Wednesday, October 17, 2007

KIPP Reader Comments Roundup

A handful of readers have taken the time to post thoughtful comments on KIPP, and I wanted to respond to a few of them.

One reader asked:

Why is it you think that kids who spent 5 years in school and only got to the 34th percentile nationally would not logically stay at that percentile when they hit the middle school years in the same system? It is statistically extremely likely that they would see very little movement, so the KIPP increase to the 58th percentile is, one can be quite sure (even without your methodology), a dramatic improvement over the district school system.

Anyone who is selecting into an intervention is expressing dissatisfaction with how things are going. Suppose I have been lax about going to the gym for five years. I finally decide that I’m horribly out of shape and opt into a lottery for a personal trainer, but I don’t win. I’m likely to exercise on my own anyway, even though I don’t have trainer. Treatment for depression is another good example of why you can’t just compare pre- and post-tests without a control group. If you attribute all of post- anti-depressant improvement to the drug itself, one would come to the conclusion that the effects of these drugs are more than twice as large as they truly are. People who select into an intervention are making a statement that they want to make an improvement – and some improvement may happen anyway in the absence of the treatment. That said, I agree with you that there are likely positive KIPP effects; I would just like a better estimate of how large they are and for what kinds of kids KIPP works.

Another reader made this point:

Their students have just as many problems at home as the kids in the normal public school. Your assertion that of course THESE students at KIPP are special and smarter and have better families is just wrong.

Of course KIPP is serving very disadvantaged kids – kids who have problems at home and are coming in with low achievement levels. But the question is what keeps their peers from not choosing in and/or keeps them from staying enrolled; that everyone does not opt into a KIPP lottery tells us that these families are different in some regard. So I disagree that these families are identical. Most prominently, they may be more likely to benefit from a KIPP education because they have the support at home to back it up.

Joanne Jacobs, in her comment, related that KIPP schools change over their life course; from a story that she wrote on KIPP Heartwood, she found that the kids early on may be more disadvantaged than those enrolling after the school’s success has been demonstrated. This is worth following up on.

Finally, I think that some readers misinterpreted the purpose of my posts this week. I have nothing but respect for the educators who’ve worked at KIPP schools, who work tirelessly to improve their kids’ performance. They work grueling hours, care deeply about closing the achievement gap, and make incredible personal sacrifices to meet these goals.

My intent is not to diminish KIPP’s accomplishment, but to ask what the possibilities and limits of the KIPP approach are for urban education reform more broadly. 75% of my dinner party conversations with non-educators involve discussion of KIPP as a viable reform strategy for urban education. Answering these questions requires us to think about what KIPP can and can’t do, and for whom. Public policymakers can’t make good decisions without this information, and our failure to ask them, I think, is a disservice to the children whose lives are in the balance.

1 comment:

Robert Pondiscio said...

Good, thoughtful follow-up post and thank you.

In the final analysis, I am simply not as concerned as others might be about whether KIPP writ large is a viable model for reforming urban education. I never labored under the idea that it was so.
The unintended victims of well-intentioned school reform are the kids who are potentially high-achieving but who are ill-served by their neighborhood schools. KIPP spares more of them from mediocrity than anyone. We need as many of those kinds of schools and educational opportunities as we can muster while we continue to tinker around the edges of the system as a whole.