Sunday, March 28, 2010

Book 19: Work Hard, Be Nice

There's so much I want to say about this book, this story of two young men from Teach for America, who thought they just might be able to make a difference in the lives of some children.
With the idealism and enthusiasm that youth brings, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin wholeheartedly tackled their Teach For America assignments in low-income Houston are schools. They quickly discovered that while they had the desire to be incredible teachers, they really didn't know what they were doing. Enter Harriett Ball, a colleague of Levin's. This was the type of teacher Feinberg and Levin wanted to be: inspiring, motivating, challenging, caring. Ms. Ball took Levin and Feinberg under her wing, mentoring them in what she had learned to be the most effective teaching methods.
As Levin and Feinberg began to adopt these approaches themselves, as well as innovate and incorporate tactics from other nationally known education mentors, they discovered they were passionate about helping economically disadvantaged kids succeed. And, they had a knack for it. So began an experiment in education called KIPP- Knowledge Is Power Program- that has now expanded into one of the most successful charter school networks in the nation.
Work Hard, Be Nice. This is the KIPP Motto. It became the foundation for schools that refuse to let a child's economic circumstances be a barrier to their capability for success. KIPP schools have five essential pillars, and a set of standards they expect each school to uphold. For example, the KIPP school day is 7:30-5:00, rather than the standard six hour day; scholars attend Saturday school two or three times a month. Teachers, students, and parents sign a contract for performance at the school. Teachers give out their cell phone numbers, instructing students to call them in the evenings for homework instruction if it is needed. In the fifth through eighth grade schools, reading is a part of each discipline. Beyond that, school leaders and teachers are empowered to innovate and do what they need to do to make their students successful.
Jay Mathews recounts the founding of the KIPP school in his easy to read, entertaining, and engaging Work Hard, Be Nice. He shows how Feinberg and Levin simply refused to take no for an answer when it came to things hindering their student's progress.
I have firsthand experience with a KIPP school in my city. I'm serving as an Advisory board member for the KIPP WAYS Academy. I have seen firsthand how this innovative approach to education can work. Our students are far exceeding state averages on standardized testing. This year, two of our students have been offered full scholarships to the Philips Exeter Academy for high school.
When parents, faculty, and students work together to make education important lives can be changed.
Recommended reading for anyone interested in education innovation, charter school programs, areas for community involvement.


  1. I don't know if you know this, but I was a teacher for a few months. It was so hard, much more difficult that I ever thought it would be. I was teaching at a more rural school where there was a complete lack of parental support. I felt there was little to no mentoring for new teachers. I was just beat down every day, and I quit at the end of the school year. I am glad to know that did not happen to Feinberg and Levin. What they have accomplished is amazing. While I am happy now, I wonder what would have happened if I was teaching at a KIPP school.

  2. Susan, I'm sure you would have made a wonderful teacher had you had the right mentoring! I didn't know you had taught in the past.