KIPP launches collaborative with Memphis charters to improve literacy results

When a school adopts a new curriculum, one of the most time-consuming tasks for teachers is figuring out how to bring those new ideas into their classrooms.

This is especially true for charter schools with smaller staffs who are often starting from scratch in designing a curriculum aligned to state standards, said Monique Cincore, principal at Aspire East Academy in Memphis.

The KIPP Foundation, a national charter organization, is giving away its English curriculum, KIPP Wheatley, for free to help lighten other charters’ loads. And for the first time, KIPP has established a  “charter collaborative,” sharing its curriculum and training for it with four Memphis charter organizations with the goal of helping local teachers and leaders figure out how to bring the curriculum into their classrooms.

“The charter world can be so siloed,” said Daniel Sonnier, the director of KIPP Wheatley Achievement, who helped run the first Memphis collaborative session in early October. “Everyone is doing their own thing. But now we have this shared curriculum, and we can learn from one another.”

Eleven elementary and middle schools from four different charter organizations in Memphis adopted the KIPP Wheatley curriculum last year, with Memphis Business Academy joining this year. Starting last week, 23 educators from the schools will meet monthly to try out ideas and receive feedback from KIPP Wheatley experts. KIPP led a two-day session with the educators at the Memphis Education Fund, which donated the space.

“We tend to work within our own buildings, and there’s not as much opportunity like this to practice and hear from other schools,” Cincore said. “Having this curriculum as a starting point cuts through a lot of heavy lifting, and helps me focus on this question: ‘How do I lessen teachers’ loads?’ ”

The participating schools are:

Aspire Public Schools 

  • Aspire Coleman Elementary
  • Aspire Coleman Middle
  • Aspire Hanley Elementary
  • Aspire East Academy

Freedom Preparatory Academy 

  • Freedom Preparatory Academy – Westwood
  • Freedom Preparatory Academy – Whitehaven

Memphis Business Academy 

  • Memphis STEM Academy
  • Memphis Business Academy Middle

KIPP Memphis

  • KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary
  • KIPP Memphis Collegiate Middle
  • KIPP Memphis Preparatory Middle

One of the main goals of the collaborative is to grow English scores an average of 8 percentage points at the participating schools on the next state test, Sonnier said.

He said they are waiting for charter organizations to report on Wheatley’s effect on their state scores during the first year. Individual school scores for last year’s state TNReady exam haven’t been released yet, but state-level scores for K-8 show most students are lagging in literacy.  

The KIPP curriculum is aligned with the Common Core and while the state of Tennessee moved away from Common Core to Tennessee Academic Standards this year, Sonnier said teachers won’t have much to change.

“Common Core and the Tennessee standards are very similar,” Sonnier said at the collaborative session. “A Common Core curriculum focuses on a close reading of text. For us, text is queen or king. It rules over everything.”

KIPP formed the literacy curriculum five years ago and is using grants from the Charter School Growth Fund and the Schusterman Foundation to spread KIPP Wheatley to cities like Memphis. The curriculum is now being taught to more than 15,000 students across the nation, according to a KIPP blog post.

Sonnier said they have seen positive results from the curriculum at their KIPP New York and KIPP New Jersey schools in particular, with KIPP New Jersey growing by 7 and 10 percentage points respectively in their elementary and middle school literacy scores on state tests last year.

KIPP is hoping to repeat its success in Memphis, with cross-charter collaboration as the key. If the collaborative is successful, KIPP will try a similar approach in other cities like Denver or New York, Sonnier said.

“The opportunity to interact and engage with folks in the way Memphis is able to is refreshing,”  he said.