Revisiting Diane Ravitch’s “A Challenge to KIPP”

7 years ago, Diane Ravitch wrote a blog post called “A Challenge to KIPP.”

In the piece, Diane accuses KIPP of cherry picking students and challenges them to serve an entire district.

When I gave my lecture, I chastised KIPP for encouraging the public perception that all charter schools are better than all public schools and for failing to denounce the growing numbers of incompetent, corrupt, and inept charter schools. I talked about the oft-heard complaint that KIPP cherry picks its students and has high attrition, which KIPP denies. I challenged KIPP to take over an entire inner city school district that was willing and show what it could do when no one was excluded.

She then makes the point in a more forceful way:

KIPP should find an impoverished district that is so desperate that it is willing to put all its students into KIPP’s care. Take them all: the children with disabilities, the children who don’t speak English, the children who are homeless, the children just released from the juvenile justice system,  the children who are angry and apathetic, and everyone else. No dumping. No selection. No cherry picking. Show us what you can do. Take them all.

This is part of what made New Orleans so important. KIPP didn’t grow to serve every kid in the city (which I don’t think would have been good, different kids thrive in different environments).

But charters did grow to serve every student in the city. And the last 20% of kids reached were harder to educate than the first 20% of kids reached.

But now, to use Diane’s words, charter schools in New Orleans “take them all.”

And they do it better than ever before.

Public charter schools in New Orleans have evolved to offer amazing programs for students with severe special needs. They also serve students in tough life circumstances, like teen mothers and those with extreme mental health and behavior diseases. None of these programs are perfect, but they are so much better than what New Orleans offered these students before, and some of these programs are on the path to be national exemplars.

And what about the results?

As readers of this blog know, New Orleans achieved some of the most impressive student achievement gains in our country’s recent history.

So is Diane Ravitch now saying: “New Orleans answered my challenge to KIPP. Charters enrolled all students and increased educational opportunity. I’m curious to learn more about how they did that. And I wonder if it could work in other cities?”

Of course not.

Unfortunately, with so many charter critics, the goalposts just continue to move.

But for the rest of us, we can keep the goalposts in place.

We can learn from successes like New Orleans, and we can try to figure out what’s scalable and what is not.

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