First I read the opinion piece on the KIPP schools in the U.S. (by Margaret Wente in the Saturday Globe and Mail http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090320.wcowent21/EmailBNStory/specialComment/.then a week later I read the comments from other Globe readers. Wow. Is this really a political issue? Is it a racial issue? Are all the non-KIPP teachers really lazy?
Here’s a summary from the article: “The KIPP schools serve 17,000 children in 19 states. (KIPP stands for the Knowledge Is Power Program, and its slogan is "work hard, be nice.") Nearly 80 per cent of KIPP alumni - who are overwhelmingly black and Hispanic - go to college…KIPP classrooms … are very orderly. No one is gazing out the window. No one is slumping in his seat. All eyes are focused on the teacher. The kids have learned the drill called SLANT: Sit up, Listen, Ask questions, Nod, and Track the speaker with their eyes.”
I was interested in this article from a practical point of view. I believe my motives were pure! I really didn’t give much thought to the KIPP schools, but instead, thought about how the system might apply at our school. It’s a small northern middle school with only a handful of kids who are not Caucasian. In the first round of EQAO testing about 10 years ago, other than part of the Toronto and Kingston boards, the lowest scoring schools and boards were all in Northern Ontario. So perhaps the connection we might have with the KIPP schools is socio-economic.
I wish people would understand, or even take for granted, that when educators come up with strategies such as KIPP and SLANT, or the Afric-centric school proposed for Toronto, they are not looking for a short-cut, the magic solution to students’ learning difficulties or a way to make their jobs easier. They have tried to the best of their abilities, everything else. Literally everything they can think of. All the traditional and non-traditional approaches that they can research, model or adapt. Now they just want to try something new.
Out of the 100-plus responses I read to the original column all but a handful sounded like knee-jerk right or left wing political responses that bore no relation to the article or to classroom practice. They have little relevance to me as a teacher. Reading about other educators’ strategies does. Who knows? Maybe I’ll learn something.