Brill, however, insists that only “union critics of charter schools” believe successful charters “ ‘skim’ from the community’s most intelligent students and committed families,” adding, “None of the actual data supports this.” But in fact, according to Tough, KIPP’s own “internal statistics” show that its students in the South Bronx “arrived scoring better on average on tests than typical children in their neighborhoods.” And not just a little better: on reading tests prior to entering KIPP, Tough writes, “students often scored above the average for the entire city.”
KIPP then builds on this sturdy foundation — and far more successfully than most charters, for which it deserves praise and keen attention to its methods. But KIPP and other successful charters have not yet shown they can succeed with every kind of student within a single school district, or even, for that matter, a single neighborhood. If we can’t make such distinctions, how will we ever help all children achieve? ...
Well, maybe we won't ever help all children achieve. Maybe, what we should try to be doing is to do better overall than we're doing now. Maybe we have to leave some child behind to help the rest because if we focus on the worst, we're going to hurt the rest.
From that perspective, if KIPP is skimming the hardest working students from the slums, well, that's great. We should encourage more and different kinds of skimming. If some kids aren't really interested in English literature, but are really interested in auto body repair, well, let's skim them into hands-on apprentice programs.
By book’s end, even Brill begins to feel the cognitive dissonance. He quotes a KIPP founder who concedes that the program relies on superhuman talent that can never be duplicated in large numbers. And sure enough, an educator whom Brill has held up the entire book as a model of reform unexpectedly quits, citing burnout and an unsustainable workload at her Harlem charter. Then another reform-minded teacher at the same school confesses she can’t possibly keep up the pace. “This model just cannot scale,” she declares flatly. After relentlessly criticizing Weingarten, Brill suddenly suggests, in a “Nixon-to-China” move, that she become New York’s next schools chancellor. “The lesson,” Brill belatedly discovers, is that reformers need to collaborate with unions, if only because they are “the organizational link to enable school improvement to expand beyond the ability of the extraordinary people to work extraordinary hours.” But isn’t this merely what the reform movement’s more thoughtful critics have been saying all along?
Brill likens the battle over the nation’s schools to “warfare,” but the better analogy may be to the war on cancer. For years, scientists hoped a magic pill would cure this ravaging disease. But increasingly, doctors have recognized that they will have to fight a multifronted war, as cancers (like failing schools) aren’t all alike. Each comes with its own complex etiology.
Kids, don't try this at home when you are a married grown-up. It probably won't work.