More Grit Musings: KIPP Through College

You'll like this Ed Next story out today by my friend Robert Pondiscio. Captures the whole "College readiness" thing pretty well.

There is also at least a bit of cognitive dissonance that must be acknowledged: if KIPP and others are successful in turning out academically prepared, resilient, and optimistic graduates, shouldn’t they need less support, not more, on college campuses? If students need an army of college advisors and KIPP staff to act in loco helicopter parentis, just how gritty can they be?

(Richard) Barth sees no disconnect. If KIPP kids get “X” support on their journeys to and through college, he says, “middle-class kids get 50X,” much of it simply baked into their lives in the form of educated parents who are not intimidated by college and financial aid applications. College tours, SAT test-prep help, and tutors? Been there, done that. There are siblings, relatives, and even consultants to advise kids on where to apply and what classes to take. The safety net is deep and broad. Perhaps most importantly, there is a baseline expectation among the children of the well-off and well-educated: they grew up simply assuming they would go to college. Middle-class kids, says Barth, get all this “without consciousness of it. It just gets done.”

Emphasis mine. Three reactions.

1. Collaboration

At Match we've learned a lot communicating with the other charter school networks, as well as scholars who've studied college success for all types of populations. It's exciting! A whole bunch of thorny questions, but as college completion data becomes more transparent, we'll make headway together.

2. Extraneous thought

I've been pondering for awhile: the ed reform discussion frequently mis-describes what a "middle class" parent is like.

I remember Angela Duckworth a few weeks ago cracking a joke along the lines of "A kid twirls in the kitchen, and we sign her up for dance class..." and I smiled b/c that had just unfolded with our 2-year-old. But that's not typical for an American. The typical education pundit, reporter, or charter school leader is urbane, hyper-educated, and highly atypical for an American middle class parent. The median American middle class parent does not visit a lot of museums in early childhood, nor drive their young kid to lots of private lessons; for older median kids, no SAT or ACT tutor, no college admissions consultant, etc.

But this is a small point about the species of trees in the forest; the forest is that middle-class American kids have many hidden advantages which affect college success.

3. Test scores, college success, life success

The typical charter school does not have high growth on state tests. I repeat that a lot because I don't think charters have delivered enough on quality.

But there are some charters where kids consistently do make HUGE gains on state tests. A new Stanford study yesterday singled out Uncommon and KIPP precisely for this phenomenon. The response of some charter critics is to say even these handful of charter schools are bad, and one reason is because they've narrowly "taught to the test."

One contradiction here is that, for the most part, narrowly teaching to the test does not raise test scores! Which charter critics often acknowledge in other discussions. That is, if it were true that test prep raised scores, and many traditional public schools and many of the so-so charter schools do a lot of test prep, then we'd expect to see their scores race upward, not just those of students at schools like Uncommon. But that does not happen.

A new wave of scholarship will track charter school lottery losers and winners. Will it show that test score gains do predict good "life things" to follow?

That is, we'll know empirically whether, in fact, kids who attend these charters with unusually high improvement as measured by state tests grow up to have other things that we all value: higher college graduation rates, higher employment, higher lifetime income, higher civic participation, and fewer "bad things." I predict: yes.

Read Pondiscio's whole thing. It's good.