An Interview with KIPP Co-Founder Feinberg

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This interview with Mike Feinberg, the co-founder of KIPP Academies, in The Texas Tribune really shows the vision of the education reformer.  You can either read the transcript or listen to the podcast of the interview, which you can find about halfway through the article.  Highlights:

The two teachers, [Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin,] who at the time were both going through the Teach For America program, called their innovation the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP. In 1995 they opened charter schools in Houston and the Bronx (as they continue to do today, Feinberg ran the former and Levin the latter) with longer school days, weeks and years, more focused instruction time and a strong emphasis on college-readiness. Today, with 99 schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia, KIPP is the largest chain of charter schools in the country.

[Dave and I] recognized the need to do more with our students: to have kids come before the day actually started, to keep them after school, to have them come on weekends. [But t]here would be school rules in place that kids weren’t allowed into the classroom until a certain time in the morning. We’d be kicked out of the building in the afternoon. We would try to do things on Saturdays, and almost half the time the building would be locked. Basically, we’d find shade under a tree and teach there. It was very frustrating to realize as teachers that we wanted to do more with our kids but that there were individuals or bureaucratic rules in place that seemed to prevent us doing what’s right for children.

Texas, at a lot of levels, is very fertile ground for education reform and for entrepreneurship in education, too. That’s whether we’re talking Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, the Valley — and it’s not just KIPP. There are lots of people doing interesting things because there’s something in the Texan DNA that allows entrepreneurship to happen.

The one premise of a charter school is that the good ones flourish and the bad ones go away. I’d like to see our policy leaders do more of both: let the good ones flourish and make the bad ones go away.

Our theory of change at KIPP is that we want to impact the public education system the way FedEx impacted the post office. I like to use that analogy because it shows that we, at KIPP, do not think that we are going to be able to educate all the children or even a majority of the children. But we feel that we can find a tipping point where, if we get to a certain size and if we continue to do a great job educating our children, we’ll have an impact on the rest of the school system, which is where the majority of the kids are going to be.

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