The headline should probably read “an inconvenient truth,” but I thought this deserves a little more seriousness than that. KIPP Academy has been operating in Galveston since Hurricane Ike ravaged the island and put a dent in enrollment in Galveston. According to tale, it costs about 1.5 million more to run the KIPP campuses than a regular campus, so the district and KIPP are pulling the plug after the school year.
Those that have been regular readers of this blog know I used to be a counselor and a teacher down in Galveston. Those unfamiliar with the geography and demographics of the island don’t quite understand the large income disparities involved. Most people assume that Galveston Ball High School is just a band of thugs that look like something that comes out of a Hollywood inner city school scene.
The truth is that it is very eclectic. Yes, there are those elements, but they are interspersed with some very affluent students as well. The elementary schools and junior highs are a little more homogeneous. The west end of the island is usually reserved for the middle class and upper middle class families while the east end was more reserved for the lower income families. The KIPP academies took over a couple of the schools on the east end of the island.
I say this because reports have come out that the KIPP campuses were two of the lower performing schools in the district. I certainly knew of KIPP and knew some people that worked for KIPP while I was down there, but I would hate to comment too much with own thoughts about the program itself. In short, I don’t know enough about it outside of the fact that they did go to school longer and the teachers worked more days than we did.
So, I mention the demographics of the island to make sure no one think that KIPP is somehow a fraud that failed. The schools they took over would have been the two lowest performing schools in the district whether they were KIPP schools or a part of the traditional Galveston ISD umbrella. That’s the inconvenient truth I mentioned in the beginning. They were fighting an uphill battle as we were on the campus where I was.
In particular, there were a number of comments following the articles covering this announcement (as there always are) talking about how bad charters are. There were also personal accounts about how successful that KIPP had been with individual students. Those two sentiments are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I firmly believe that if you measure success by the overall scores then KIPP was a failure. If you measure it by how many kids they turned around then they were also successful.
The problem is in the perspective. General Colin Powell once said the following about George H.W. Bush, “he was born on third base and he thinks he hit a triple.” If you imagine education as a 400 meter race you will begin to see what schools like KIPP are up against. Students in the suburban schools have a 200 meter head start and we get mad at the KIPPs of the world because they can’t make up the difference.
The inconvenient truth is simple. The scores at any particular campus are usually not a representation of the quality of instruction at that campus. They are simply a representation of the quality and collective intellectual talent of the student body. When you have smarter kids and more involved parents then you have student success. When you don’t then you won’t.
This isn’t to say that those communities should throw in the towel. I applaud KIPP for what they were trying to do and the students that had been in the program were responding. The problem is that the state testing doesn’t measure how far you’ve come. It measures you as if you all started at the same point. No teacher deserves to be measured on whether their students can get to arbitrary point. They deserve to be measured on the progress their students actually make. In the case of KIPP and Galveston, this is a sad commentary on the lack of funding in our state. Galveston already had to close down several campuses because of lost enrollment. Now, they have to kick KIPP to the curb.