At KIPP, at least for 07102, zip code is destiny

One of the most annoying phrases uttered in ed reform is some version of ‘poverty is not destiny.’  Occasionally they mix it up a little with something like ‘zip code is not destiny.’  The implication is that there are some people out there who think that every person born into poverty or born in a particular city is doomed to become an uneducated adult.  I don’t know anyone who believes that.  What many people do believe, though, is that students born into poverty or into a particular zip code that correlates with high poverty are less likely to, for example, graduate college than students born into the Beverly Hills 90210 zip code.  I don’t think that even the most vocal ‘reformers’ think that improving schools and teachers will be able to overcome all the out of school factors to completely equalize the college completion rates between two zip codes representing such different demographics.  The ‘reformers’ just think that they think that schools are less limited in their influence to do this than the ‘status quo’ defenders.  As the ‘reformers’ never really commit to numbers that they think are realistic or would define success, it really is an empty phrase to just say ‘zip code is not destiny.’  A few months ago, a Arkansas KIPP executive director even wrote an Op-Ed entitled ‘For Students, zip code does not define destiny’.

Newark, New Jersey, is an excellent example of a city where charter schools have flourished over the years.  A TFA alum is even the chancellor of schools in Newark.  KIPP schools are the gold standard of charter schools and have been in Newark for some time.  According to their website they have five schools there serving around 1,800 students.  Two schools are elementary, two are middle schools, and there is one high school.  One of the middle schools, the RISE academy, if often hailed as a true ‘miracle school’ that defies the odds with its amazing test scores.

One thing that KIPP does which I respect is publish an annual report summarizing the statistics of its over 125 schools.  Though they leave out certain information which I think is relevant, they leave a lot in which paints a more accurate picture of their successes, which in some cases are quite limited.

Looking at page 75 of the report, we see what sort of achievement in high school was accomplished by the students who graduated from the miracle two KIPP Newark middle schools.  Their SAT score was 1250, which is extremely low, only 416 per section.  When it comes to AP tests, only 31% took AP courses and only 2% passed at least one AP test.  With their numbers this means that just one student in the entire school passed an AP test.  If the amazing KIPP Newark middle schoolers are kids who peak in 8th grade, what good is that?

But this only tells a small part of the story.  I found two other sources for information about this school’s performance.  The first is on the KIPP Newark website where they report the unusual demographics of this school.  At the bottom of this page we learn that this school has nearly 60% girls.

There have been studies about how high attrition is for black boys at KIPP and this is further evidence about this.  Combine this with some facts from their New Jersey school report card where we see that in addition to this unequal balance of boys and girls, there is, for some tests, an incredible ‘gender gap.’  For example, in 8th grade language arts, 71% of boys scored proficient or better compared to 89% of girls.

Another thing I found on the state report card is that the Newark KIPP network does suffer from attrition.  Notice how the recent graduation class of 55 students was 71 students three years earlier.

Two years ago, when KIPP released their 2010 annual report, I wrote about how they admit their student retention rate was only 88%.  When you lose 12% of your students a year, that amounts to losing about 40% of the students who begin a KIPP middle school in 5th grade by the time they are supposed to complete 8th grade.  Two years later, that figure has not changed at all.

While I do appreciate that they are willing to admit this statistic, it is amazing to me that education writers don’t write about this more often.  I know that the attrition isn’t solely from students who have been ‘counseled out’ (unofficially expelled).  Sometimes families have to move for reasons out of their control, but I’d think that if KIPP were so great many families would find a way to have their child continue there.

KIPP has received a lot of money on the facade that they have the secret to getting amazing results from the ‘same kids’ with the ‘same resources.’  Their own reports and publicly available data from New Jersey clearly show that their success is extremely limited.  Yet, they continue to expand and to be used by politicians as evidence that ‘reformers’ know what they are talking about.  How long this will continue, I don’t know, but I have to believe that it won’t be for very long.


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41 Responses to At KIPP, at least for 07102, zip code is destiny

  1. Educator says:

    I have heard that KIPP has a left back policy, which causes a lot of students’ parents to pull their kid out rather than repeat their grade. I’ve never been able to confirm this. Anyone know?

    • "Reformer" says:

      I work at a very similar type of school – one that posts very similar numbers, albeit on a smaller scale. The “left back” policy is just an enforcement of what the actual retention policy is at most traditional public schools. Kids are retained because they’re failing. In other schools, there may be social promotion, but not at KIPP.

      As a note to the author of the article, would you please stop referring to ed reformers using quotation marks? It’s rude. We’re all trying our best. If KIPP schools – and other charter networks – didn’t exist in these places, then what would you be left with? The abysmal graduation rate of the traditional public schools? That KIPP has had moderate success only underscores the immense and complex challenges that exist. KIPP has never claimed to be the answer; they’re merely part of the solution.

      In the same article, you called KIPP the “gold standard,” but go on to trash their work. So, which is it? And what’s the alternative? How do you propose we solve this? Close all the KIPP schools? And then what?

      Surely one can criticize charter schools on various levels. But, your article isn’t constructive or fair.

      • Linda says:

        Many things are rude and not fair “reformer” and the term is in quotes because the word has been highjacked and we don’t consider you reformers.
        You are opportunists determined to destroy public education. And if you are concerned about rudeness you must be very distressed by Rhee, Kopp, White, Duncan, Gates and the entire crew of edufrauds.

      • Kellen says:

        Um, charters mostly do worse or just the same as their public counterparts… so I’d say we’d be left with about the same situation we have right now if charter networks didn’t exist. Don’t start with that whole “can’t accept the status quo” BS. If “reformers” truly didn’t accept the status quo, they wouldn’t accept the awful conditions many of our children grow up in. They’d be much more focused on delivering basic services and health care to students in poverty rather than boosting test scores. But, I digress.

        Did you not read the article? Grad rates at charter high schools are skewed because so many kids leave between 9th and 12th grade. If you go back within some of these networks to 6th grade, then even fewer make it to 12th grade. So yeah, I suppose y’all do okay with kids who enter 12th grade, but much like the inflated “Houston Miracle” that Mr. Paige orchestrated, it’s easy to show off when you don’t count all the kids who have dropped out along the way. So yeah, “reform” on man. Try not to hurt kids in the process. Maybe one day soon you’ll become an educator. Believe me, as a former KIPP teacher, you’re doing more harm than good there.

    • E. Rat says:

      Our local KIPPs inform incoming 6th graders that their grade level at KIPP will be determined by testing and that they may be retained based on those results. So students with passing grades may still be retained. The policy definitely impacts who enrolls.

      • CarolineSF says:

        I can confirm what E. Rat says. KIPP denied that it gave tests as part of its admissions process. I entered my then-seventh-grader in the admissions process to determine whether they would require a test, which they did. I believe that this was in the same district to which E. Rat refers, the San Francisco Unified School District. (We did not follow through with the test, and my daughter completed her middle school years at one of SFUSD’s excellent public middle schools, which welcomes students without imposing admissions hurdles and has no attrition rate.)

  2. Educator says:

    Here’s a recent article from traditional press writing about this topic. Maybe more reporters will investigate and write. I’m sure the reformers will call these reporters protectors of the status quo, or the reformers will say “let’s not focus on the past let’s focus on the future” or something like that.

    – Another theory why charters have high attrition rates is that they don’t have to follow education code or the majority of education code. Typical district students have due process rights before being kicked out. Charters don’t give students that protection. Hence, maybe some charter students know they’re getting the boot so they just transfer out on their own. This is just a theory.

    • Ed Harris says:

      From that article:
      “Nineteen of the last 20 children to leave Kipp Academy had multiple out-of-school suspensions. Eleven of the 19 are classified as special needs, and all of them took their TCAPs at Metro zoned schools, so their scores won’t count against Kipp.”

    • Cosmic Tinkerer says:

      The very pertinent issue that was raised about KIPP and other charters in the TN link provides insight as to WHEN students are leaving charters –just prior to taking standardized tests, so failing scores are attributed to the public schools they transferred to instead of the charters the students left.

      This suggests that test data should include info about about how long each student was enrolled in school and where they attended school prior to taking the tests, so public schools and teachers are not penalized for students they never taught. Also, if the scores were attributed to the schools that taught kids the majority of the year, not the school where they took the tests, that would decrease the incentive that charters have to counsel out students just before testing in order to raise their test scores.

      • meghank says:

        The timing also means that the charter retains the funding for the students who leave. In Tennessee, the per-pupil funds do not transfer to a public school if a student leaves a charter for a public school, and the public system must educate the student without those funds.

      • meghank says:

        This actually still occurs if a student is kicked or counseled out of a charter a month into the school year. The public system never receives those funds.

    • KitchenSink says:

      These commenters are wrong. For one thing (at least in New York), per pupil payments are made to charter schools on a per-day enrollment basis. If a child leaves on March 1, then the school gets the per pupil for the portion of the year up to March 1. I assume that since the money comes out of the “home” district coffers, the rest of the money stays with the district.

      As for due process protections, those go back to the US Constitution, and charter schools are required the follow them. The defenders of the status quo muckrakers would do well to investigate this alleged trampling of civil rights and come up with some smoking guns rather than throwing accusations without any evidence. (And yes, attrition does happen…at charter schools and district schools, more in poor neighborhoods than in 90210. In fact, a recent study showed that attrition is higher in NYC district schools than in NYC charters.)

      • meghank says:

        I am not wrong.

        The comment I responded to referred to TN KIPP schools. I live in TN, and I know that in TN the funding stays at the charter when a student is kicked out and sent to a public school, just as I described. This fact is often mentioned in our local press coverage.

      • Educator says:

        “Because charter schools do not have to comply with most sections of the state Education Code, they are less regulated and have more independence in making decisions than traditional public schools.”

        Maybe I took this quote a bit too far, but I did ask someone at a charter school and they confirmed that there aren’t as many regulations if the school wanted to expel a student. Parents vote with their feet (like a business. If you don’t like the school, then leave) In a traditional district, there’s a process in place to expel a student. It’s apparently a long and cumbersome process (has to go to principal, district office, school board. Parents have a right to petition the board to fight an expulsion) If a district tries to expel a special education student, there are more requirements also, I’ve been told.

        So maybe my comments make me a status quo muckraker. I’m not totally against charters. But I’d like them to be more honest about what they can do with who they’re doing it with, and then let policymakers, funders, public weight the pros and cons of this.

      • Steve M says:

        It’s not so much that charters do not have to comply with most sections of a state’s Ed Code (they do), it’s that there is very little oversight of charters.

        As a result, they can get away with nearly anything.

      • Educator says:

        Here’s an interesting article titled “Court Rules That Charter Schools Can Dismiss Student Without a Due Process Hearing”

      • CarolineSF says:

        That “recent study” made those findings only by deception. The “study” claimed that turnover is the same as attrition, and it misled many people who should be too smart to fall haplessly for such a bogus claim.

        Low-income students tend to have unstable home lives and move a lot — that creates turnover, or mobility, in schools. In normal public schools, students who move out are replaced by students who move in. At KIPP schools, many/most/all of the students who leave are not replaced — the class cohort simply shrinks and shrinks. The numbers conclusively show that. And, by the way, this happens while KIPP continues to make self-promoting claims about its supposed “long waiting lists.” If the waiting lists are so “long,” why are the students who leave not replaced?

  3. Pingback: Remainders: An call for teachers to write for public consumption | GothamSchools

  4. Ken Hirsh says:

    I hadn’t noticed the SAT data — I didn’t realize they published that useful information.

    Two suggestions:

    1. Consider the other 124 schools rather than just this one in your analysis.

    2. Compare each school to its peers so that we could put the statistics you reference in context.

    Even those two steps would have the usual limitations of data-based comparisons, but it might improve upon the analysis of one school without any comparative statistics.

  5. Norm says:

    The issue you raise about girls is very important. In my years as an elementary school classroom grades 4-6 teacher there was a marked difference when my classes had a high ratio of girls. One year — maybe the best in terms of ease of teaching and lack of conflict was an 18-6 girl/boy ratio in a 6th grade class. And that wasn’t a top level class either. But I bet if there were some way to judge my effectiveness as a teacher (a horrid term) it would be very high. A few years later when the ratio in a 4th grade class bumped the other way I’m betting my “effectiveness” went down though in that case given some of the difficulties I actually may have been a better teacher. But who really knows? It is crazy to even try to go there as the ed deformers keep trying. Teachers who accept this crap cannot have been teaching very long which is why I believe TFA wants to get their people out of the classroom and into policy as soon as possible.

  6. Daniel says:

    Looks like your attrition argument doesn’t bare fruit. The study cited INCLUDES the kids of attrition despite being at other schools, and finds statistically strong results of the net KIPP cohort.

    • Moody Towers says:

      @Daniel, I have a few questions:
      1. Who paid Mathematica to conduct that study?
      2. If the study INCLUDES former KIPP students as KIPP students and their performance was decent, then don’t the receiving schools get negatively impacted by removing these high performers from their register and doesn’t that skew the study?
      3. The true ‘benefit’ from attrition is smaller class size and that the “problem students” are no longer “distracting” the “teachers” with their “issues.” Also the fear factor remains clear: misbehave and you’re gone. That alone is worth a few percentage points.

      • Daniel says:

        In order of the points you mentioned.

        1. Mathematica don’t disclose who funded the study. This is a working paper, and not peer-reviewed at the current time. The thing about science is -you work with the best data you have. At the moment this seems to be the best data available. Mathematica have a long term track record of prize-winning analysis by a company that is employee owned with some 800 employees.

        2. I agree that if the students are exceptional students then this discriminates against the district schools. However, if the students are average students, it neither discriminates nor helps the district. If the students ARE problem students, then this hurts KIPP & helps the district. Further, there is some sense in which KIPP is entitled to PART of the results of these students.

        However, I have a problem with your presentation. You can’t have it both ways. EITHER these students are problems, or they aren’t. One has to respect that in either case half the criticisms vanish. The MAJOR concern with attrition is hiding problem students, and this seems not to be the case.

        3. The fear factor argument doesn’t seem to be necessarily bad if it works. This can be painted as a positive of the school at basically no cost. As to the smaller class sizes? Maybe, too lazy to look up that data. If you drop from a 71 student grade to a 55 student grade, you may decide to have fewer classes, which would increase the class size. So at the moment this can’t be assessed without data.

        I run a small tech startup in South Africa, so it doesn’t pay me to find out these details. By all means find out and report back.

    • Cosmic Tinkerer says:

      No, the Mathematica study was on KIPP middle schools and Gary focused on high school.

      • Daniel says:

        Thanx for the correction! You’re right, the study is focused on middle schools. However, given the UNINTUITIVE result of that study, that suggests positive statistically significant results DESPITE attrition inclusion… I’d now want to see the same kind of study done on high schools before viewing the attrition there as a bad thing.

        However, in this vein, I find Gary’s conclusions too broad. Although his data is high school data in this article, his statements are about KIPP in general. I.e. he never isolates high school criticism in his wording, while praising KIPP middle school performance for example and saying this should be kept/expanded.

    • Educator says:

      I didn’t read through this entire thing but here’s another take.

      What I’d like to see is a charter management organization take over an entire school District. Then, if I’m thinking about this correctly, there would be no attrition problem. Then comparisons would be a bit easier to a traditional District. I think….

      • Daniel says:

        Sorry, but your suggestion is fraught with problems. If your trial fails, how do we know that it was that particular CMO (charter management organization) that was the problem, which says nothing about the average top CMOs in general.

        Any-which way you do it, you have randomization problems to the gold standard in science of randomized controlled trials. If charters run a whole district then how do you control for hypotheses that suggest that the reason for desired/undesired results isn’t simply to do with the uniqueness of that district.

        I think the method chosen by the Mathematica study is superior to your suggestion, at least to the main concern of attrition: that you are pushing out the worst/handicapped students.

        The article you posted, doesn’t refer at all to the attrition argument (I read all the text), and the Mathematica study by using their inclusion technique provides a stronger rebuff to the attack of attrition, which a more significant issue than any of the other issues raised.

        The reason you want more school choice (less regulation) is precisely to allow for more experimentation. The more experiments allowed will produce both more mistakes and the potential for more successes. This means more learning & more trials & more science.

        Perhaps it’s my ‘elite’ Computer Science/University Mathematics background, but I’d bet my money on the Khan Academy plans for almost teacherless peer-to-peer classroom as the cheapest most successful model going forward. Too limited data so far, but very promising initial results.

      • skepticnotcynic says:

        Your bet on Khan shows you know very little about teaching and learning for most students. I find the Khan Academy to be quite arrogant. They don’t even know what they don’t know when it comes to identifying what matters and how the vast majority of students learn in this country. What they offer is incredibly mediocre teaching, which does have its place, but it is not a silver-bullet for solving our problems in education, which have more to do with the effects of poverty than anything else.

        From my experience, most students learn best through human interaction, not behind a computer. I don’t care if the software adapts to a child’s skill level. I would send my kid to a Waldorf school without technology over these new age blended learning schools like the School of One. I want competent teachers who have a deep understanding of human and intellectual development.

        I would love to see the employees at Khan run a title-one school. It would be utter chaos and they would be so frustrated that they couldn’t come up with an algorithm to create a school that they would go crazy and end up in a mental institution.

        Knowledge and skills are just two components of a solid education. What about critical thinking? The software can’t teach this. What about social/emotional development? The software can’t teach this. Why do elite parents who work for tech firms in Silicon Valley send their kids to schools like Waldforf?

        Could it be because this is a much better and more well-rounded education for their kids?

        If you want to cut costs in education, ditch all the superflous crap – most consulting, bloated central office administrative salaries, most technology in schools, and focus on human capital and professional development. Pay teachers a lot more and improve working conditions, which will attract more qualified people into the profession and make the profession more competitive to get into.

        Teaching and learning is a lot more complex than you make it out to be. For instance, why do you think the data that you cite is even important when measuring the efficacy of a school or CMO? Can you even distinguish between good data and bad data in education?

        Experimentation has its place, but I think most competent and experienced educators already know what matters and works in schools. Why do we have to justify and support corporate ed-reformers’ careers at the expense of children? They are not lab rats.

        Most competent and experienced educators can intuitively sift through all the BS and snake-oil being sold to the public. Great educators understand their limitations and know that most things are outside their control. You seem to think that adaptive software is going to all of a sudden elevate student achievement and students out of poverty. You are quite delusional to think this will ever happen.

        See, all this big data is mostly for people who lack competence or wisdom in their fields. Data can serve a purpose, but the problem I usually see from the public and policy-makers, is that they can’t even distinguish what data even matters when trying to measure the efficacy of authentic academic achievement and social/emotional/moral development.

        Schools that address the whole child provide the best education for our youth. Meanwhile, you as an “elitist COMP Sci/Math person are advocating for an almost teacher less peer-to-peer classroom” as if most students just teach themselves and are self-motivated and self-directed. How much time have you actually spent teaching in a classroom? If you have taught, you must have been blind to your environment.

      • Daniel says:

        Well this is clearly a “status-quo” vs reformer debate.

        I think that your comments communicate an arrogance for the trend of what has happened in almost every industry big-data & automation has breached. Agents and middle-men of different varieties, who added value by having expert wisdom, localized knowledge, a friendly in person social touch that instils trust & delivering what their customers have wanted have time after time been put out of business. Does this change happen overnight? No, and I don’t expect it to for teaching either.

        Do I see Sal Khan’s stuff as the holy grail? No I don’t. I see it merely as the beginning. His experiments with the Los Altos school district & some KIPP schools proving a decent enough proof of concept only.

        I think that Sal Khan’s product provides a good tool for self-learning (the best at the current time), but lacks appeal and motivation. I agree with Elon Musk’s critique here. He clearly has not created the Xbox/prime time TV of education where kids & adults alike complain when they are not able to play…. but this is coming. Mark my words.

        The idea that software can or can’t teach critical thinking is about as testable and laughable as the idea that teachers can or can’t teach critical thinking. Mastery & critical thinking is as much about RANDOMNESS as about anything else. Why some people take to some disciplines and follow through on Gladwell’s 10000 hour rule is UNKNOWN as far as the data is concerned. Teachers love to embrace the narrative that they can instil this to students, but this has not been demonstrated by any kind of data. I know many people who finished a University degree that in my opinion aren’t critical thinkers. The allowance for such an opinion demonstrates its un-testability. So cling to your narratives all you want. Whatch the TED talk on ‘grit’ for the best current hypothesis of the difference-maker here and even this data isn’t very good.

        There is little evidence as well that teachers can teach people to work in a group or develop social skills. Just as good an hypothesis is that simply contact with lots of different people is sufficient to build at the very least ‘coping’ skills. In my experience you can’t teach ANY people to work effectively in a group AND this is backed up by the data. The art is really about CHOOSING the group. There is a lot of data in Silicon Valley that validates this idea about selecting people to fit the culture of successful start-ups. Yet teachers fantasize about the influence they think they have in getting groups to work well, when in my opinion, the data suggests that they’ve missed the plot entirely here.

        Do I find it weird that Silicon valley parents are ULTRA CONSERVATIVE when it comes to the raising of their kids? Not in the slightest. There are few areas as prone to conservatism as the treatment of ones kids. It will not be the wealthy that will experiment with their kids education. They can afford not to and are prepared to pay the premium. It will be those in poverty that will be the first to adopt radical experiments (should regulation allow them to). Many of these experiments will fail (just as most big-data/automation experiments have failed) and I’m not ignorant of the fact that many of the poor will pay a price for this, but the ones that succeed will knock the competition out of the park… and that includes the best private schools of the wealthy (as it has time and time again included the best previous status-quo in other industries).

        Welcome to Schumpeter’s creative destruction.

      • skepticnotcynic says:


        Have you ever taught in a classroom before or worked in a school? Your comments seem a bit narrow in terms of addressing the complexity of teaching and learning. What does “status-quo” vs. reformer even mean? You act as if America woke up in 2001 and just started reforming education. Education reform in this country has been going on for over 100 years in education? If anything, the current reform movement is more of the same and becoming more and more status quo.

        Your assertion, “I think that your comments communicate an arrogance for the trend of what has happened in almost every industry big-data & automation has breached. Agents and middle-men of different varieties, who added value by having expert wisdom, localized knowledge, a friendly in person social touch that instils trust & delivering what their customers have wanted have time after time been put out of business. Does this change happen overnight? No, and I don’t expect it to for teaching either.”

        First of all, this is false analogy, you’re comparing automation in industry to educating a child, which is an incredibly flawed way of thinking in regards to your approach to educating children.

        Schools are not businesses, they are community institutions. In business there are winners and losers, public schools cannot be run this way. They have to meet the needs of everyone and cannot pick and choose who they get to teach or what markets to sell or to serve. It’s a public service, not a business.

        Teachers know there is not a correct way or right way to teach. Great teachers adapt to their environment and surroundings. There are many ways to approach a classroom and still get measurable results, at least on standardized tests, which is a pretty flawed way to measure teacher efficacy or even student mastery. The best educators are those who have a very large tool kit at their disposal. Software is not going to react to a student who is having a shitty day because his mom got beat up by his dad the day before. I guess I m having trouble understanding how you think the adaptive software model is going to disrupt education? There is not silver-bullet. There will never be a silver-bullet or disruption in education. How is this even possible to measure? A good education is debatable and will always be debatable.

        “Why some people take to some disciplines and follow through on Gladwell’s 10000 hour rule is UNKNOWN as far as the data is concerned. Teachers love to embrace the narrative that they can instil this to students, but this has not been demonstrated by any kind of data”

        “Not everything that counts, can be counted” – Einstein

        If anything good technology should supplement not supplant what good teachers are already doing. If it’s any good, it will at least do this somewhat well. I’ve used the Khan academy and it’s a good supplemental tool for students, but once again it’s quite mediocre and not all that effective with most of my students.

        I am going to make the assumption that you are very logical and approach most problems you encounter analytically. Do you really think most kids are self-directed learners who work well in teams or groups with absolutely no guidance by a well-educated and competent educator? You might have been the independent learner who taught themselves math or how to code, but this just isn’t the case for most students. I’m not saying we shouldn’t build out these models or use software as a tool to supplement teachers, but to make the assumption that kids are going to be sitting in front of a computer in the future without teachers is laughable and dangerous. Rocketship has learned this and has had to scale back on how much time students were spending in the computer lab. There is no silver-bullet, so instead of thinking about disruption, how about think about making a good product that people find useful that help and supplement the classroom?

      • Daniel says:


        By “status-quo” vs reformer, I am comparing two camps. The people that believe that the education is not disruptible in the way that driving cars is ‘not’ disruptible. That the best one can hope for is incrementalism, slightly better mileage, efficiency, and a more comfortable ride. Your 100 years of reform argument, which really represents the status-quo.

        The other camp believes that human beings driving cars is about to become obsolete. That computers can fulfill this task, previously thought to be the domain of people because of it’s complexity, unpredictability and fundamentally social activity. I.e. the coming introduction of the Google car and other such projects.

        In summary, you regard me as arrogant because you see your task as nuanced/difficult & constantly changing and something that takes time/energy & direction for good teachers to master. All of which I acknowledge. However, I have been PAID to look at these precise tasks (the content) and break them down into concrete blocks to see if they are automatable. I see no reason why they are not. I regard you as arrogant for not seeing that trend when human activity has previously been under such attack. The programmers at IBM were not Chess grandmasters like Kasparov. Should they have heeded the warnings by the professionals in that space that “Chess was an innately human and intelligent activity and a computer couldn’t do what people do”. I would argue that THEY DIDN’T HAVE to be professionals in that space. They simply at a distance had to break the task at hand down into concrete blocks and then begin to iterate over them. Coding the Google-car or Chess is not an incremental “business activity”. Your flawed analogy rebuttal. It’s fundamentally replacing an activity that was the domain of the human mind.

        This is what Sal Khan represents. He has started the trend towards automation, now a LOT of iterating has to be done. We agree that as an end-game in education, Sal Khan isn’t it. While I might be able to self learn coding, quantum-physics, XYZ etc. most kids do not have the grit/motivation whatever to do this. Clearly empirically so. However, you are looking at the CURRENT tasks and their implementation in education. As someone with some experience in coding for Gaming & Visual Effects, I see 91% of kids playing video games VOLUNTARILY. I see the gaming mechanics which make games addictive as NO DIFFERENT to the tasks needed to be completed when learning Matrix-multiplication or long division etc… except the textbook & teaching for a particular aspect of learning has not been iterated over by teams of engineers with millions of dollars of budgets. This is where I suspect your experience as at a deficit. This won’t happen overnight, and the efforts I’ve seen in this space so far have been INCREDIBLY BAD and too ambitious: Trying to stuff too much educational content into a video game to the detriment of the game, has not been productive for the educational gaming space & has so far been written off as a waste of time. This is a space that is ready for disruption.

        So perhaps even under such circumstances, not ALL kids will play educational video games voluntarily. Even if it’s 50% of kids, that is essentially fait accompli, as really minimal amounts of teacher motivation and/or coercion will be needed to get the rest to comply.

        Regards, Daniel.

      • larry says:


      • skepticnotcynic says:


        Based on your comments, I think we have a difference of opinion on the purpose of K-12 education and what that should look like.

        First of all, I resent being called “status-quo, as I’m quite methodical and innovative in my approach to teaching, which is based on knowledge, experience, intuition, and data. If you think “status-quo” means someone who doesn’t think software or video games will disrupt or “significantly” improve K-12 education, then I guess maybe by your definition, I’m “status-quo.”

        Since you’ve thrown out a lot of buzz words such as “disruption,” “creative destruction,” and “10,000 hours,” and have now been “PAID to look at these precise tasks (the content) and break them down into concrete blocks to see if they are automatable,” which you think they can, I would like to hear your opinion on what constitutes a quality K-12 education? What would this look like? What should students know and be able to do? Lastly, how will you measure the efficacy of this model? I assume it will be based on the current “status-quo” model of criterion-referenced exams.

      • Daniel says:


        Well I resent the implication that I was throwing around buzzwords for the hell of it. That they didn’t add value and weren’t required for the communication. Firstly, you were the one that first used the word “disrupt” (do a browser-find on the page to validate this). It’s not a word that I would generally use outside of a rather specific audience, except for summation. That’s what I did with “creative destruction”, as it’s precisely the appropriate summation term given MY definition of “status-quo” in this context. Given that you seemed pretty “with it”, I obliged by responding using convenient summation phrases. With a different person I would have responded differently. As I think you already appreciate “status-quo” is necessarily context/time dependent and always does have to be specified. I’m sorry you resent a particular definition as I used here because it then applies to you.

        When I said I was ” “PAID to look at these precise tasks”, I just want to clarify that it was in the automation of categories of jobs that used to be performed by people, that was there-after taken away from those people, despite resentment there. I’m only now working on automating a particular very narrow task in education (watch this space). Not that I will necessarily be the one to succeed in this space, for example the autonomous car has had poor attempts since the 1930s and only really promising results recently.

        Regarding “10000 hour”, although I concede that mastery & critical thinking aren’t the same thing, there is a correlation. Moreover, I’d argue that mastery is the more important, and critical thinking is really useful to the extent that it aids people in achieving their individual endeavours where mastery will be the focus. I’m nervously trying to respond to the various points you raise, realizing that with every point the conversation gets more and more deep. If you disagree with this paragraph for example, we’ll start talking about Socrate’s paradox of wisdom… which I really don’t want to do.

        So let’s simply agree to disagree about the PURPOSE of a school education. We probably have some overlap, and focussing on that is a sufficient place to end this discussion… which started, by the way, from a one line comment of mine about speculating where the real gains in education are going to come from (but are not necessarily coming from now). You wrote a long rebuttal and I’ve tried to oblige you with a response.

        Do you have to worry about this in the short term? Clearly not. In fact I doubt whether the most radical solutions in education will be tried out in the USA (although it may still be invented there). It can be much cheaper to test things out in the 3rd world.

        Obviously the efficacy of any model should be tested in as similar way as possible across all the models. I doubt that testing would change significantly from current methods already used (my opinion). We agree on that.

  7. anonymous says:

    I misinterpreted the title for the post, which gave me an idea. What if you looked at the KIPP results by family income level? Even within their own (KIPP) system, is family income associated with better test scores. I bet that it is. I doubt that KIPP is even able to overcome those relatively minor differences within their own system, let alone the differences between KIPP students and “average income” families in the suburbs.

  8. CarolineSF says:

    KIPP’s admissions process self-selects for motivated, compliant students from motivated, compliant families who care about their child’s education. Whether that correlates with income level is hard to know.

  9. Chris says:

    This was a very interesting article! I’d never heard of KIPP before now, but I’m not surprised that the charter schools aren’t putting out the best results. In my home state, charters aren’t doing much better than normal schools…

  10. Norm says:

    You are so behind the times with the “status quo” comment. Reformy types being on control of so much of public ed for so long have abandoned that term because they are now the status quo.
    Chicago has had “reform” since 1994. NYC since 2002. So let’s reframe the debate: status quo deformers vs Real Reformers. You see people have been Real Reformers since forever. In my case since my 3rd year of teaching in 1970. When you guys came along starting in the early 90s with the Clinton administration many of the RRs were horrified at what it was going to do to education but there were too few voices to stop it. What it took is the loss of an entire generation to expose the sham and now the chickens are coming home to roost.
    KIPP would never touch an an entire district because that would expose what the charter movement is about creaming. Ravitch tells a story that Arne Duncan said to her, “Diane, what am I going to do about Detroit?” When she responded, “Give it to KIPP” he laughed and laughed. Yes, as the failed Supe in Chicago for 7 years he full well knows the ed deform game. 18 years in one city of reformy stuff leads to closing 50 schools in one pop. Nice work Arne.

    • Daniel says:

      Dear Norm.
      I’m not sure if you followed the debate I was having about “status quo” with SkepticNotCynic, but the fact that “status quo” needs to be defined in context was already discussed. So you’re not adding value here. Search for the comment ” I am comparing two camps”… to see the details. And also the quote: ‘As I think you already appreciate “status-quo” is necessarily context/time dependent and always does have to be specified.’

      So I’m not fighting politically to “claim” a term. I’m happy to use anybody’s definitions within a particular context.

      You also seem to have a very parochial view of education, given that my comments previously were actually about the future of education and GLOBAL in nature. Indeed, I’m interested in American experiments only in terms of the DATA they generate, and not in terms of – the struggles you went through under various different administrations. It’s anecdotal anyway. Show me the controls of your analysis. Also, the world doesn’t stop with the USA!! Sweden, for example is big on private school choice, while Finland ‘kinda’ is on the choice part, but not on the private part. Both have phenomenally good education & anomalies. I.e. Finland has incredible schooling but rather average Universities.

      Otherwise, I don’t really care what happens to American education. I don’t live in the USA. My interest is fundamentally scientific first, and as it relates to gaming a close second.

  11. Karyn says:

    I taught a year at a KIPP type charter school with a heavy contingent of young TFA staff. I was already a certified teacher, was older, and was teaching science to High School students. I found that the TFA mentality is rigid and top down with an arrogance, that I believe is born of inexperience and ignorance. They insisted on rating children’s character traits, for example, as a motivational method. I disagreed and refused to do this and found a lot of hostility from some of the TFA staff and administration. Consequently, I am no longer there, which is a shame from the perspective of the students, who were learning science in my classroom.

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