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The excerpt below is from Chapter 16 of Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys through No Excuses Teaching. JH
In the KIPP schools and the schools that emulate the KIPP Model, whether they are regular public or charter, we find the arbitrary separation of cultural factors from socioeconomic class continues to draw attention away from the effects of poverty and discrimination on school performance. This, in turn, encourages the kinds of depersonalized crustiness among KIPP staff who are focused only on behaviors and attitudes that improve measurable test results. The No Excuses ideology, then, not only ignores the documented effects of poverty on the poor, but it becomes, ironically, an inadequate excuse for justifying morally hazardous acts.
Young, privileged beginning teachers like the ones recruited by Teach for America and other alternative preparation programs are particularly prone to imposing the kinds of psychological manhandling that No Excuses schools demand. Many of these young teacher aspirants grew up enjoying the advantages of economic privilege, while expecting and knowing personal success in school and social life, with little understanding of failure. The threat of failure, then, sometimes initiates a fear that is played out by fear’s twin sister, anger, especially when KIPP school leaders encourage their teachers to be more “militant” in their approach to discipline and to low test performance.
Many of these middle class neophyte teachers, too, share the same missionary zeal that often motivates well-meaning privileged individuals into the service of those less fortunate. Whether one labels this phenomenon liberal guilt, advantaged idealism, or simply the desire to do good, it is a mindset that is easily manipulated by administrators who are, most often, survivors of the pedagogical gauntlet that TFA Corps members must go through.
Having gone through it with their hardness made harder, still, empathy or sympathy for those who are struggling cannot be allowed to become another excuse for not accomplishing what they, themselves, have proven to be possible. The dominant demeanor of hardness, however, masks an underlying brittleness that becomes visible in emotional meltdowns, nervous exhaustion, explosive anger, physical deterioration, and high attrition.
This detached hardness often yields a moral callousness by school leaders that is regularly too harsh for teachers to endure, but when it is applied to children as it is in KIPP Model schools, it takes on an even darker specter. Such is the case in the KIPP story that follows. Names are used in this section because the following incident is a matter of public record.
During the 2007-2008 school year, California’s Office of Child and Protective Services notified Fresno Unified School District, the charter authorizer for KIPP Academy Fresno Charter School, that a student at KIPP Fresno had threatened suicide following a punishment administered by KIPP Fresno’s CEO, Chi Tschang. Although complaints against Mr. Tschang had been lodged by parents as early as 2004, the threatened suicide by a punished student proved to be the culminating factor that launched a third-party investigation paid for by Fresno Unified School District. The independent investigation by Dan Brake culminated in a 64 page “Notice to Cure and Correct Violations,” a document (Horn, 2014) that recounts in harrowing detail the students punishments between 2004 and 2008, all of which were authorized or meted out, personally, by Mr. Tschang.
The KIPP Academy Fresno Charter School was founded in 2004, and Chi Tschang was its first school leader. Like many of KIPP’s school leaders, Tschang had graduated from an Ivy League school and never studied education or educational leadership prior to teaching. After earning a degree in History from Yale in 1998, Tschang tutored low-income children in Providence, Rhode Island, for a non-profit corporation, City Year.
The following year he moved to Boston and taught for four years at the No Excuses charter middle school, Academy of the Pacific Rim. There he earned the reputation as a hard worker, strict disciplinarian, and public admirer of KIPP and KIPP’s methodology. He also started a blog called Chi Unplugged, where he wrote about professional and personal issues. In one of his first blog posts from December 2000, Tschang complained about his deep frustrations with women who did not want to date him but who, more often, wanted to tell him about being mistreated by other men.
Describing himself as less exciting than other more aggressive men that women seemed to prefer over the hard working and loyal nice guy type, Tschang (2000) described himself as “a bitter, unsportsmanlike sore loser since not one single woman in America under the age of 35 wants to date my kind” (para 4). In 2004, Tschang applied for and was selected as KIPP Fresno’s first CEO.
According to a “Notice to Cure and Correct” issued in December 2008, complaints about harsh treatment of students at Tschang’s school began during the 2004-05 school year. Based on parent complaints about Tschang’s disciplinary actions against students, the Fresno branch of NAACP visited the school during that year, which led to Tschang’s counseling by the Fresno Unified School District for “inappropriate behavior.” Other complaints followed the same year, which led to a meeting of KIPP Foundation officials, the District, and Tschang.
The following year, KIPP Fresno received training from the District on its roles and responsibilities regarding student discipline and reporting. Complaints against Mr. Tschang resumed, however, during the 2007-08 school year, and the Board of the KIPP Fresno decided to call for Mr. Tschang's resignation. The KIPP Foundation communicated to the unelected KIPP Fresno Board that it had no authority to demand Mr. Tschang's resignation. The Board resigned shortly thereafter.
During that same year, the District grew increasingly concerned for student “psychological and emotional health” (Fresno Unified School District, 2008, p. 2). As a result, the District offered KIPP Fresno's staff training to deal with emotional and psychological problems. Tschang refused, even though KIPP teachers there and elsewhere regularly lack child development or child psychology coursework and training. The culminating complaint that year came when Child and Protective Services notified the Fresno Unified School District that a child who had recently undergone one of Mr. Tschang's punishments had subsequently threatened suicide. Mr. Tschang had failed to notify the parents of the child’s threat.
On December 11, 2008, the District’s chartering authority issued KIPP Academy Fresno Charter School a 63-page “NOTICE TO CURE AND CORRECT VIOLATIONS” (Fresno Unified School District, 2008). The report detailed alleged violations of state law and of KIPP’s charter that focused mainly on Chi Tschang’s behavior toward students, but other serious violations were cited as well. They included charges of impropriety with regards to
· Board Composition
· Criminal Background Checking
· State Mandated Testing
· Right to Privacy
· Transporting Students Off Campus,
· Failure to Report Child Sexual Abuse.
Among the fifteen particulars in the section on “State Mandated Testing” (pp. 43-46) are these noted ethical breaches and unlawful acts:
· In 2006, completed state tests were stored in a location where students and parents had access to the tests. Two of the . . . former teachers, Kim Kutzner and Marcella Mayfield, stated that they witnessed violations of the testing procedures.
They stated that tests were not placed in a secure environment. State tests were stacked in boxes around the school's office, tests were not returned promptly by teachers after the closing of that day's testing, and tests were left in classrooms, the principal's office and the school's office. . . .
· Kim Kutzner [a KIPP teacher] and Marcella Mayfield [a KIPP office employee] stated that the school adopted a policy that students were required to check their answers again and again after they had finished their tests and were not allowed to do other activities.
· Ms. Kutzner also witnessed teachers record students' answers during testing, review student's tests, and tell students which page to correct.
· Chi Tschang [subsequently referred to as T], as the test site coordinator for 2006, also admitted that in a couple of cases, teachers forgot to bring tests back . . . .
· In a staff meeting in May of 2006, Ms. Kutzner, who had five years experience as a test site coordinator, reviewed with the entire staff the violations that she had witnessed during testing and presented the written testing protocol materials to T. The staff actively opposed any changes in procedures which would potentially lower test scores, and T and Mr. Hawke stated that the legal and ethical requirements for testing were, in fact, only guidelines that could be ignored. . . ..
· The violations were knowingly in disregard of state testing procedures in that T signed the STAR Test Security Agreement and the Charter School's teachers signed the STAR Test Security Affidavit in which they agreed to the conditions designed to ensure test security. T also failed to report the testing irregularities to the District STAR Coordinator.
Other administrative and technical breaches can be found in the “Fresno Unified Notice to Cure and Correct” report. More troubling, however, are the descriptions of how Tschang treated students at KIPP Fresno. And more troubling, still, are the similarities between Tschang’s behaviors as described in the “Notice to Cure” and the descriptions of the disciplinary regimen by former KIPP teachers interviewed for this book. At KIPP Fresno and the schools described by former KIPP teachers, we find common practices that include screaming at children, enforced silence for most of the day, harsh punishments for minor rule infractions, isolation, ostracism, labeling, and public humiliation. Below is a sampling (Horn, 2010 March15) from the dozens of allegations against Tschang and his faculty for mistreating children. The entire report is archived (Fresno Unified School District, 2008) online and may be downloaded from http://www.pdf-archive.com/2015/01/05/kipp-report-fresno/.
· In her interview, Kia Spenhoff [school employee] stated that she witnessed Mr. Tschang put his hands on students. She witnessed Mr. Tschang pick up a student off the ground, hold the student by the neck against a wall, and then drop the student. When asked about this incident Mr. Tschang stated, "I don't remember picking up and dropping a student, I do remember shaking a kid."
· __________ also reported witnessing Tschang push another student's face against the wall and saying, " Put your ugly face against the wall, I don't want to see your face."
· Student __________ reported witnessing Mr. Tschang draw a circle on the ground and force a student to stand in the circle for two hours in the sun during the summertime.
· __________, a student at KIPP from 2004 to 2007, stated that in the 04-05 term he saw Mr. Tschang pick students up and drop them. If a student wasn't sitting correctly he would pick them up by their shirt, move the chair, and drop them on the floor.
· Vincent Montgomery, former Chief Operating Officer for the school, reported that he observed several incidents in which he felt Chi Tschang was emotionally abusive toward students, such as requiring students to stand outside in the rain. Mr. Montgomery also stated he felt any gains made by kids were offset by the emotional abuse they experienced.
· Richard Keyes made a comment to Mr. Tschang that he thought Mr. Tschang needed training in child growth and development because there were things going on that were psychologically damaging.
· Students stated in an interview that Mr. Tschang would make kids stand in the sun while he yelled at them, and that _________ had to stand there for an hour.
· Marcella Mayfield witnessed Mr. Tschang grab a backpack off of a student and then repeatedly kick it.
· In December 2007 the police reported several students for shoplifting at a ______ store. As punishment, Mr. Tschang had them sit at their desks outside in the cold for two days. Diane Gutierrez, an employee at the Charter School, stated that Mr. Tschang took away their shoes on one day to let them know how it feels to have something taken away form them. Marcella Mayfield stated that it was bitterly cold in December and the students were only allowed to wear sweatshirts. She also stated that Mr. Tschang screamed at the students during the entire day. She told this investigation, "I lost count how many times he could be heard from the classroom. When there was a quiet spell in the class, you could hear him outside screaming at them."
· “________ reported that [KIPP teacher] Mr. Ammon admitted to intentionally humiliating her son and that in a meeting between Mr. Ammon, Mr. Tschang, and ________, Mr. Ammon said, “I thought he needed to be humiliated, that it is my job to do this,” and “I just really think he needs to be humbled, he reminds me of me at that age, and I know he has no dad at home.” When asked about the incident, Mr. Tschang stated, “No, I don’t remember this. What I do remember is that _____ was repeatedly acting in a defiant and disrespect [sic] way to Mr. Ammon and other teachers.’”
· Diana Gutierrez stated in her interview that Mr. Tshcang raged and screamed at students on several occasions. She stated the he: "has thrown backpacks belonging to students in a manner that the contents fell out. He has grabbed papers out of students' hands and yelled at them. He yells at students right in their faces. The children are so afraid of him that they do not want to look at him. He will just yell louder and say things like 'Look at me,' 'Listen to me,' and "What's wrong with you?' 'Do you want me to kick you out of school?'
· Former Board member Steve Hopper stated that Mr. Tschang was so focused on peer accountability that he would lose track of the moment. Mr. Hopper said, "when he yells or throws books, and you confront him, he calls it 'strategic.'"
· “When asked about his yelling at students Mr. Tschang stated, “If parents are not happy with the school program, it is a school of choice.’”
Chi Tschang was eventually replaced as KIPP Fresno’s school leader on February 20, 2009, and the school closed at the end of the 2008-09 school year under the shadow of unresolved allegations of numerous irregularities, illegalities, and ethical breaches. Tschang, however, was not unemployed for long. In the fall of 2009, the No Excuses charter chain, Achievement First, hired Tschang as Assistant Superintendent at an Achievement First charter school in New York.
A year later in November 2010 Tschang was back in the news (Cartright, 2010), as New York parents reported Mr. Tschang had “aggressively grabbed an 11-year-old boy he was kicking out of class” (para 2). Achievement First’s co-CEO, Doug McCurry, responded with a six-page letter to parents that “qualified Tschang’s move as a misunderstanding of school policy” (para 6). McCurry also took the opportunity to blast the Fresno Report that detailed Tschang’s KIPP offenses as a “bogus” attack by a school system hostile to charter schools.
It is hard to imagine an administrator from a regular public school surviving such charges over such an extended period. It is even harder to imagine a public school leader under such a cloud of charges provided new employment with a promotion. As if to underscore the fact that the No Excuses community was ready to forget the KIPP Fresno incident entirely, on February 13, 2011 Tschang and McCurry presented a session at the annual Teach for America Conference in Washington, DC. Their session was entitled Bringing the “Joy Factor” into Your School. Tschang has since been promoted to Regional Superintendent for Achievement First Charter Schools. In 2015, the Achievement First website (Achievement First, 1999-2015) stated,
Mr. Tschang is responsible for driving high student achievement by overseeing a portfolio of schools and supporting Achievement First principals in developing and implementing rigorous academic programs and positive school cultures.
Achievement First. (1999-2015). Achievement First leadership team. Retrieved from http://www.achievementfirst.org/about-us/leadership-team/#ChiBio
Cartright, L. (2010, November 1). School big ‘bullies’ kids. New York Post. Retrieved from http://nypost.com/2010/11/01/school-big-bullies-kids/
Fresno Unified School District. (2008, December 11). Notice to cure and correct violations. Retrieved from http://www.pdf-archive.com/2015/01/05/kipp-report-fresno/
Horn, J. (2014, December 15). The Fresno KIPP report that has been scrubbed from the web. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2014/12/the-fresno-kipp-report-that-has-been.html
Horn, J. (2010, March 15). The KIPP Fresno horror story that the national media won’t tell: Part I. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2009/03/kipp-fresno-horror-story-that-national.html
Tschang, C. (2000, January 8). Confessions of a twenty-something single Asian male. [Blogpost]. Retrieved from http://chi.blogspot.com/2001_01_07_archive.html#1898968
Part 3 will look at Jay Mathews' cavalier response to the KIPP Fresno story and to the continued waffling and dissembling by present-day editors and reporters who are rewarded to protect those engaged in abusive school practices aimed at America's most vulnerable children.
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