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

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Brooklyn Ascend Brought to Earth by Former Teacher, Part 1

Everyone who knows anything knows that KIPP can only remain a billionaire's choice boutique option for segregating urban children who are desperate enough that they will forego their childhood and suffer years of repeated indignities for a chance at an education, which amounts to a miseducation built upon unceasing test prep and a behavioral catechism more suitable for a penitentiary than a school. 

Unfortunately, the total compliance and total surveillance model of KIPP has inspired a number of high-flying knock-offs like Brooklyn Ascend and its two sister schools in Brooklyn, which use the familiar chain gang methods to denigrate, demean, and destroy the spirits of kids, all in the twisted and debased name of equal opportunity for children who are captive to poverty.  Social justice in blackface is the only adequate way to describe this caricature of equal education.

Little do parents know what goes in these corporate madrassa hellholes, and little did anyone else know until a former teacher stepped forward to call a spade a spade.  Her name is Emily Kennedy, and it wasn't until she read the "tremendously disturbing" book by Ascend's founder, Stephen Wilson, entitled "Learning on the Job: When Business Takes on Public Education," that her unsettled feeling about the goings-on at Brooklyn Ascend began to come into sharp focus.  In Emily's initial email to me, she said that "my experience at Brooklyn Ascend has been nothing less than depressing, demoralizing, and at times even shockingly upsetting."

As we were arranging an interview, she sent me this email with some of those disturbing details as her year at Brooklyn Ascend was winding up:
Just so you know a little bit more about what I have experienced at Brooklyn Ascend, here are some highlights from my year:
  • In December, after giving our third graders a mock exam and realizing that their test scores were not looking very good, our administrators decided to do a third-grade "restart," in which they rearranged the classes and schedules so that the lowest performing "scholars" were all in one class (my class).  [Emily was hired as special needs teacher.]
  • Third grade teachers were required to return to work over Christmas break (including New Years Eve) for special "training" in "Teach Like a Champion" techniques [the book by Doug Lemov that has replaced teacher preparation and professional development in these chain gangs].  During this training, a lady named Sue Welch from "Building Excellent Teachers" instructed us on what our first day back with the kids would look like:  four hours (8-12pm) of teaching nothing but procedures.  When I asked if perhaps we should do something to make it at least a little more "fun," she told me that fun was absolutely not an "appropriate objective."   
  • In order to boost test scores, science, social studies, and Spanish were removed from the schedule of the low-performing group.  Instead, we were required to teach an additional reading and math block during this time.
  • Scholars [the word that has replaced children] in the low-performing group were required to attend after-school-tutoring sessions for more test prep.  So, after going to school from 7:30 to 4:30, they needed to stay an extra hour for more test prep - in addition to completing the hour of homework that we are required to give each night.  (8 year olds!!)  Needless to say, I had many kids falling asleep in class and having frequent stomach aches.  Our school director - a TFA grad - thought that if we brought more of the "j-factor" to our classroom (joy factor) that they would be more motivated.  To him and other Doug Lemov zealots, this means doing cheers like "Pick of your pencil and YOU WILL BE REWARDED!" in between long independent work sessions. . . .
  • Small-group guided reading (when we were once able to choose books that the kids would really enjoy) was replaced with small-group test-preparation sessions, where teachers were given scripted lessons and packets that mimic the reading comprehension portion of the New York State test.  
  • All lessons from February break onward were based on specific skills that our "data analyst" determined for us by looking at results from the mock exams.  
  • During the testing weeks, we had "pep-rallies" each morning in which they kids had to do chants about how they were going to ace the tests.  

I could go on.  I am so angry that this is what our country is allowing education to become.  


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:10 PM

    Oooppps!!! I also have so many "weird" things to tell... I never thought that USA would have a school like this one, poor kids, coming from poor families, having a really poor education. Shame on them. That is why Ascend Learning is always looking for teachers...