school longer each day and year than do most American students. They do more rigorous activities and have hours of homework each night. Gladwell describes this schedule through the life of one student, Marita, who is so busy that she wakes at 5 a.m. to get to school and works on schoolwork until 11 each night. Many of these children came from homes where their parents were never home because they worked multiple jobs; when placed in a situation where they receive nurturance and stimulation, they thrive and do very well. Gladwell’s point is that it is unfortunate that one’s academic success can be impacted so strongly by social class, but he points to KIPP as an example that these students can perform if given the right circumstances.