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KIPP gets grant to expand. Is this the solution?

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Last week it was announced that KIPP Philadelphia was awarded a $4.6 million grant to expand. The grant will help KIPP meet its goal of operating ten schools in Philadelphia. I visited KIPP a few weeks ago and I was impressed with a lot of what I saw. Nonetheless, I am concerned that just adding more KIPPs is not the answer to improving education in our city.

At what point do we start to take what is working in charter schools and other places and apply it to our public schools? I thought that was the point.

I saw a lot of things I liked during my brief visit to KIPP. Students clearly knew that their teachers cared about them. Students seemed engaged in learning. Teachers were not using a scripted curriculum. When I asked why I was told that they hire the best teachers and then they let them practice their craft.

I have some questions about how broadly replicable the KIPP model is. Teachers work from 7:30 to 5:00 and then they are on call for homework help until 9. I’m not sure how many teachers would sign up for this or how many would do it for the length of their career. I wonder what their teacher turnover rate is. I never got the chance to ask.

Another issue is that before students are accepted to KIPP, staff members sit down with the parents and the student and everyone signs a contract agreeing to do their part to the support the student. This is great in terms of ensuring strong parental involvement, but what does it mean for the many students who come from families that are not stable enough to sign such a contract?

KIPP is clearly doing many things right, and I support the idea of creating charter schools to show us what is possible, but the idea of creating more and more of them is concerning.

Will we just create more and more charter schools until we have no public schools system? My concern is that if that were to happen there would be little to ensure equity across the city or to protect special education students, English language learners, or others students that charters don’t want.

These large charter managers get a lot of support from right wing organizations that would like to destroy anything public. They would like to throw health care, education, and social security into the free market. The results could be disastrous for our most vulnerable citizens.

I think it is important to create a public school system that really works and is accountable to the public. If bureaucracy is in the way of that, then we need to change the rules.