Blame the teachers! Blame the administrators! Mr. Crowe and his supporters rely on the tired old whipping boys and girls of education to fix blame for Oak Park’s continuing achievement gap. [A contentious way to close the gap, Jack Crowe, June 17] The reasons for achievement gaps, as researchers have shown, are complex. Some reasons are rooted in age-old American problems: low expectations, family dysfunction, racism, poverty, language barriers and apathy. Some in Oak Park feel the surest way to closing the achievement gap is a KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Ascend charter middle school. The biggest problem with this “solution” is the nature of KIPP schools, how they function and for whom they function.
KIPP Ascend School on the West Side is taxpayer funded and serves fifth through eighth grades. The application is simple, yet the KIPP Web site is vague about the selection process. KIPP can accept whom it wants and place conditions on enrollment without making those conditions public. As a result, its student body is academically homogeneous, which KIPP acknowledges. It’s easier to teach homogeneously skilled students than it is to teach a heterogeneously skilled group. This is the first benefit of a KIPP school, difficult to replicate in Oak Park.
The second benefit KIPP has over the Oak Park schools is its ability to kick students out of school for a variety of behavioral and academic infractions. “Removal from the school” is the phrasing in the behavior contract all students and parents must sign upon enrollment. A student can also be removed if the parent does not fulfill the parental duties listed in the contract. School personnel in districts 97 and 200 would probably love the power to hold parents accountable for children arriving at school sleepy, ill fed, disrespectful or with unfinished homework. In a public school district, we have to assume parents are living up to their responsibilities. There is no contract holding them to their basic parental duties. A student cannot be legally denied an education simply because his or her parents are apathetic.
KIPP’s ability to remove students from school who fail to learn academic behaviors and skills is one of the reasons for its success. Motivated parents who want their child to succeed will ensure that the family does what KIPP expects. Public schools in Oak Park have a mission to educate every child, whether the parent or child is motivated or not. As educators, our biggest problem is not a low-skilled student but rather a student who is neither intrinsically nor extrinsically motivated.
A KIPP school here is simply not realistic or necessary for a host of reasons too numerous to explain in this limited forum. We have enough talented, motivated people both inside and outside our school districts who, together, can solve this problem. Schools all around us are facing the same dilemmas and have begun to implement creative solutions yet to be tried here.
We suggest Mr. Crowe and his crowd begin to come up with real, practical solutions, not just age-old pap about greedy teachers, their unions, inept administrators and the boards who protect them.
Oak Park residents Lisa and David Ripley have more than 40 years of experience as educators in area schools and suggest looking at the KIPP Ascend Charter School Web site at www.kippascend.org.