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

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Schools Where Child Misery Is the Cost of Doing Business

Despite high test scores for many of the disenfranchised children who survive the school leaders' brutal gauntlet of adult expectations that are rigidly imposed on students in "no excuses" charter schools, there are plenty of reasons for kids to call KIPP the "Kids in Prison Program," or to refer to the Success Academy charters as "Sucks Academy."  For both children and teachers in these paternalistic schools, any semblance of normal life has been displaced by a grinding, minutely-routinized, and dehumanizing script that directs and converts human energy to the production of test scores that serve to build charter brands, expand charter chains, and, thus, continue to build $upport from hedge funds and venture philanthropists. The "no excuses" charter model represents the most gruesome use of human capital that has ever been paraded under the banner of schooling, and it enjoys the full support and protection of federal regulations and state statutes.  Even before they can even imagine entering the adult job market, these children are already the principal assets in a multi-billion dollar industry that uses their labor without remuneration.  I think this is commonly referred to as slavery.

The hedge funders whose favor is sought are entirely agnostic about which of the KIPP Model, or "no excuses," charter chains prevails in the race to the top of the testing charts, and their criteria of success and continued support for these schools is based on the verifiable response to a simple question:  Which chain brand can most successfully offer a convincing facade of educational success that can be used to rationalize and prompt the closure and conversion of more public schools so that public buildings, property, equipment, and state public per-pupil dollars can be transfused into the corporate revenue bloodstreams.  

The strategy is quite simple for people like Gates and Murdoch, the Waltons, Broad, and Klein:  they lobby, editorialize, and manufacture sponsored research in support of cutting public services and expanding privatized ones, while offering "partnerships" to take up the financial slack when school budgets suffer under the resulting hammer of imposed austerity. 

The benefits are substantial for corporate interests: expensive, unionized veteran teachers can be replaced under rules that give charters the right to hire and fire beginning temps who are indoctrinated in corporate boot camps like TFA. Or hedge funders can provide new Chromebooks loaded with Windows operating systems and with Pearson or McGraw-Hill software that makes it possible to more efficiently administer Pearson tests. And philanthropists can buy new paint jobs and repairs for public school buildings starved of needed maintenance funds, with a hefty return on their investments.  How?

This kind of "partnership" or corporate resource infusion requires school systems hand over school control and relinquish their claim to the real property owned by the public, which brings us to the real (estate) reasons for hedge fund involvement in public education to begin with.  See the story by Jersey Jazzman about the giveaway in Camden, NJ, as just one recent example on how the blood funnel of the Vampire Squid taps a new source of sustenance and growth.

When I read the story yesterday in the Times about Little Eva's hell schools in the poorest neighborhoods of NYC, I was not surprised. What former teachers shared with Times reporters is consistent, though not as entirely grisly, as the accounts that I have heard interviewing former KIPP teachers, and that will be offered in a new book, forthcoming.

The photo in the Times of the "silent line" speaks volumes, and it brought me back to remarks by former KIPP teachers. A brief excerpt:

Teachers under the constant stress of test performance expectations and KIPP’s strict character catechism, which is aimed to instill grit and self-control, have no patience for wandering student attention or any lapse in acceptable behavioral responses. One of the teachers who found it impossible to “follow their model” had this to say about the KIPP Model’s regimen, which she said reminded her of “a concentration camp:”

There’s nothing wrong with thinking outside of the KIPP values, but you weren’t allowed to. . . .There’s one leader, there’s a group of people who are just in it following a day to day routine that’s exactly the same. . . .And you either hang in there or you drop out.  The ones that are hanging in are barely hanging in.  No one is just bright and cheery and coming to work happy.  It’s like they’re coming to work and from the minute they walk in, they are screaming and yelling. . . .One thing the school leader worked on was—you have to smile.  If you’re not smiling, something’s wrong. . . . No one was smiling (1002). 

One teacher noted that students

look like adults walking down the hallways.  They’re stressed.  One thing you always notice at the [KIPP] school I was in—you will not see a student smiling.  You would not see a teacher smiling.  I mean the difference in the school culture from [my] previous school is so different—like the kids were literally breaking down (1161).

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