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Work Ethic Earns Texas School National Spotlight

Share School Issues CenterKIPP Academy students and educators talk to Education World about how hard work pays off in improving test scores and how it got them invited to the Republican National Convention last summer.

Otasha and Matt, both 13-year-old middle school students at KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Academy, should have plenty of material for that old "What I Did Last Summer" essay. While sharing the stage at the Republican National Convention with 18 other classmates, they spoke about how hard work pays off at their Houston school, which became a charter school in 1995.

The Republicans touted KIPP as a model of successful school reform that works for poor and minority students. More than 90 percent of KIPP students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and about 98 percent are Hispanic or African American.


"It wasn't really about politics but about telling other people about KIPP and sending the message to parents that they don't have to make a lot of money and can still send their kids to a school modeled after KIPP," Otasha told Education World.

Although Otasha was a little nervous about appearing on national television and speaking before the large convention audience, she was very thankful for the experience. "I think I am very able to set an example for the youth of America by taking the road less traveled," she said. "You have to work hard and you get rewarded."

Matt said he also felt pride about his school and his classmates' accomplishments. "The most exciting part of the experience was being on stage and telling what we don't do," Matt told Education World. "We don't let anyone slack because we are the future."

"We're all hard-working," said Ruben, 12, who joined Matt and Otasha at the convention. "I was scared when I got up on the stage, but just representing the school and trying to get other people to see what we do made me proud."


No magic dust or brand-new educational "flavor of the month" is responsible for the rise in achievement among the school's at-risk students, said Michael Friedman, cofounder of KIPP Academy.

Friedman credits the middle school's tough work ethic for its success, which got them national attention this past summer. KIPP Academy not only shared the spotlight at the National Republican Convention but was also featured in a segment on the CBS news program 60 Minutes in August.

Friedman hopes the national exposure will help people establish other schools based on the KIPP philosophy. There is another KIPP school in the South Bronx, and four more are in the works, he said.


Although Friedman is happy about the honor the school and its students have earned, that isn't what makes him the proudest. "I have proud moments every day when I see the students get off that bus each morning," Friedman told Education World. He points out that some students must get up by 5:30 a.m. in order to get to school on time.

"They are doing what they are doing in order to succeed," he said. "There are no excuses. The school's success is founded on the same basic elements that have made our country very strong over the years: hard work. Hard work, excellent teaching, and supportive parents -- put those factors together and the sky is the limit."

KIPP students log some long days. The bell rings at 7:30 a.m., and the kids don't get back on that bus to go home until classes end at 5 p.m. They have two hours of homework each night. Students also go to school on Saturdays for four hours and for one month during the summer.

Those long days are paying off in improved Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) scores. KIPP led the state in TAAS scores in 1998-1999, with nearly all its students passing the TAAS. Only 68 percent of the state's grade-8 students passed the TAAS that year, and only 54 percent of economically disadvantaged students passed.


KIPP's strategy of expanding the school day for at-risk students is a common sense approach, said Paul Reville, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and former chairman of the Massachusetts Commission on Time and Management. "When you look at at-risk children, you see a number of factors outside the school environment that diminish their opportunity to succeed in school," Reville told Education World.

"By increasing the amount of time children spend in a positive school environment, you bring them a positive culture that reinforces the value of learning," Reville explained. "Longer school days also isolate them from the horrible realities that some of them face outside school."

Diane Weaver Dunne
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

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