It’s KIPP-tastic

Yesterday, officials at the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP, announced that the charter school group has received a $65 million influx of funding to expand its brand of charter schools to urban markets throughout the nation.  KIPP is much like phonics in the schools.  Those who love them, love them with an undying passion that cannot be swayed and will not be tempered.  Those who dislike them (or charters in general) will pick at an absence of research or the cult of personality involved in the program.

Regardless, any education reform rhetorician has to give KIPP an A+ for communicating the program, its successes, and its place in the K-12 framework.  KIPP isn’t the biggest.  It isn’t the oldest.  It may not be (yet) the most successful.  But KIPP and its leadership knows how to sell.  It knows how to market.  And it nows, better than most, how to generate public support and enthusiasm for its work in the schools.

How do they do it?  By following some key principles:

* KIPP understands its market — KIPP schools don’t try to be everything for everyone.  They sell a clear product intended for some of the most severely struggling schools in the nation.  Through its previous R&D work, KIPP knows the approaches and philosophies that can generate immediate results in the schools and communities they are serving. 

* KIPP taps the right voices — They bring in enthusiastic administrators and teachers.  They train them in KIPP thinking.  And they hold them accountable.  These educators, along with their students, become the faces and voices for KIPP itself.  How do you argue with those kids and teachers who have been in the program, and personally reaped the benefits?

* KIPP walks the talk — KIPP benefits because its founders have also been in the trenches, teaching the KIPP program in KIPP schools.  There’s nothing wrong with venture capital in education reform.  In fact, that outside money (and the perspective that comes with it) can often help turn a great idea into a scalable dream.  But when a community is looking to establish a KIPP school, they want to look — eye to eye — with those who have faced the same challenges … and overcome them.

* KIPP engages the media — KIPP schools are not afraid about putting the media spotlight on their work.  The KIPP organization has long recognized that earned media (those articles in the local newspapers, for instance) can be far more valuable that a full-page advertisement in Education Week.  Just as important, KIPP empowers its local programs and local schools to pursue its own media coverage.  The result — the local community feels invested in the successes of their school.  By reading about how this small KIPP school is succeeding despite the odds, community leaders start asking why we can’t have more schools like that KIPP school.  And market growth is born.

It will be interesting to see how this $65 million investment will effect the grassrootsiness of KIPP.  Clearly, funders see that the KIPP model is a replacable system for improving education, particularly in our urban centers.  For KIPP school, communications and stakeholder engagement is just as important as curriculum and teacher training.  For KIPP’s sake, I hope the plans for growth don’t lose site of their communications successes.  They are truly one of the rhetorical bright spots in the NCLB era.

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