WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO COLLEEEEEGE?” the teacher shouted.
The class of eighth-graders shouted back, “Two thousand and fourrrrr!”
Anyone who tries to guess what eighth-graders really have on their minds is going to have a difficult time, but generally speaking it is certainly not college. High school looms imposingly just ahead like a peak to be scaled. College is only a vague and distant notion. And for these particular eighth-graders, college might have seemed so distant as to be an impossibility. Their families are poor. They are nearly all either black or Hispanic. Their parents are not college graduates and many have brothers and sisters who have dropped out of school or who intend to soon. They live in neighborhoods in Houston where kids hang out in the parking lots of sagging apartment complexes and trouble is easy to find. Many are the children of recent immigrants from Mexico and Central America whose first language was Spanish and whose command of English is still uncertain. Nor have these students been selected as part of a program for the gifted and talented. Yet the school they attend—the KIPP Academy, a charter middle school—has scores as high as any middle school in Houston on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, which is required of all schoolchildren in Texas. One hundred percent of its eighth-graders passed the math and science portions of the test and 98 percent passed the reading portion. Last year’s eighth-grade graduates were awarded more than $1 million in scholarships and now attend some of the finest public and private high schools in Houston and elsewhere, including Kinkaid and St. John’s in Houston and Choate, Hotchkiss, and Phillips Academy in New England. In the swirl of conflicting theories about teaching and the politics of public education, the success of the KIPP Academy is the result of one simple, inexpensive, too-often-overlooked principle of education—hard work.
KIPP’s success (the name is an acronym for the Knowledge Is Power Program) has brought the attention of the national media, including a story this September on 60 Minutes