Little did legendary Houston Public School teacher Harriett Ball know what she helped unleash when those two, eager teachers would periodically sit in on her classes. Ball had a unique teaching style in which she was able to draw out the potential in each and every student and was highly effective in reaching the most troubled kids, previously thought to be un-teachable. Having heard her from across the hall, newbie teachers David Levin and Mike Feinberg became fascinated by Ball's style and her indefatigable belief that all the kids who entered her classroom could not only learn math, but could also move on to college. Levin and Feinberg listened and learned. They embraced Ball's approach, added their own touches and lobbied then Houston Schools Superintendent Rod Paige to give them freedom to implement their unique style with the students they were teaching in the Houston public school district where they worked. From that auspicious, yet notable beginning, the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) schools were launched. The rest, as they say, is history.
The KIPP schools -- all 124 of them -- have emerged as the gold standard model for non-traditional public education in the country. Following the example laid by educators like Marva Collins, Jaime Escalante, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Harriett Ball and others, KIPP continues to prove that zip code, income and ethnicity does not need to be determinative of your educational attainment. Indeed, the KIPP results by any measure, are nothing short of remarkable. Nationally, more than 90 percent of KIPP middle school students have graduated high school, and more than 80 percent of KIPP alumni have gone on to college. And 100% of high school seniors classes on average consistently out-perform their district-wide SAT scores.
Lest we forget, there are still people who believe that poor people can't learn. That unspoken, yet pervasive point of view has crept into education policy and funding decisions for years. Not only have the results achieved by the KIPP network of schools disproved that notion, but a growing number of "mom & pop" schools around the nation have further debunked that myth. These include schools like Connecticut's Jumoke Academy, Philadelphia's Boys Latin, the Harlem Village Academies and most particularly the controversial, yet highly effective American Indian Public Charter School located in Oakland, California. And I have to mention Houston's own YES Prep Public Schools made up of 10 middle and high schools that serves almost all low-income and minority students, and recent Broad Prize winner for national excellence. They have managed to eliminate nearly all income and ethnic achievement gaps and are outperforming their higher income and white peers statewide in most cases.
All of these schools and many more, loudly demonstrate that all kids can learn. But to reach them, we can't force them all into the same box. Innovation and creativity are the key, qualities that KIPP prides itself on.
The real question that KIPP and other successful multi-school operators, like Silicon Valley's Rocketship Discovery Prep, Florida's Academica Charter Schools and Arizona's BASIS Charter Schools grapple with is this: How can we replicate to scale so we can serve more kids and have greater impact without losing the quality instruction results we have attained? Good question. Maybe the answer lies in these successful school operators continuing to do what they do well as judiciously and doggedly as possible, without worrying as much about scalability. And just maybe, running one great school at a time can lead to a hundred great schools, which, in turn, can lead to a traditional public education system that embraces change for positive and sustained results, while parents and community leaders demand excellence for all kids.