Thursday, January 29, 2009

Braindump: High Tech High AND KIPP

Bill Gates used to highlight progressive schools in his talks about education -- High Tech High and Big Picture (e.g. The Met). Now he's slid to the right a bit, but in his new letter on giving he still highlights High Tech High and KIPP as successful charter school designs. Nonetheless, of the two, KIPP gets far more attention and press these days. Why?

That's a rhetorical question, but I'll throw a few thoughts out, including some random hold-overs from EduCon:

  • KIPP & "no excuses" advocates have no qualms about unambiguously promoting specific models, even if they don't know everything about them. Progressive educators, including myself, seem to be more circumspect, knowledgeable and experienced by nature. The more you deal with the intricacies of actual implementation, the less you want to say any given system is "the answer." I'd be a more forceful advocate for the Big Picture model if I'd just read a book about it rather than living close to seven of their schools. Which is not to say that I will not be very, very disappointed if Vivian can't attend the Big Picture elementary school two blocks from my house, but I understand the downsides of their model from more direct contact than you get from a book, so I know enough to be a little qualified in my advocacy. This might be a bad thing.
  • A good model that is designed to optimize test scores will tend to get higher test scores than a good model designed to optimize other things.
  • It is not a free market if what schools are created is based on what schools will receive corporate or philanthropic funding. Or it is some kind of market, but it is not a market based on the needs or desires of the real "consumers" here, students, parents, and local citizens. The number of people applying to attend a school like SLA or Beacon tends to not influence what kinds of schools are created in the future. High demand does not result in greater supply.
  • Can we have an EduCon at High Tech High?
  • Can't we somehow reboot the Coalition of Essential Schools instead of having to reimplement it, which seems to be the obvious next step?
  • I am much less bothered by KIPP schools on the ground than what seems to be their advocates' idealized KIPP's. My reading is that the "ideal" imagined KIPP in its fans heads is more Dickensian than the reality.
  • In terms of progressive experimentation, by design The Met > High Tech High > SLA > regular school.
  • SLA is not successful because of less bureaucracy, it is dependent on one bureaucracy protecting it from another.
  • Which is a more effective message "21st Century Skills," or "No excuses?" Or "Schools like KIPP," or "Schools like High Tech High?"
  • The most baffling statement in the EduCon Sunday morning panel, which I found to be entertaining, was when David Bromley from Big Picture seemed to be saying he didn't have an answer when someone visiting one of their schools asked "Is this replicable?" Isn't the obvious answer, "This school is itself a replication of other successful Big Picture schools, so, 'yes?'"
  • Having the right publicist makes an immeasurable difference. I was in a band that had a good one for about six months. It is like night and day.


Jill Davidson said...

Hey Tom -

Lots to talk about here, good post, I want to get some free advice re CES: what's the problem (not saying there aren't a few from which to choose)? Why is a reboot/reimplementation needed? What would that look like? What would result?

Your post makes me sorry to have missed EduCon due to a book deadline; thanks for it.

Tom Hoffman said...


There is just a disconnect which I can't put my finger on, other than the EduCon crowd being somewhat more techy. I'm not how a somewhat loosely structured organization like CES reaches out to an even more loosely structured network like the people at EduCon.

Jill Davidson said...

Thanks. I agree with your assessment of the challenge. One thing we could do is attend EduCon which actually I very much wanted to but am being driven by mid-February book deadline that has narrowed my life to, well, not very much these days! I am hoping to connect with EduCon folks around an upcming issue of Horace on techology integration in small, personalized, equitible (CES) schools. Call for submissions is here:

Am hoping this will start to pull the 2 worlds together.