"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Interview: The KULT of KIPP and the Abuses in Fresno

Question -- What are your main objections to KIPP, and what brought you to those conclusions?

Answer -- Let me count the ways I object to KIPP. Some of my objections are related specifically to KIPP, and others become exacerbated by the organization and "principles" of KIPP when combined with their charter status.

Take some of the KIPP violations, for instance, in the Fresno Report (pdf). In a regular public school, you would not find principals sending children home in cabs or making capricious and arbitrary decisions to expel or suspend students, or using the kind of lax system for test security. The system of regular public school oversight just does not allow for these things to happen on a continuing basis as they did in the Fresno KIPP instance. Nor would you have a toothless and ignorant "Board" such as you had at KIPP that would would allow the abuse against children to continue for years without acting to stop it. Without oversight and accountability for policies and behavior, these KIPP principals in their self-imposed (and KIPP home office imposed) pressure cookers to raise test scores easily lapse into behaviors that resemble prison wardens and cult leaders more than school principals.

So governance is a huge issue that will only be improved by public oversight of the kind that is provided public schools. Just look at our economy as the most recent reminder of what happens with a world of CEOs gone wild. Is that the kind of power run amok that we want for our most precious assets, our children for god's sake.

The bigger issue, however, has to do with the KIPP program, the people it is supposed to serve, and the way it does that. First thing you will notice about KIPP is that there is no leafy suburban school that would even contemplate this kind of "educational" intervention for white middle class children. 10 hour days, 2 hours of homework, and school on Saturday, an extra month in the summer, labeling of children as "miscreants" for minor infractions of the rules, the viewing of recess as an unwelcome intrusion. No way, it just would not be accepted.

Now defenders of KIPP say, well, these kids are so far behind that this is what it takes to bring them up to speed. And, of course, the effects of poverty, which are the reasons that these children are so far behind, remains the elephant in the room that we refuse to acknowledge, allowing us, rather, to fixate on fixing the children rather than fixing the problem of poverty, which Bill Gates or the Fishers or the Dells are not interested in fixing as long as they are allowed to assuage their liberal white guilt by subjecting children to behavioral regimens that they would not impose upon their dogs-- and all in the name of helping the children.

And as long as the focus remains on fixing the insides of children's heads while ignoring the conditions these kids must return to after their 10 hour days of working hard and being nice in their apartheid schools, all sorts of indoctrination and extraordinary educational renditions become necessary to achieve KIPP goals. As a media person, you should ask David Levin what his connection and fascination is with Martin Seligman--the Seligman of positive pscyhology fame, who we find out recently has inspired CIA interrogators, who use his methods of "learned helplessness" to control terrorists.

KIPP, at its unacknowledged core, remains an intervention aimed at cognitive and behavioral control that occurs when we use whatever means to turn poor minority children into the white Ivy League teachers' version of middle class children. In the meantime, children are taught to grow up and escape their communities, rather than to change them by challenging the system of privilege that now proclaims their liberation through a renewed form of segregated confinement--which is KIPP. Any system that demands of children that they give up their childhood as a condition for success, which KIPP does, should not be entertained as a viable education intervention. KIPP is social and education reform on the cheap, where economy is more important than the children who are sacrificed through the unethical excesss that we turn our backs to.

There are humane ways to run schools and increase academic achievement at the same time. KIPP is not one of them. In fact, it represents the antithesis of responsible caring, and thus offers us an institutionalized version of social justice in blackface.

What brought me to these conclusions? Most of it has to do with my own experience as a researcher in an urban elementary school in Louisiana at the outset of high-stakes testing in 2000. What happened there, very ugly, is recounted in this article (pdf). And now I see a steroidal version of that with a corporate twist at KIPP. To me it is as if the nation has lost its collective mind on educating the most vulnerable of our children, all because we refuse to acknowledge the malignant poverty and segregation that no school or school system can change by itself and that we as a society continue to ignore. The KIPP/TFA phenomenon represents a corporate colonization of urban America, with all the zeal that we might expect from missionaries looking to collect human capital that has been rendered of its soul.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:55 PM

    This is a national issue especially at the KIPP - South Fulton Academy, in East Point, Georgia, where the kids are treated like prisoners; and now they are imposing a Sunday School for failing kids. Someone needs to investigate that place! Students are threatened and yelled at all day and lose access to lunch with their peers and PE if they do not behave like robots. Imagine being required to be silent for almost 10 hours every day! Plus kids are bullied and cursed-out by teachers who point in their faces and make degrading comments. Students are not given downtime to think or reflect on their learning. The kids are experiencing burnout with sometimes 2-3 projects a week with no guidance. Many parents can not afford the supplies that are requested at the very last minute. Students are punished if they don't have them. Students get tons of busy work and it can only be categorized as such because many teachers do not go over or present the projects other than posting them on makeshift bulletin boards. The kids are poor writers and no one seems to care, so the parents do a lot of the writing for the kids, so they don't fail. The school lacks technology and textbooks. The special need students are overlooked and not given their legally due rights to a good education because the school lacks the funding and resources. The kids are required to sit on old carpet in uncomfortable positions for extended times periods and when try to get comfortable they are reprimanded. Parent concerns and student issues are ignored.

    Sadly, many families (including the affluent yet thrifty) accept these extreme negatives and buy into the notion that KIPP is the only way for their kids to get access to a affordable private, boarding, or high-achieving high school. It is not. Parents need to do their research to discover the options. Parents need to work to place the power and responsibility back in the hands of their local public schools where teachers and leaders are held accountable to a higher standard under the law.