Kurt Pusch at KIPP Colorado on Developing a model for college readiness

The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) for elementary and middle Charter schools was founded in 1994 by two public school teachers. Their mission was to improve learning for traditionally disadvantaged youth by focusing on five pillars of success. These pillars include high expectations, commitment to excellence, more time learn, power to lead, and results.

KIPP comprises a network of over 200 schools in over 20 states nationwide. Pro charter school lawmakers often point to the KIPP model as an example of success with limited government involvement. Opponents, however, worry the KIPP schools harm “traditional public schools by siphoning off extra funding and higher-performing students.”

A 2013 independent report shows a positive correlation between the KIPP model and student achievement. Results are attributed to more time spent on homework and the clear expectations presented in the school culture.

To build on that success, the Gates Foundation poured $7.9 million in 2004 to expand the model to high schools. The mission was to better prepare low income students for success in college by demanding “academic rigor, a commitment to integrity, and strength of character.”

KIPP Colorado Schools report shows a 98% high school graduation rate as compared to 68% in the Denver Public School System. One of their current students was invited twice  to the White House science fair to present their work. More KIPP Colorado students are entering college at 85% versus the National Low-income average of 45% and Denver Public School system of 47.5%. I had a chance to speak with Chief of Schools, Kurt Pusch who hopes to increase those college bound numbers.

He explains that culture is the single most important motivating factor: “In order to develop a culture that motives students to achieve, we must create a common and shared goal of learning among all constituents.” If schools can do this, they will yield more successful results. When students onboard at KIPP, all constituents sign a “symbolic” contract. It effectively draws stakeholders to the table providing a “unified vision, common playbook and clear expectations with a shared commitment among family, students, and teachers”” when the relationship begins to form. Pusch further explains that the contract is “accented with chants, celebration and positive recognition.”

Relationship is a common theme while students are enrolled at KIPP and after they leave. Pusch points out that, “research shows that developing a relationship with students is a factor that greatly increases success.” He notes, “the commitment to support our kids after they leave us” is a unique part of the culture at KIPP.

Students remain at the center of KIPP with teachers act as a facilitator. Pusch recognizes there is “still room to improve” especially when some students don’t recognize college as a goal in daily goal setting meetings. Striving to understand student motivation is important. He points out that KIPP Colorado is different when it comes to student centered learning and recognizes that there is room for them to grow.

While KIPP makes progress that proves to be leaps and bounds ahead of most schools, there is a deep humility demonstrated in their model. Pusch explains, “It is not our job to determine the kids’ paths, it is for them. We create the conditions, structure, systems, beliefs, and space while challenging them along the way.”