has never been a more innovative time in modern American education,
particularly in high-poverty school districts. In Washington, D.C. the
public charter school KIPP DC: KEY Academy, founded by Teach for
America alum Susan Schaeffler, requires students to be in class for an
extended day (7:30 am to 5 pm), week (two Saturdays a month), and year
(mandatory summer school). Through inspired teaching, a focus preparing
children for college, and constant access to teachers who carry cell
phones so that they can be reached with homework questions at any time,
KIPP students make impressive gains in learning, despite coming from
the same high-need communities as those students in Washington’s dismal
public school system. KEY Academy students enter as fifth graders
scoring at the 24th percentile in reading and the 26th percentile in
math but jump to the 65th percentile in reading and the 91st percentile
in math by the end of eighth grade.
Huffman wants to scale these programs up. Replicate what works and chuck out what doesn't. The main problems are political, he writes. Though states are increasingly chucking out the rules regarding caps on charter schools, it is still too hard to replicate these great programs. He also wants to fire or retrain the worst performing teachers and tie money to performance.
I found it amazing that Huffman never actually wrote the words "teachers union" anywhere in this essay. Remarkable self-restraint.
I'm not sure that the KIPPS program can be replicated. How many teachers would be willing to walk around with cell phones for instant homework help? How many kids would go to school on Saturday? Where would the money come from to pay those teachers for all that overtime? Still, I would like to see more effort to nudge the public school system to innovate in real ways. Paris Hilton book reports don't count.