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While they have their critics, KIPP has among the best reputation of all charter school networks. There are over 40,000 KIPP students nationwide, which is expected to grow to 60,000 by 2015. Over 90 percent of 8th graders consistently outperform their public-school counterparts in reading and math. KIPP alumni, according to a recent report, are graduating college at rates four times higher than comparable populations. Cofounders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin are in demand to keynote education conferences and speak to the media.

KIPP charter schools
From the KIPP Annual Report

On the occasion of the publication of KIPP’s annual report, I used it as a snapshot of the approach taken by one high-functioning organization when it comes to K-12 schools and technology.

  1. Data, data, data. The numbers cited above, and many more for pages throughout the report, are a part of the most pervasive, yet subtle use of technology for an organization like KIPP: to constantly track dozens of factors relating to student performance and success. They are following individual students through their schools, and all the way through the end of college, which has not historically been standard practice or even feasible for most public school systems. Their data portal, open only to employees and parents, is located here. Data is the basis for all claims about student success made to donors and the public, but data is also, of course, open to interpretation.
  2. Tools for teachers. The first mention of technology in the annual report is not for students–it’s for teachers. KIPP teachers have an online social network powered by BetterLesson (which offers similar services to any teacher) that allows them to collaborate and share resources, advice, support, or even entire lesson plans. About half a million pieces of content have been shared over the network. Teachers in different regions are able to collaborate using technology–for example, a teacher in California and one in Colorado are working to redesign a 6th-grade math curriculum.
  3. In the classroom. One small box, on p. 29, gives an overview of the technology used in the classroom at some KIPP schools. “Innovative instructional technology in the classroom to enhance and personalize student learning. Throughout the day, teachers are able to work with small groups…while other students engage in self-paced, online learning on classroom laptops…teachers have access to richer, more real-time data.”

These mentions are more notable for what they leave out. There isn’t a 1-to-1 computing program. There aren’t tablets or mobile devices. There aren’t any hard numbers about technology use. There’s no mention of using technology to strengthen connections between home and school. There isn’t a mention of specific companies or networks that KIPP may work with to provide the learning software used in classrooms. Amidst all the numbers, there aren’t specifics about the data provided by learning software and how it is used. For teachers, there’s a closed, proprietary social network, rather than, for example, encouraging them to connect on Twitter, blogs and wikis as many innovative teachers do in the public school world. There isn’t any mention of a maker approach to technology, that would introduce kids to programming or otherwise working with the open web.

Is KIPP right to take this minimal approach to technology? Does this actually represent best practice, with the focus on teaching and students front and center, or does the back-burner approach to technology and innovation keep the schools from being as effective as they could be?

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