David Levin

Ashoka Fellow
Bronx, New York, United States
Fellow Since 2004


This profile was prepared when David Levin was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004.
The New Idea
Dave Levin’s Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) establishes new college preparatory middle schools for children at risk of school failure. By training principles and teachers in new ways—and by engaging students, parents, teachers, and the community to make contractual commitments to participate in the children’s academic success—Dave believes that every child can excel and go to college, regardless of their background, neighborhood, or socioeconomic status. KIPP helps teachers and school administrators design and implement the kinds of effective and engaging lessons that stay with students well beyond the year’s end. While KIPP plans to expand from 32 to 133 schools by 2010, to achieve the “tipping point,” Dave believes it must become the leading source of knowledge and training for principals and teachers. It is through these intangible elements—the quality of instruction and learning, and the attitudes of principles and teachers—that the true success of KIPP will be measured.
Dave and his co-founder, Mike Feinberg, identified Five Pillars that enable each KIPP School to increase student achievement gains and ultimately contribute to closing the achievement gap. These pillars are central to KIPP’s success, and ultimately to the improvement of our public education system:
1) High expectations. KIPP sets high academic standards for all students, who aim for college from the start of fifth grade. This is a time when many children in poverty-stricken areas replace academic interests with drugs, gangs, violence, and crime. Dave has successfully built a strong school culture that supports students through these turbulent years of early adolescence.
2) Choice and commitment. Most low-income families have no voice in where their children go to school. KIPP Schools offer them an alternative to their zoned school and to low-performing schools. Students, parents, and the faculty all make a commitment to each other to put in the time and effort required to achieve success.
3) More time on task. Most KIPP students enroll performing well below grade level. KIPP calls for over 50 percent more time on task than other schools to allow teachers to delve deeper into lessons, offer one-on-one attention, and provide enrichment activities. An extended school day, week, and year allows students more classroom time to acquire the knowledge that will prepare them for competitive high schools and colleges. To maximize the value of this extra time, Dave developed the unique and successful KIPP approach to learning and teaching that gives KIPP students a competitive advantage over children attending conventional schools.
4) Power to lead. Most administrators in a traditional school district are restricted from making decisions that solely benefit the students in their building. Dave has ensured that KIPP School Leaders have the power to lead dynamic, autonomous public schools. Through the KIPP School Leadership Program training, they develop the skills to make effective and informed decisions that optimize their effectiveness in helping students learn. They control their school budget and personnel and can quickly move funds or make staffing changes. Less time is spent on bureaucracy, more time is spent on the students.
5) Focus on results. KIPP Schools focus on high student performance on standardized tests. Students are expected to achieve a level of academic performance that will enable them to succeed at the nation’s best high schools and colleges. Public schools in low-income neighborhoods often seek exemptions from statewide exams for bilingual or learning disabled students. Although KIPP students are selected by lottery, Dave obtained a policy change enabling KIPP to give preference to children from the poorest neighborhoods. Remarkably, KIPP students already consistently outscore students from other public schools.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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