Founded in 1994 by Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) is a national network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public schools with a track record of preparing students in underserved communities for success in college and in life. KIPP’s innovative approach to urban education was portrayed in the book Work Hard. Be Nice.
There are currently 99 KIPP schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia serving more than 26,000 students. Students are accepted regardless of prior academic record, conduct, or socioeconomic background. Eighty percent of KIPP students are from low-income families and eligible for the federal free and reduced-price meals program, and 90 percent are African American or Latino. Nationally, more than 90 percent of KIPP middle school students have gone on to college-preparatory high schools, and over 85 percent of KIPP alumni have gone on to college.
KIPP Academy Middle School in New York opened in 1995 and now has 268 students. Teacher Maria Soto has taught in the South Bronx for eight years, including time at another public school before she joined KIPP. Here’s how she describes her day-to-day challenges and triumphs:
“I base my own success on that of my students, my work with my colleagues and our relationships with families. I think of my students. Are they confident? Included? Empowered? Happy? I feel victorious when they have developed some new understanding about the content I teach or the content of their character. I feel triumphant because I work in a place where children have a safe space to laugh and to cry, to reach high expectations, and to fail—and get back up. I dedicate my time and attention to my students, but I know that our work here comprises far more than my individual contributions: it is our culture and teamwork that our children ultimately model. Every child should have the opportunity to benefit from a strong academic and character education.
“While I know that changes in education policy are mired in inefficiency and bureaucracy, my hope for education is that our system recognizes these inequities and our potential growth as a people when we afford all of our children a chance to succeed. A dynamic educational system upholds high community expectations—for teachers, students and families. It is comprised of schools that push for character as hard as academic development. School models like these will drive our character and competitiveness forward as a nation.”
High-performing charter schools like KIPP only serve a small percentage of American students. And they are not the silver bullet. But they do demonstrate that a high quality education is possible even for students who have fallen behind. And they are open to trying innovations that can spread to all schools.