"John" And "Michele", I Swear I’d Quit Ya If I Could! And, Why KIPP Isn’t The Real Issue…

All roads seem to lead us back to Blogback Mountain…”John” and “One-L Michele” at the AFT’s anti-(but allegedly not really) NCLB blog and Chalkboard’s Joe Williams are now having a debate about KIPP (Punchline: Joe thinks One L is lazy, she thinks he’s full of it!) The AFT’ers have invited Joe’s readers over to comment about the AFT’s position on KIPP and charter schools so go do that if you want. But, before the AFT’ers get too sanctimonious about their comments policy they might want to glance to their left, their blogroll is a who’s who of like-minded thinkers…

But, leaving aside last week’s poetic silliness, the posts by “John” and “One-L” about KIPP reveal an interesting tension in education policy today. During the 20th Century the meta-quest in American K-12 education was to build and perfect a “one best system” of public schools. We know how that turned out: It worked very well for some kids and led to important strides for minorities and students with special needs but left a lot of kids, especially poor and minority students, grossly underserved today.

Now, albeit contentiously and clumsily, we’re trying to move toward system with common results but divergent, or pluralistic if you will, ways of delivering public education. That’s the meta-theme now, how to make the system work for all kids, not just the fortunate ones and there is a growing consensus that more pluralism is a key ingredient in this effort in addition to standards-based reform. Charter schools are one-stab at that, vouchers another, public school choice yet another, and of course all the various curricular approaches out there like Core Knowledge or Montessori and networks like the Coalition of Essential Schools also are attempting to solve this puzzle. There are pros and cons to all of them but they’re aimed at the same question.

That’s where KIPP comes in. The AFTers basically ask: What good is it if it’s not scalable and what ideas are scalable? But what if that’s the wrong question to ask in this new environment? Sure, there will never be 10,000 KIPP schools, or maybe not even 1,000 but isn’t even 100 OK if simultaneously there are a many other good public options for kids as well? In fact, Eduwonk doesn’t want to see every, or even most, schools looking like KIPP schools. It’s one approach but is not going to work for every kid any more than the system we have does. Besides, what other industries right now are trying to find one way to do things? From the military to the private and non-profit sectors things are moving in the other direction.

That’s why perhaps the idea that needs to be scalable is not a particular model, but rather the idea of more dynamism and agility in how we think about delivering public education. If we can create a continuum of options in our cities and space in policy for those desiring to create more, we move closer to mass customization rather than what we have now. Those options might be what we think of as the traditional public schools, networks like Aspire, Green Dot, resource intensive options like KIPP or SEED, or simply good schools that exist in one place, create a good space for kids, and are but one part of a larger effort to ensure a healthy supply of good options for the children in a community. This is what Indy’s Mayor Bart Peterson is trying to do deliberately and what is happening from the bottom-up in some other cities.

One idea about how to do more of that comes from CRPE’s Paul Hill who will present a new paper on that issue at an event this Friday morning at the Progressive Policy Institute.

Afterthought: Worth nothing that in the past few days the AFT blog is careening wildly toward becoming something, well, somewhat interesting! The AFTers are now blogging about all kinds of edustuff besides NCLB…Hmmm…are “John” and “One-L” pursuing an eduflypaper strategy? They lure us in with interesting stuff about other issues then once we let down our guard they hit us hard with the NCLB-changing Kool-Aid? Could be…beware!

Update: EdWonks give you a handy edumap to this whole back and forth.

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