A Tennessee teacher, James Gifford, has an op-ed in The Tennesseean (May 25) entitled Closer look shows charter schools' 'success' is deceiving. It did not take long for the KIPP PR machine to swing into action, with its own piece today by KIPP Nashville’s CEO, Randy Dowell.
While Dowell certainly did not mean to do so, his piece today proves Gifford’s point exactly. A few quotes from Dowell will show his deception writ large:
. . . Mr. Gifford asserts that some charter schools nationwide “do not even enroll many of the neediest students.” This is simply untrue for charter schools in Tennessee, all of which serve the neediest students.
Like the rest of the schools in the national network of KIPP schools, KIPP Nashville is an open-enrollment, public charter school explicitly designed to serve the neediest students. We serve a student population that is 92 percent African-American.
Ninety-two percent of our students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, which is above the average for Metro Nashville Public Schools.
First, notice that Dowell says nothing about charter/KIPP enrollment of English language learners (ELLs) or special needs students, who represent the two categories of “neediest” to which Gifford refers. Whether Tennessee, Tucson, or Toledo, charters, on average, enroll significantly fewer students in both of these categories. A study by researchers at Western Michigan University published in March of this year found that
During the 2007-08 school year, the new study found that 11.5 percent of KIPP students were ELLs, compared with 19.2 percent of students in their local school districts. The numbers for special education students showed an even wider gap for that school year; 5.9 percent of KIPP students had disabilities, compared with 12.1 percent of students in the local school districts (Ed Week, 04/11/11).
Other earlier studies demonstrate the same phenomenon, which has become a scandal within the charter industry. There is no way that Dowell could be ignorant of these facts, and one must wonder if he thinks the Tennesseans are just too stupid to know otherwise.
But on to Dowell’s other deceptions:
Our students typically enter fifth grade at KIPP two to three years below grade level, and make 1.5-2 years of academic growth each year while at KIPP.
Given the fact that KIPP’s 10 hour days, Saturdays, and summer school adds between 50 and 60 percent more time in the classroom, and considering the fact that KIPP has been shown to lose along the way a disproportionate number of its low performers in comparison to neighboring public schools, and considering the fact that the KIPP curriculum is entirely test-centered with a total compliance behavioral catechism, then one would expect higher test scores. Also keep in mind that there is a self-selecting high support parental component that is not to be dismissed.
Mr. Gifford cites a study from four years ago that asserts that 60 percent of KIPP fifth-graders in northern California do not complete middle school in four years. This is outdated and does not reflect the current reality. At KIPP Academy Nashville, we only lose about 13 percent of our students annually, which is well below the average of 20-25 percent for Metro Nashville middle schools with comparable demographics.
I’m not exactly sure what Dowell means by research being “outdated.” Does he mean that the facts uncovered in the Bay Area KIPPs do not apply 3 years after the study was published?
In the Bay Area KIPP schools studied (pdf here) in that antique 2008 report, five Bay Area KIPPs lost 60% of their students between 5th and 8th grade:
Together, the four schools began with a combined total of 312 fifth graders in 2003-04, and ended with 173 eighth graders in 2006-07. The number of eighth graders includes new students who entered KIPP after fifth grade (p.12).
Dowell’s 13 percent annual attrition rate conceals another important fact that KIPP doesn’t talk about: based on 2011 research findings from the Western Michigan study, between grades 6 and 8, KIPP cohort sizes shrink by at least 30% due to nonreplacement of students who are lost each year:
The departure of low-performing students helps KIPP improve its aggregate results. Unlike local school districts, KIPP is not replacing the students who are leaving. When a student returns to a traditional public school after the autumn head count, KIPP retains most or all of the money (the amount depends on the particular state) allocated for educating that student during that school year. Traditional public schools do not typically benefit in the same way when they experience attrition, since vacancies are typically filled by other mobile students, even in mid-year.
Dowell’s final deception comes in claiming that the Gifford op-ed suggested that charters/KIPP are held to different accountability standards. Gifford suggested no such thing, but the false accusation that he did gives Dowell an excuse to crow about KIPP having the highest TCAP scores in Nashville. Which leaves me wondering, not really, why Dowell does not say anything about KIPP having the highest per-pupil spending available in Nashville. From Bloomberg News in late March:
KIPP schools are also more richly funded than traditional public schools, the Western Michigan and Columbia study found. KIPP received $12,731 per student, compared with $9,579 for the average U.S. charter school and $11,937 for the average U.S. public-school district, according to researchers’ analysis of 2007-2008 federal data.
Adding another $5,760 in private contributions, KIPP received an average of $18,491 per student, or $6,500 more than local districts, the researchers said, citing public tax filings. The higher funding levels contradict the idea that KIPP can serve as a model for cash-strapped public schools, Miron said (Bloomberg News).
So cash-strapped Nashville citizens, beware. Do not be deceived by KIPP's corporate cult and multi-million dollar PR machine, whose segregated, inhumane, total compliance chain gangs should serve as a model for no one, especially poor urban kids. Ask the middle class parents of Bell Meade if they would allow their children or grandchildren to be treated as children are treated in the KIPP behavioral sterilization camps. See what they say.
As for the rest of the charters, in 2009 Stanford U's CREDO published the first nationwide assessment of charter school test performance, which compared 70 percent of the nation's charters to matched public schools. From the Press Release:
Stanford, CA – A new report issued today by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that there is a wide variance in the quality of the nation’s several thousand charter schools with, in the aggregate, students in charter schools not faring as well as students in traditional public schools.Who's kidding who here?
While the report recognized a robust national demand for more charter schools from parents and local communities, it found that 17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, while 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference. . . .