Part of this seems to that the high achievers who don't have money engage in different patterns of behavior when applying to colleges than the high achievers who do. But there's also the "old boys network." While we regularly hear stories about the waning of prep school influence in the admissions process, the perception remains that who you know matters at least as much as what you know.
Now, one thing I've noted over the years is how certain charter schools love to put on airs that they are providing the equivalent of a prep school experience for the lower classes. Uniforms are the most obvious manifestation of this:
If you only looked at the clothes, you'd think Chris Christie was giving a talk at Delbarton, and not Robert Treat Academy.
The problem for the charters is that they may have the patina of a prep school, but they don't have the cachet; they haven't built up the alumni connections and network of influence that prep schools carry into the college admissions game.
I find this really disturbing, on a number of different levels:
- If the "old boys network" is wrong for prep schools, why is it OK for some charter schools? Why should college admissions be based on whether the KIPPsters have squeezed enough juice to get their kids into high-powered schools? Don't kids who attend other, less-influential charters deserve the same chance to get their graduates into the Ivy-plus colleges? And what about all the gifted public school kids who don't attend KIPP schools? Why shouldn't they be recruited as energetically as KIPP alumni?
- KIPP may serve poor and minority students, but there is substantial evidence it engages in patterns of attrition, and those patterns are linked to race. It's almost as if KIPP is skimming the cream for the colleges before the kids even apply. Contracting out to KIPP to serve as a gatekeeper to these universities is not an encouraging policy when KIPP's own admissions results are in question.
- While KIPP may attempt to recreate the trappings and influence of private schools and affluent suburban public high schools, there is good reason to believe they have failed to replicate the curricula and culture of the feeders into elite colleges. The "no excuses" paradigm may be attractive to conservatives who love the idea of compliant minority children marching, chanting, and filling in bubbles on a Scantron sheet. But is it a school experience that prepares students for the top colleges and universities? Do the Ivy-pluses really want students who have been trained to be convergent thinkers?
If there is a silver lining in all this, maybe it's that KIPP will forced to finally confront this question when its graduates encounter the free-wheeling, creativity-driven world of the Top Fifty colleges. When KIPP-educated students have to think critically, account for themselves, and navigate the complexity of academic life, we'll see whether all that marching and chanting paid off. Maybe KIPP will be forced to compare themselves to the current feeders into elite colleges and take a long, hard look at their own behavioristic pedagogy.