Work Hard. Be Nice

ounded in 1994 by Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) is one of the most promising examples of innovative thinking in American education.

Jay Mathews’ book Work Hard. Be Nice. describes the history of KIPP by telling the story of Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin. KIPP is remarkable in some ways, particularly in its ability to attract great teachers and engage and inspire students. 

(I spoke about KIPP a bit in a 2008 TED talk I gave and there’s an interesting report on KIPP from NBC.) 

Jay did a great job writing this book. 

The book gives a great sense of how hard it was to get KIPP going and how intense the focus on good teaching is. 

Great teaching in 5th-9th grade is very hard because it’s challenging to get all of the kids engaged and because dealing with kids who cause trouble or are bored requires special skills. 

You also have to know the topic to make it clear and interesting. 

I wonder how much has been done to record best practices on video and make them easily available online. 

High school teaching is somewhat different but a lot of the key skills are the same. 

A teacher has to be a real performer and very dedicated to the kids to teach the way that KIPP expects. 

Mike and Dave are gifted teachers but they do manage to get less gifted people doing most of what they do. 

The amount of time they spend with the kids really is unbelievable. Between the long day (7:30 to 5) and every other Saturday and three summer weeks it is 60% more than normal schools. 

In addition the teachers are asked to let the kids call them anytime. 

I also read the KIPP 2007 Report Card which goes through every KIPP school open for more than a year. 

They have 66 schools in operation today. Almost all of those are middle schools only. They have three high schools. 

They have decided that kids are still open minded and can still catch up when they get them in 5th grade. 

They would prefer to get them earlier and they have five schools that do that but mostly they start in 5th. 

In almost every area they stop at 8th so they have to work hard to try and get their kids into good high schools. 

Without more great high schools their work will not have the leverage it deserves to have. 

They plan to get to 100 schools by 2011. I think most of their high school plans are in the Houston area. 

I am impressed with the way KIPP does measurement. They have Mathematica doing a hard core analysis that looks at the kids well after they leave KIPP. 

KIPP clearly has a huge affect on kids. Some people say they get the kids who are better to start with in terms of knowledge, motivation, or parents but this has been examined quite closely and if it is true it is a very modest difference relative to the surrounding schools. The KIPP kids are well below average coming in compared to the state averages almost everywhere. One example of KIPP’s success: while only 20 percent of low-income students in the U.S. attend college, the rate for former KIPP students is 80 percent. 

People look hard at the number of kids who leave KIPP to decide how that should be reflected in the KIPP performance statistics. 

I am impressed that KIPP takes all of these issues very seriously and where there is an issue they focus on it. They really have the right goals and a strong culture. 

I certainly think people who care about education should read the book and a lot more people will decide to help KIPP. 

The questions about costs, rules, and ability to scale will be asked by every reader of this book. I certainly want to understand these things better. 

I find it stunning that the educational schools are not training teachers to use the KIPP way of teaching classes. 

What the heck is going on with schools of education and what is the field going to do to get some of them to get involved in this kind of work?


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