Stafford Palmieri, over at Fordham's blog, is not happy that teachers at a couple KIPP schools want to unionize. I'm not sure why she's so panicky when the first KIPP school in NYC has done fine with unionized teachers and I'm quite disturbed that she thinks KIPP should "puts its foot down!" -- I think I missed the memo that said oppressing workers is now a good thing.
But what I find really interesting about the post is the latest update she added. Regarding the ramifications of the situation, and referring speficially to the KIPP AMP (Always Mentally Prepared) School, she writes:
KIPP schools and charters like it have high turnover and burnout rates (these, in fact, are some of the reasons AMP’s teachers decided to unionize). If successfully educating socioeconomically disadvantaged and typically way below grade level students requires an unsustainable commitment in the long term, how can we possibly marry the successful elements of a charter model to the large scale traditional public education system? Does that mean we need, instead, to change our perceptions of teaching as a long term career? What is the give and take between teaching staff continuity and the 80-hour work weeks of places like KIPP?
I think it's fair to assume that a number of teachers (and schools full of teachers) who have made "an unsustainable commitment" have had a lot of success. We still can't say exactly why KIPP schools achieve the results they do or how comparable their student bodies are to other schools, but I think it's fair to say that they've had quite a bit of success and that dedicated teachers working long hours is a large part of this success.
But it's readily apparent that the burden placed on teachers at many of these schools makes the job a short-term gig. High levels of stress, waning social lives, and high turnover characterize the staffs. At the same time, though, it's both rewarding to the teachers and helpful to the students.
Palmieri seems to focus on the positive aspects of this. Teachers who sacrifice their lives for their job for a few years are successful, but can't do it forever. Therefore, we should think about teaching as a job that people only do for a few years. I certainly overworked myself for a short period of time, as have thousands of other people have done -- particularly through Teach for America and The New Teacher Project.
I buy the logic, but I don't think such an assumption will work on a large-scale. There simply aren't enough people that are willing and able to sacrifice everything for a few years to work with our most disadvantaged youth. We only have so many young Ivy League grads without families. In other words, regardless of what you think about the strategy of maxing out teachers for a few years, the system simply isn't replicable on a large scale. That's why even if KIPP is, indeed, working miracles it will never solve all of our problems in its current form.
But saying that KIPP's current form won't solve all of our problems also won't solve our problems. I think the format they have -- intense schooling that's 50% longer than what we normally have -- has merit. But I think she asks the wrong question. Instead of asking if it means that overburdening teachers is the only way to succeed, maybe we should be asking if there are ways to run a school this way without overburdening teachers. Otherwise, I don't know how we can replicate their success.