The Piedmont Post published an article on the KIPP Bridge Charter School in Oakland about a month ago. I followed up on an invitation to visit the school. I had known about the Knowledge Is Power Program, having read articles in the New York Times about Dave Levin, one of the founders, but I was unaware that there was a KIPP school in Oakland (the KIPP Bridge School), let alone five middle schools and two high schools in the Bay Area!
Our group of Piedmonters was first welcomed by the principal, vice principal, and a group of students. They answered our questions, and thereafter led a tour of the premises, visiting several classrooms. I was very impressed by what I saw: students with great respect, curiosity, and politeness towards us adults and towards their teachers; well-organized interactions between students and teacher, happy kids, clearly proud, and confident in themselves. Later in the week, I attended a performance of Annie which reinforced my views.
Kipp Bridge serves the underprivileged kids in our area from East and West Oakland to Richmond and clearly demonstrates that public education under the charter school umbrella (refer to the California Education Code Part 26.8) can deliver.
How come the formula is not extended across the Oakland School District, which has been under-performing for so many decades, even after being taken over by the State?
In my view there are two fundamental reasons, which are illustrated by the "commitment to excellence" pledge signed by KIPP teachers, parents/guardians, and students, reproduced at the end of this note:
- Many parents in poor districts cannot or do not want to make the required level of commitment. This is a major problem, and is the reason (rightly) given by teachers' unions for the success of charter schools: kids are self selected, and the regular public school system is left to educate the most difficult kids, an impossible task.
- Teachers' unions oppose charter schools, as their status puts unions out of business. Unlike regular public schools, charter school administrators and principals have the tools needed for good and proper management, the same as in most industries: teachers and administrators are employed "at will" and are not protected by a union contract; administrators can pay teachers according to merit, based on peer reviews; students come first with a very long school day that keeps them out of their often troubled neighborhoods. Clearly KIPP upper management selects professionals with a "whatever it takes" attitude, just as the high tech industry in Silicon Valley does.
We all know the importance of fixing our public education system if as a nation we are to maintain our world leadership and our high standard of living. I believe that the KIPP formula addresses the need of poor families who understand the importance of education. KIPP deserves the support of our well-off Piedmont community with money and volunteers. My wife and I pledged to give every year a (modest) sum, and we encourage you to do the same.
So-called "Baby Universities" or "Baby Colleges" (such as the Harlem Children Zone's) are successful attempts to fix the parents' lack of commitment problem at the root. Such programs enroll expectant mothers and those raising a child up to 3 years old to promote reading to children and verbal discipline over corporal punishment.
It would be helpful if the Oakland Education Association — OEA (the exclusive bargaining agent for teachers and other staff) — was applying its large political muscle towards a "Students First" agenda. A look at their web site quickly dispels such hope. Sure, they have a case in pointing out that charter schools end up with the most educable students due to self-selection. But why is the union protecting at all costs under-performing teachers? Its argument seems to be that competent teachers do not make any difference given how hopeless the situation is. In the meantime, families who can afford it flee Oakland to areas with better school districts, and the Oakland district is forced to close schools for lack of students. At least the OEA could point out that KIPP Bridge has openings, encourage kids to apply, and support transforming the schools scheduled to be closed into charter schools.
As a well-off school district with parents committed to education, should not we consider giving our superintendent the management tools needed to take the district to the next level of excellence? I believe that a majority of our teachers would support a motion to transform our district into a charter district, following the process outlined in the education code Section 47606. How refreshing is the KIPP Teacher's Commitment to Excellence ("whatever it takes") compared to the 90 pages of the "Agreement between the Governing Board and the Piedmont Certified Employee Association"!
KIPP Commitment to Excellence
KIPP is a partnership among parents, students, and teachers that puts learning first. All three parties sign a learning pledge called the "Commitment to Excellence," which ensures that each will do whatever it takes to help the student learn.
For a complete version, go to Commitment to Excellence.
- We will always teach in the best way we know how and we will do whatever it takes for our students to learn.
- We will always make ourselves available to students and parents, and address any concerns they might have.
- We will always protect the safety, interests, and rights of all individuals in the classroom.
- We will make sure our child arrives at KIPP every day by 7:25 a.m. (Monday-Friday) or boards a KIPP bus at the scheduled time.
- We will always help our child in the best way we know how and we will do whatever it takes for him/her to learn. This also means that we will check our child's homework every night, let him/her call the teacher if there is a problem with the homework, and try to read with him/her every night.
- We will always make ourselves available to our children and the school, and address any concerns they might have. This also means that if our child is going to miss school, we will notify the teacher as soon as possible, and we will carefully read any and all papers that the school sends home to us.
- I will always work, think, and behave in the best way I know how, and I will do whatever it takes for me and my fellow students to learn. This also means that I will complete all my homework every night, I will call my teachers if I have a problem with the homework or a problem with coming to school, and I will raise my hand and ask questions in class if I do not understand something.
- I will always behave so as to protect the safety, interests, and rights of all individuals in the classroom. This also means that I will always listen to all my KIPP teammates and give everyone my respect.
- I am responsible for my own behavior, and I will follow the teachers' directions.
Signing the pledge is a pre-condition for a student to be accepted in the school.