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

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline By Making Schools More Like KIPP (Kids in Prison Program)

Following Columbine and 9-11 came No Child Left Behind, which together created a perfect storm of oppressive school practices that would play out most harshly among the poor.  With NCLB’s impossible testing targets, urban schools in particular were actually incentivized to identify and root out any testing recalcitrants, low scorers, or other threats to making the testing targets. 

Here is a clip from the NYTimes story on Tuesday on the beginning of the end to zero tolerance school policies that have been flooding the school-to-prison pipeline for over a decade now:

. . . . Rather than push children out of school, districts like Broward are now doing the opposite: choosing to keep lawbreaking students in school, away from trouble on the streets, and offering them counseling and other assistance aimed at changing behavior.
These alternative efforts are increasingly supported, sometimes even led, by state juvenile justice directors, judges and police officers.
In Broward, which had more than 1,000 arrests in the 2011 school year, the school district entered into a wide-ranging agreement last month with local law enforcement, the juvenile justice department and civil rights groups like the N.A.A.C.P. to overhaul its disciplinary policies and de-emphasize punishment.
Some states, prodded by parents and student groups, are similarly moving to change the laws; in 2009, Florida amended its laws to allow school administrators greater discretion in disciplining students.
“A knee-jerk reaction for minor offenses, suspending and expelling students, this is not the business we should be in,” said Robert W. Runcie, the Broward County Schools superintendent, who took the job in late 2011. “We are not accepting that we need to have hundreds of students getting arrested and getting records that impact their lifelong chances to get a job, go into the military, get financial aid.”
Nationwide, more than 70 percent of students involved in arrests or referrals to court are black or Hispanic, according to federal data.
“What you see is the beginning of a national trend here,” said Michael Thompson, the director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center. “Everybody recognizes right now that if we want to really find ways to close the achievement gap, we are really going to need to look at the huge number of kids being removed from school campuses who are not receiving any classroom time.” . . .

The achievement gap, really?  Are we still pretending that schools, alone, are going to close the poverty gap, the health care gap, the racism gap, the opportunity gap, the safety gap, the crime gap, the hope gap, the housing gap, and all the gaps that are expressed in universal symptom of low test scores by the poor and oppressed? 

Are we really going to end the inhumane and racist practices of locking up black and brown teenagers for the most minor offenses, not for the sake of human rights or even common sense, but for the benefit of yet another futile round of penal interventions that will be meted out now in the schools to “close the achievement gap?”

As the national campaign led by the Advancement Project begins to put the squeeze on the school to prison pipeline, which is a very good thing, will these human rights and civil rights organizations now begin to focus on the total compliance corporate reform charter schools and their public school emulators that, unless challenged, may be expected to become more prison-like as another generation of racist high stakes tests opens up the “achievement gap” even further?

Will we begin to see, as former KIPP teachers see, how the total compliance KIPP-TFA Model is deeply implicated with deeply racist school practices?  As I continue to re-read interviews with former KIPP teachers, it becomes clear that they understand that KIPP and its emulators sanction the kinds of treatment that white middle class parents would never at all allow for their own children.

A brief clip from former KIPP teacher:

Q: I just have one other question for you and that is do you have anything that you want to say that I haven’t asked you about? Anything that you thought you wanted to talk about, that you wanted to get off your chest that you wanted to say?

A:  I have no agenda.  There are things I really liked about my time at KIPP; there are things that I wish I had changed.  Yeah, I think KIPP, I’m Caucasian, and depending on the school—KIPP Houston is mostly Hispanic, KIPP in _________ was mostly African American. 

I think there’s a broader question when you look at the heavy discipline of KIPP.  Would we let this happen if the students were white middle class?  Would we be okay with the yelling?….I think that’s a pretty valid question.  Is part of the reason that KIPP is allowed to get away with things that couldn’t be done in a traditional [school].  I mean the things I did at KIPP would get me fired at my school now.

Q:  What’s that?

A:  The yelling, I’ve watched a teacher slam a door and the glass broke.  I think that’s a question worth analyzing, how much is race in terms of we want to save our, ah -- I don’t know if I’m saying that right.  But I know it’s a criticism I’ve heard that I thought myself and that came to my mind when you said would you put your daughter in a KIPP school and I thought probably not. I don’t know if that has anything to do with your research but sometimes it’s perhaps a broader question I think.

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