New Education Plan: 'Work Hard. Be Nice. No Shortcuts'

Those first two schools were so successful so fast that the Fisher family donated $15 million of its Gap retail fortune to "KIPPnotize" other needy districts. In the 11 years since Levin and Feinberg's all-nighter, there are now 57 KIPP schools in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Most of their students enter these middle schools two grade levels behind. And after three years in KIPP, most go on to elite prep or magnet high schools, and 80 percent go to college, a rate four times higher than their public school counterparts.

Visit one KIPP school, and the thirst for learning is obvious. "Work hard, be nice" isn't just a slogan on the wall. It is witnessed in the halls. No slamming lockers, no mayhem, just serene, focused sixth-graders killing time between classes reading or chatting softly. Learning is cool. Kids feel secure. There are no locks on the lockers. Ask a fifth-grader when he'll go to college, and he'll shout "2015!" without a second's hesitation.

It takes serious cash to open a KIPP school. The Fishers are now in for $50 million, while Bill and Melinda Gates pledged $10 million to expand KIPP's efforts. And as the program expands, there has been some pushback from teacher's unions in certain states. Public school advocates often accuse charters of poaching the best students with the most motivated parents. But raves for KIPP far outnumber the criticisms. If public schools are like the U.S. post office, KIPP is a FedEx; hyperefficient and motivated; the metaphorical rising tide that lifts all boats.

"As long as people are making excuses, we're never going to advance the ball on public education," Feinberg said. "So wherever there are these 'yes, buts ...' we want to start schools under these same conditions, under the same social, economic, political and legal conditions to prove what can and should be happening across the board. Because we wholeheartedly believe that the day these excuses end is the day solutions are going to begin."

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