KIPP DC is making tough choices about changes to its program

The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews revealed yesterday that Susan Schaeffler, the CEO of KIPP DC, is making some difficult decisions about the structure of her program that ultimately could impact the academic success of the children in her network.

As Mr. Mathews explains, KIPP DC now teachers more pupils than any other charter school in D.C. with almost 5,800 students attending 16 campuses.  There are now five early childhood learning schools, as well as five elementary schools, five middle schools and one high school.  The charter is also one of the highest academically performing in the city although it concentrates on educating low-income kids.  For example, of the 22 schools listed by the DC Public Charter School Board as top performing, meaning that they score above the state average on the 2016 PARCC Assessment, four of those institutions are part of KIPP.  Moreover, five out of 16 schools recognized by the PCSB as having improved most in 2016 from the previous year’s PARCC scores for the number of children reaching the college readiness grade of a four or five, are part of the KIPP network.

Some of the ways that KIPP DC has been as successful as it has been are that it has a longer school day, going from 7:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and through its offering of Saturday classes and summer school.  But  as the Post reporter indicated some of these schedules are about to be altered.

“Many people still think of long days when they hear the name KIPP, but the nature of that extra time has changed at KIPP DC. Saturday classes have been shifted from the middle to the elementary schools. The July summer school has moved to August, just before the regular school year begins. And the middle school day has been cut by an hour, running from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.”

In a conversation Mr. Mathews had with Ms. Schaeffler, she stated she had mixed feelings about the moves.  She commented, “’It is one of the things we struggle with now.  The market for classroom talent is very competitive in the District.’ She did not want to lose good teachers to schools that offered a shorter workday, no Saturday classes and no required assignment in the middle of the summer. ‘It was tough because I felt for the first time I was making a decision based on adults and not children,’ she said.”

This story brings me back to the book The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley.  In her excellent work Ms. Ripley discusses the fact that some countries such as South Korea elevate the value of education to such a level that teachers who tutor privately can become millionaires.  My hope would be that instead of Ms. Schaeffler having to modify her winning formula in order to compete for talent that we could as a society remunerate these instructors at such a level that they would not consider working for anyone else.

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