By Robert Pondiscio

You can’t play the ingénue forever.
Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) was Founded in Houston in 1994 by Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, a pair of Teach for America corps members, KIPP now has more than 100 schools in 20 states and Washington, D.C. It is the largest and best known of a class of charter-management organizations (CMOs) that include Achievement First, YES Prep, Uncommon Schools, Mastery, Aspire, and others. This group shares a set of familiar characteristics: more and longer school days, with a college preparatory curriculum for all students; strict behavioral and disciplinary codes; and a strong focus on building a common, high-intensity school culture. Classrooms and halls are awash in motivational quotations and college banners, typically from the alma maters of the inevitably young, hard-charging teachers who staff the schools. The signature feature is high behavioral and academic expectations for all students, the vast majority of whom are low-income, urban black and Hispanic kids. It’s this last feature that led KIPP and the others to be branded “No Excuses” schools, a label not universally embraced within the category.

To see KIPP’s effort to steer its alumni to “right match” colleges, visit Pennsylvania’s Franklin & Marshall College (F&M). A private liberal arts college with 2,200 undergraduate students, F&M was the first college to enter into a formal partnership with KIPP aimed at improving college persistence and graduation rates of KIPP alumni.The students from KIPP and the other schools “leave F&M and go into their senior year thinking, ‘I can go to college. It’s gonna be tough, but it’ll be fine. I know what my resources are. I know how to talk to professors and upperclassmen.

Not every college is prepared, interested, or has the resources to go the extra mile for low-income kids of color. The idea that once you arrive at college that you’re here and should make your own way and figure it out “is still the dominant culture,” says Barth, who compares colleges to joining a gym: “You get the money, and if the kids leave, they don’t take the money with them.” At present, he believes, the U.S. higher-education system simply isn’t designed for the kinds of students KIPP and other No Excuses charters serve.

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