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

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Paul Tough, KIPP, and the "Science" of Cultural Sterilization

Paul Tough is touring the country promoting his new book, which is is to say he is on a nationwide tour promoting KIPP.  For the book, How Children Succeed:Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character  reads as an unabashed paean to the kind of segregated, bare-knuckled corporate education reform for the poor that has made KIPP the darling of the oligarchs and hedge funders. With the help of CIA consultant, Dr. Martin Seligman and his disciples at UPenn, the KIPP gang is developing a designer mind intervention intended to create a culturally-sterilized corps of black order takers and low level corporate drones who never complain and always ask How High? when the boss man says, Jump.

If the KIPP neo-eugenic treatment can be perfected by Seligman and David Levin (co-founder of KIPP), America may finally be on the road to ridding itself of the inferior and depraved cultures that are responsible for poverty and its effects, and we may herald a new day when the unfit accept their own responsibility for their unfitness and, then, work double time to make up for their own shortcomings that keep them from entering the the gritty corporate bubble where down always looks up, where everyone keeps on the sunny side of an increasingly shady Wall Street.

Yesterday the Memphis Commercial-Appeal had a story on the eminent visit of Tough to the Memphis KIPP store to pump his book and KIPP.  Now from Tough's past writings in the New York Times, we know that David Levin of KIPP did not conceive his "character building" KIPP program until 2005, when he first met Prof. Seligman.  And according to Tough, the character curriculum with its report card broken down to tenths of points did not go into effect until 2011.  So it was amazing to me that Commercial Appeal story had this:
Two years after it began emphasizing character in New York KIPP schools, college graduation rates there jumped to 46 percent. (Nationally, according to census data, 10 percent of students in poverty graduate from college.)
Does anyone with half a brain intact see a problem here?  How could a program started two years ago in a middle school affect college graduation rates for students from years ago?  How do I know the 46 percent rate is from years ago?  Because I found it in an excerpt of Tough's misleading and obfuscating book:
In addition to targeting character development through message saturation, Levin has also introduced a CPA (Character Point Average) for his students at KIPP, to go alongside their GPA. Teachers give every student a score on each of the 7 character strengths during reporting periods, which scores are then crunched into a CPA that shows up on a student’s report card. On parent-teacher interview night, the teachers go over the student’s CPA with the student and their parents, and together they explore which character strengths should be targeted for improvement, and how to go about doing this (loc. 1768-93).
The importance of having the CPA is that it implies that character is not only important, but that it can be improved. And once again, psychologists agree that this is a very important message—and one that is very effective in increasing achievement in many different areas (loc. 1729-44, 1747).

It is still too early to draw any definitive conclusions regarding whether or not the measures being taken at KIPP will bring success. However, recent numbers regarding the college graduation rate of KIPP alumni look promising. As tough reports, “the six-year graduation rate had gone up from 21 percent, for the Class of 2003… to 46 percent, for the Class of 2005” (loc. 1803). Still, many of the students at KIPP continue to struggle with issues of character strength (loc. 1809), so the new measures cannot be considered a silver bullet—though they are at least promising.
This is exactly how embedded lies by well-paid propagandists end up as monstrous quotable lies in newspapers that reporters like Jane Roberts record without ever checking or even thinking about the ridiculousness of the claim.

Meanwhile, the wholesale indoctrination of KIPPsters continues unabated and celebrated by those wealthy donors who believe that manipulating the psychology of children offers a more efficient solution to the ravages of poverty than actually doing something about poverty.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Jim. This brings to mind the "Educare" program begun by Warren Buffet's daughter. This program primarily raises the children of impoverished families, training them from birth the "right way" to be a laborer and not steal from social programs.

  2. Russ Ramsey5:05 PM

    C'mon guys. By claiming propaganda and a spin of the truth without looking at the actual text, you are making the same mistake both the Commercial Appeal author and the book review "excerpt" make. Tough never makes a claim about CPA and college rates. On Page 101 and 102, Tough talks about this increase in graduation rate from 2003 to 2005, don't say anything about it's source, and actually mentions it is projected to decline in 2007. At best, he infers that any changes are a result of the College Advisory Playbook, mentioned lower on page 102, but he did not make any claim about the effectiveness of character report cards, as your post suggests. Yes, the commercial appeal article and the "new books in brief" summary way overreached, but it is not because of Tough's writing.

    1. If the reader of Tough’s KIPP promotional book pays really close attention, he will see back on p. 95 that the information on the following pages (up through p. 104) is related to Tough’s visits to a KIPP school in 2011. Otherwise, there are no dates in the section, “Report Cards” (pp. 98-101), or the one that follows called “Climbing the Mountain” (pp. 101-104)to frame the character report card discussion. The proof is clear that readers of Tough’s book came to believe that there was a connection between character report cards and the increase in college graduation rates, which is an absurdity crafted as a talking point. I cannot say if readers were misled intentionally, but whether intentional or not, the effects were same: readers were misled. Even though Mr. Tough was in Memphis to promote his book/KIPP a couple of days later, I did not see anything in the Commercial Appeal from Mr. Tough or the “reporter,” Jane Roberts, to correct the error.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.