By Jay Mathews
Sunday, March 29, 2009; Page B03
Like most principals, Dave Levin believed that parental support was essential to a school's success. So when many families pulled their kids out of his struggling South Bronx charter school after its first year, he thought he was in trouble.
Some parents called him and his teaching partner, Frank Corcoran, "crazy white boys." The two had recruited 46 fifth-graders, barely enough to start the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) Academy, and 12 failed to return for sixth grade. Test scores were somewhat better than at other local schools, but Levin's discipline methods weren't working. By March of his second year he believed that he had no choice but to close the school.
That was 1997. Twelve years later, the academy, saved by a last-minute change of mind, is considered a great success and a model for the 66 KIPP schools in 19 states and the District. Together, they have produced the largest achievement gains for impoverished children ever seen in a single school network.
And Levin did it, in the beginning, with very mixed reviews from parents. The story of his school and others like it suggests that the importance of parental involvement, at least in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, has been exaggerated, probably because middle-class commentators have been imposing their suburban experiences on very different situations. Unchallenged, this misunderstanding of what works for low-income children could stymie efforts to improve the country's worst schools.
The best school leaders say that they don't need much parental involvement when they are hiring staff, creating class schedules and putting discipline procedures in place. Take Susan Schaeffler, the founder of the cluster of KIPP schools in Washington. She had no track record and zero name identification when she and her staff started teaching fifth grade in an Anacostia church basement. She recruited students by standing in front of markets and shouting: "See me if you are interested in a school that will keep your child from eight in the morning to five in the afternoon!" That promise of free child care is what persuaded many parents to give her a try. Much time passed before she was able to prove that her teachers could produce the highest test scores of any public school in the city.Read the rest of the Jay Mathews column here. The comments I left at the site are below:
"Much time passed before she was able to prove that her teachers could produce the highest test scores of any public school in the city."
Oh, the maniacal quest to "produce" higher test scores! It is quite literally resulting in the dumbing down of America, IMO.
There is nothing wrong with standardized tests in and of themselves. It is their overuse and misuse that is so destructive and senseless. For example, what have we to show for NCLB and its high-stakes testing? Flat NAEP scores and increasing dropout rates.
Ironically, the more importance you attach to standardized test results, and the more you 'teach to the test', the more meaningless the resulting scores become. Please see David Berliner and Campell's Law in "Collateral Damage". Attaching life-altering consequences to the results of these tests inevitably results in gaming and corruption.
Furthermore, higher test scores do not necessarily equate with being well educated. I fear that intensive test prep results in higher test scores but not learning that is deep and lasting and able to be applied to real life problem-soving. And what about the simple joy of learning for its own sake?
Assessment of student progress is critical and teachers have always done it. I will wager that on-the-spot classroom assessments by the teachers who actually know and interact with their students on a daily basis give more accurate information than the far-removed, standardized tests that are lining the pockets of business interests with taxpayer money.
The same dog-eat-dog, market worshipping hyper-competitiveness agenda that our corporate/politicos are imposing on our nation's "public" schools has sure taken our nation to new heights of glory hasn't it?
And forgive me Jay, but the more I read about KIPP, the more 'cultish' it sounds. Granted, I have never even visited a KIPP school so I am hardly an authority.
Just hope people will think deeply about what is happening as our nation and its schools are increasingly under corporate domination and control.