Public Schools, KIPP Style

Feb 11, 2015 at 3:08 pm
Public Schools, KIPP Style

My first read of 2015 was “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell and it has my mind racing about the current state of our education system. Education is the means by which one can change his or her stars. I suggest this strongly because my life is a testament to the fact that kids just need a chance. There is no way a poor girl from Louisville’s West End is supposed to earn a master’s degree, a doctorate and the opportunity to run for office, unless of course she is afforded an excellent education. Because I am a product of McFerran Elementary School, Meyzeek Middle School and duPont Manual High School, I strongly support the public school system. However, I will not shy away from the reality that this very same public school system can do better. I have often said in speeches that your zip code should not determine the quality of education you receive, but unfortunately in Kentucky, it does. It saddens me to know that while excess resources exist in many Jefferson County schools, there are some schools deplete of books and hope.

After reading the final chapter of Outliers entitled ‘Marita’s Bargain,” I started thinking about ways we can potentially improve our public school system. In summary, the chapter talks about the achievement gap between low, middle and high-income families, noting that what occurs scholastically for a child during the summer months triggers this gap. Children from lower-income families tend to take the summer off from learning, while children from more wealthy families are likely to attend summer camps and engage in reading and other learning activities. Makes sense. Gladwell then describes the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Academy model in Bronx, New York, a charter school (I do not support charters), primarily educating low-income students. What intrigues me about this school is the Monday through Friday schedule: School begins at 7:25 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m.; they begin with 30 minutes of critical thinking skills, followed by 90 minutes of English, 90 minutes of math, an hour of science, an hour of social science and, at least twice per week, an hour of music. On some Saturdays (known as “Saturday School”), class is held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. KIPP’s curriculum also ensures that students don’t receive three months off for summer vacation. Gladwell reports that children attending the KIPP Academy have between 50 to 60 percent more learning time than that of other traditional public school students.

To be clear, I am not suggesting a complete overhaul of JCPS. Working through my own thoughts, I am writing this knowing that we can learn something from this type of scheduling, and I am very interested to hear your opinions. What if our middle and high school children across the district were in school longer each day, allowing the teachers to take their time introducing information? What if our kids were required to spend 30 minutes per day practicing critical thinking skills? What if there were shorter lengths of time where children aren’t learning? What if every school had the same in-school and out-of-school learning resources?

I believe that a longer school day (of course after teachers get a raise) is great for everyone. The children are able to really process and apply what they are being taught. I think that it would help remove stressors from working parents who have to figure out and often pay for after school child care. An extended day would keep children occupied and out of trouble while teaching them tenacity, work ethic and responsibility. I think that this type of schedule helps to close the achievement gap because everyone is doing the same thing all year around, and it gives all of our children a better opportunity to be successful. Considering that the average American school year is 180 days while the Asian school year boasts between 220 and 243 days, it’s no wonder why we are behind. Our teachers are being asked to keep up with the Jones (other countries) with minimal resources in some cases and with greatly reduced time. How do our children compete nationally and internationally in a system like this? We can’t, and we aren’t.

My question for you this week: How do we create more “Outliers” in Jefferson County? #Education