Expecting Success

Writing in the latest issue of Kappan, Robert Maranto and James Shuls (subscription required) argue that KIPP schools, particularly in the Arkansas Delta region, have been undeniably successful in educating students and preparing them for college.  They contend that KIPP’s success is a result of a few key ingredients: explicitly defining the mission, hiring the right teachers for the mission, paying specific attention to classroom routine and management.  All KIPP hires are trained in maintaining the focus on instruction and learning and they all use the same cues and practices to address discipline problems.

In addition to a strong committment to classroom management, KIPP teachers work continually to create a culture of learning  – a culture that emphasizes the academic mission of getting each student to and through college.  I had the privilege of attending the KIPP ELA/Humanities Summit this past weekend in Austin, Texas and even got a chance to visit classrooms at KIPP Austin.   While the summit was stimulating, the real inspiration came in visiting the active classrooms at KIPP Austin.  A few observations worth sharing:  .

  • The culture of college preparedness permeates all aspects of KIPP: The halls and classrooms throughout the school are filled with college pennants.  And almost every classroom contained the teacher’s college degree in a frame above the desk.
  • Each classroom has signs that reiterate core KIPP values.  In particular, I noticed signs in most every room encouraging personal responsibility, indicating only interest in things that students can control.  The school motto, ‘Work hard. Be Nice’ is also displayed prominently in every classroom.  There are also signs discouraging the use of the phrase, ‘I don’t know’ and urging it to be replaced with statements like, “I need more information’.
  • The teachers speak to students constantly about what they can expect in college, using phrases like, ‘at the university…’ ‘in college you will be expected…’  Teachers also speak openly about their own experience in college.
  • Classroom management appears to be systematized across the entire school and classroom expectations are made very clear.  Teachers maintain control over behavior the entire class period.
  • They use phrases like:
    • “Miguel is speaking, all eyes are tracking Miguel”
    • “With a college-prep hand, Miguel is about to speak”
    • “All eyes are tracking me on 3-2-1-…”
    • Many of the students use standardized hand signals: thumbs-up to signal agreement, waving hands to signal passionate agreement.
    • To encourage classroom participation, teachers often use phrases like “I’m only seeing 30% of you answering.  Let’s try again.”  Or, “I want to hear your thoughts, but I can only take two…”
    • Teachers rely heavily on timers to manage time and classroom transitions: “You have 1 minute to move to the rug”.  You have 90 seconds to discuss.  You have 2 minutes to write your response.  And many utilized large, visible timers to constantly keep things moving. 
    • Teachers use student nicknames and other devices to indicate personal knowledge of students. 

What was clear from my visit to KIPP Austin and the time spent at the summit was that KIPP has done an excellent job of explicitly formulating a mission and methodically building a culture in which nothing is taken for granted – every aspect of the culture is built around the idea of sending each student to college.  Classroom management- far from an afterthought to instruction – is a central part of the instructional process and KIPP teachers effortlessly blur the distinction, blending instructional and behavioral expectations. 

For any individual who gets an opportunity to visit a KIPP classroom, it’s worth the time and is an inspiring look at the admirable work being done to ensure that so many low-income students have a chance for success in the post-secondary world.

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