To the Editor:
I was puzzled to read in your article “KIPP Student-Attrition Patterns Eyed” (June 13, 2007) that the principal of a Knowledge Is Power Program school would say that she and her colleagues “serve every student who comes through [their] doors” even after an independent report found that students leave KIPP because they “have needs that the school cannot meet (severe learning disabilities, emotional needs, or behavioral problems), or because there is a lack of commitment on the part of students and/or parents.” If you dismiss students because of learning needs or commitment, clearly you are not serving every student.
Charter schools, such as those in the KIPP network, were started in order to model how to meet the needs of students better than the nation’s current public schools were doing. In return for having some regulations removed, they were to demonstrate how all schools could improve, using innovative strategies. But when a school simply chooses not to work with students because of their learning needs or family commitment, it has little to tell the rest of us.
My mission as a high school principal is to serve every student who walks through my doors. It makes no difference if he or she has special learning needs requiring aides and rehabilitated rooms, disrupts classes with emotional outbursts, resists what a teacher is teaching, or never brings a parent to conference night. The students are all our kids, and our mission is to do our best to serve each and every one of them.
We may not get the test scores that KIPP (and similar) schools get when they indirectly remove students who lack motivation or talent, but we will live up to the mission of American public education: to ensure that every young person has a chance to develop the skills and abilities that make democratic life possible. It is a chance they will only have if our public school doors are open to all.
Federal Hocking High School
A version of this article appeared in the July 18, 2007 edition of Education Week as KIPP, Public Schools, and The Mission of Education