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What we can learn from KIPP

KIPP is the network of public charter schools that stands at the vanguard of America’s burgeoning education-reform movement. The acronym means, “Knowledge is Power Program”; the motto is “Work Hard. Be Nice.” That’s also the title of an important new book, by veteran Washington Post education reporter Jay Mathews, which chronicles how KIPP’s network of 66 schools developed and offers some lessons from KIPP’s extraordinary success.

I’ve been working with the KIPP Foundation to help them create a new performance management system for their Executive Directors, principals, teachers, school bus drivers, and all the other people who together deliver incredible education to inner-city middle-schoolers who too often are written off and neglected.

Among many things, one element that makes KIPP charter schools different from conventional big-city public schools is the tough demands they make on kids. Kids (and teachers and parents) have to sign written contracts about how they’ll behave and the commitment they’ll give. And for these kids, it’s quite a commitment: a 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM school day, Saturday classes, and a three-week “summer prep” program.

The whole basis of KIPP is accountability. Book reviewer Charles Sahm points out that in his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell notes that KIPP students, like children in Asia, spend about 60 percent more “time on task” than students in traditional American public schools. New York Times columnist David Brooks has written extensively about how KIPP transmits to low-income minority students the “cultural capital”—how to speak effectively, how to look attentive, how to fill out a college application—that middle-class suburban kids take for granted. Oprah Winfrey has praised KIPP’s ability to raise students’ expectations of what they can accomplish if they’re willing to work hard.

The KIPP model is transforming education for middle-schoolers. And it can certainly apply just as well to adults in organizations. Set your expectations high, make sure that people know exactly what’s expected of them, and recognize great performance whenever it happens.

I’d hire a KIPPster any day.

About the Author

Dick Grote has been a management consultant for almost thirty years, specializing exclusively in the field of employee performance appraisal and management. As a consultant, he has created employee performance management systems for several hundred of the world’s best known and most respected companies, including Texas Instruments, JCPenney, Miller Brewing Company, American Airlines, Macy’s, Raytheon, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, and Herman Miller.


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