Dave Levin, co-founder of the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) network of charter schools, has a lot to be proud of. His schools, which focus on inner-city minority students, are now operating in 20 states and producing admirable test results and impressive numbers of college graduates.
One of his Los Angeles schools, which uses a lot of technology in the classroom, recently posted test scores so high (API = 991*) that it not only ranked as the highest performing school in the Los Angeles school district, but also the 10th highest performing elementary school in the State of California. This is a school in a tough neighborhood in South Los Angeles where nearly all the students are poor minorities.
At a September 24, 2013 dinner where Levin was awarded the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education, I asked Levin how these results were influencing his thoughts on how much we should use technology in the classroom.
Barshay: What do these high test scores from KIPP Empower, where they’re using a lot of computerized instruction in the classroom, tell you?
Levin: It opens up the idea that you can individualize and differentiate instruction in real time, at the exact right level for each student, in a classroom, at home. You are able to accelerate student mastery. We’re in the very early days of what technology can do. But you can already see the promise.
Q: Do you see this happening at every one of your 140 KIPP schools?
A: A number of our principals are experimenting with technology. Mike (Kerr) in LA, Kate (Mazurek) in Chicago and Danny (Swersky) in New York.
All of KIPP’s success derives from having great teachers and great principals. What makes a great teacher? They’re constantly looking for the tools that will allow students to succeed and technology is one of those tools. Our teachers are going to find their way.
Q: Do you have concerns about using technology?
A: There’s no reservations whatsoever. Technology is a piece of the solution right now. It no way is the entire solution.
In his dinner remarks, Levin made the point that there are no clear answers to our educational debates. He is neither pro nor anti testing. He is neither an advocate for standardized curriculum nor a proponent of giving teachers complete autonomy to develop their own innovative lessons. “The answer is in the messy middle,” Levin said. “You need both”
* I first wrote about this KIPP Empower School back in October 2011 here. And it is interesting to see sustained high test scores after three years. I wanted to draw a little time series chart, but the school is using different tests in different years.
2013: On California State tests, 95% of 2nd graders were proficient or advanced in English language arts and 98% were proficient or advanced in math. Its API score was 991
2012: On Stanford Achievement Test Series, usually referred to simply as the “SAT 10”, 96% of 1st graders were at or above national average in reading and 97% were at or above the national average in math. For kindergarteners, 97% were at or above national average in reading and 98% were at or above the national average in math.
On the STEP (Strategic Teaching and Evaluation of Progress) test, developed for high-risk children by the University of Chicago, 91% of kindergarteners were at or above grade level. These students began the year with only 39% at where they should be.
2011: On the Measures of Academic Progress test, developed by the Northwest Evaluation Association, 95 % scored at or above the national average in math, while 96 percent scored at or above it in reading.
Only nine percent arrived in kindergarten ready, according to the STEP (Strategic Teaching and Evaluation of Progress) pre-reading test, developed for high-risk children by the University of Chicago. By the end of the year, 96 percent of kindergarteners reached or exceeded the proficient mark on the same STEP test.