Founded in 1994 by Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) is a network of 183 public charter schools across the United States that aim to help “students from educationally under served communities develop the knowledge, skills, character and habits needed to succeed in college and the competitive world beyond” (11/03/2016 Retrieved from http://www.kipp.org/about-kipp)
The Five Pillars
The founders established five pillars that define their school system and set them apart from other public schools. These include:
- High Expectations – creating a culture providing support and rewards for academic performance and behavior
- Choice and Commitment- those choosing to join the school must commit to putting in the time and effort required to achieve success,
- More time- more time in the classroom to prepare students for competitive high schools and colleges, and access diverse extracurricular experiences,
- Power to Lead -enabling the principals of KIPP schools to facilitate successful schooling,
- Focus on Results- achieving a level of academic performance that will enable students to succeed at the best high schools and colleges.
KIPP and The VIA Character Strengths
From the point of view of Positive Psychology it is particularly interesting to see how the founders of the KIPP schools decided to integrate VIA character strengths into the school’s program to help students achieve their potential.
Working with Dr. Chris Peterson (who along with Dr. Seligman developed the VIA Character Strengths Classification 24 character strengths) and Dr. Angela Duckworth (who coined the expression “grit”) the founders of KIPP selected seven character strengths that are correlated with, and are highly predictive of, success in life.
Children are urged to develop these character strengths as much as they are encouraged to pursue academic success. Teachers employ a variety of methods to develop character in the classroom, such as discussing the application of strengths and integrating activities relating to strengths in relation to topics covered in class – from history to sporting activities.
A good example of this is the KIPP website which describes how teachers might express themselves when speaking about a science project: “Today we’re going to learn about the scientific method. Scientists are fueled by curiosity. They design experiments in order to explore new things and investigate questions about the way the world works. Today, your curiosity will be key to designing a successful experiment.” (11/03/2016 Retrieved from: http://www.kipp.org/our-approach/character/infusing-character)
Progress is tracked using the Character Growth Card that form the basis for discussions with students and parents around progress in character development.
Does the KIPP work?
The jury appears to be still out on this particular question. Various reviewers have criticized certain aspects of the application of KIPP, while still praising its apparent overall success.
- The data appears to show that KIPP students are more successful in terms of academic achievement in comparison to local public schools. However, this data has been questioned. For example, it may be that those applying for KIPP already have a higher motivation level than those who don’t apply, contributing to their later success and skewing the comparative results (Nichols-Barrer, et al., 2014)
- It is not clear if KIPP practices can be transferred to public schools, or how much of its success is due to the development of character strengths versus the application of the five pillars. Further research needs to be undertaken to clarify these and other assumptions.
- One article I reviewed, offered a serious critique of the method asking whether there is enough scientific insight proving how to effectively teach character strengths in a classroom setting.
- I personally wonder if the focus on just seven strengths is too selective. We know that each individual has their own unique combination of the 24 VIA strengths that, when developed, give meaning and purpose in life. However, it is not clear to me to what extent these personal strengths are the subject of debate and interest within the KIPP framework? I hope that individual strengths are celebrated just as much as those leading to academic success.
Even with this research on positive education, it is important to remember the intention of the KIPP to help children from educationally disadvantaged areas to excel and succeed, and what a commendable goal! Focusing on the positives and providing a demanding but safe environment to learn is surely be a step in the right direction.
Interested in finding out more about teaching character strengths?
Sign up for Coursera’s MOOC “Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms“-enrollment ends on the 19th of March.
KIPP Public Charter Schools (2016). Retrieved 11/03/2016 from: http://www.kipp.org/
Does Student Attrition Explain KIPP’s Success?Education Next . vol 14(4). Retrieved from http://educationnext.org/student-attrition-explain-kipps-success/
Jeffrey Aaron Snyder (May, 2014). Teaching Kids 'Grit' is All the Rage. Here's What's Wrong With It. Retrieved from https://newrepublic.com/article/117615/problem-grit-kipp-and-character-based-education).