When we last discussed Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book Outliers we reviewed the disconnect between the philosophies of how poor families raise their children vs. wealthy families, regardless of race. What we learned is that wealthy families are more likely to challenge their children via a parenting style referred to as "concerted cultivation", which is an attempt to actively "foster and assess a child's talents, opinions and skills." This in contrast to poor parents who follow a strategy of "accomplishment of natural growth" who see their responsibility as caring for their children but to allowing them to grow and develop on their own.
Next up we discover later in the book Mr. Gladwell’s research into education and what creates a divide between rich and poor. Here he uses the example of research undertaken by Johns Hopkins University sociologist Karl Alexander to demonstrate how the biggest problem between wealthy and poor students is that wealthy students are exposed to environments of continued learning during their evenings and summer breaks while poor students are not and tend to lag behind as they are more likely to forget elements of what they’ve learned. Summer breaks, he suggests, are the biggest disadvantage to the success of education.
As an example Mr. Gladwell provides the story of Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and how it has dramatically changed the lives of underprivileged youth.
KIPP Academy seems like the kind of school in the
kind of neighborhood with the kind of student that would
make educators despair—except that the minute you
enter the building, it's clear that something is different.
The students walk quietly down the hallways in single file.
In the classroom, they are taught to turn and address anyone
talking to them in a protocol known as "SSLANT":
smile, sit up, listen, ask questions, nod when being spoken
to, and track with your eyes. On the walls of the school's
corridors are hundreds of pennants from the colleges that
KIPP graduates have gone on to attend. Last year, hundreds
of families from across the Bronx entered the lottery
for KIPP's two fifth-grade classes. It is no exaggeration to
say that just over ten years into its existence, KIPP has
become one of the most desirable public schools in New
What KIPP is most famous for is mathematics. In the
South Bronx, only about 16 percent of all middle school students
are performing at or above their grade level in math.
But at KIPP, by the end of fifth grade, many of the students
call math their favorite subject. In seventh grade, KIPP students
start high school algebra. By the end of eighth grade,
84 percent of the students are performing at or above their
grade level, which is to say that this motley group of ran-
domly chosen lower-income kids from dingy apartments
in one of the country's worst neighborhoods—whose
parents, in an overwhelming number of cases, never set
foot in a college—do as well in mathematics as the privileged
eighth graders of American's wealthy suburbs. "Our
kids' reading is on point," said David Levin, who founded
KIPP with a fellow teacher, Michael Feinberg, in 1994.
"They struggle a little bit with writing skills. But when
they leave here, they rock in math."
There are now more than fifty KIPP schools across the
United States, with more on the way. The KIPP program
represents one of the most promising new educational
philosophies in the United States. But its success is best
understood not in terms of its curriculum, its teachers, its
resources, or some kind of institutional innovation. KIPP
is, rather, an organization that has succeeded by taking
the idea of cultural legacies seriously.
KIPP was founded on the realization that the biggest problem with education today does not lie with the teachers, nor does it lie with the resources or the curriculum. Instead it was realized that it is the structure of schooling that is the biggest problem and thus KIPP is fundamentally different from traditional western schools.
"They start school at seven twenty-five," says David Levin
of the students at the Bronx KIPP Academy. "They all do
a course called thinking skills until seven fifty-five. They
do ninety minutes of English, ninety minutes of math
every day, except in fifth grade, where they do two hours
of math a day. An hour of science, an hour of social science,
an hour of music at least twice a week, and then you
have an hour and fifteen minutes of orchestra on top of
that. Everyone does orchestra. The day goes from seven
twenty-five until five p.m. After five, there are homework
clubs, detention, sports teams. There are kids here from
seven twenty-five until seven p.m. If you take an average
day, and you take out lunch and recess, our kids are
spending fifty to sixty percent more time learning than
the traditional public school student'
Alexander’s research showed that the problem wasn’t that schools weren’t working, the problem is the long breaks in between. KIPP aims to change this by restructuring schooling and expands on it by taking extra time to make schooling more relaxed and a better environment for learning.
He continued: "Saturdays they
come in nine to one. In the summer, it's eight to two." By
summer, Levin was referring to the fact that KIPP students
do three extra weeks of school, in July. These are,
after all, precisely the kind of lower-income kids who
Alexander identified as losing ground over the long summer
vacation, so KIPP's response is simply to not have a
long summer vacation.
"The beginning is hard," he went on. "By the end of
the day they're restless. Part of it is endurance, part of
it is motivation. Part of it is incentives and rewards and
fun stuff. Part of it is good old-fashioned discipline. You
throw all of that into the stew. We talk a lot here about grit
and self-control. The kids know what those words mean."
KIPP spends extra time in the classroom but uses it more effectively.
"What that extra time does is allow for a more relaxed
atmosphère," [teacher Frank] Corcoran said, after the class was over. "I
find that the problem with math education is the sink-or swim
approach. Everything is rapid fire, and the kids who
get it first are the ones who are rewarded. So there comes
to be a feeling that there are people who can do math and
there are people who aren't math people. I think that
extended amount of time gives you the chance as a teacher
to explain things, and more time for the kids to sit and
digest everything that's going on—to review, to do things
at a much slower pace. It seems counterintuitive but we
do things at a slower pace and as a result we get through a
lot more. There's a lot more retention, better understanding
of the material. It lets me be a little bit more relaxed.
We have time to have games. Kids can ask any questions
they want, and if I'm explaining something, I don't feel
pressed for time. I can go back
over material and not feel
time pressure." The extra time gave Corcoran the chance
to make mathematics meaningful: to let his students see
the clear relationship between effort and reward.
On the walls of the classroom were dozens of certificates
from the New York State Regents exam, testifying
to first-class honors for Corcoran's students. "We had a
girl in this class," Corcoran said. "She was a horrible math
student in fifth grade. She cried every Saturday when we
did remedial stuff. Huge tears and tears." At the memory,
Corcoran got a little emotional himself. He looked down.
"She just e-mailed us a couple weeks ago. She's in college
now. She's an accounting major."
The entire chapter (Chapter 9, Marita’s Bargain) is an excellent read and identifies some clear cut solutions we should be trying in our own public system. For that matter the entire book is worth a read and study of how we can improve things locally for the betterment of Bermudians.