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

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A KIPP Pre-K or a Yale Pre-K: You Choose, Part 1

Two days ago The Oklahoman reported that "KIPP Reach Academy Principal Tracy McDaniel pulled his proposal off Monday's school board agenda because he said it doesn't have enough support" among Oklahoma City school board members.  

We must applaud those school board members' positions to protect the most vulnerable children of their city from the miseducative and punitive indoctrination that segregated KIPP Model schools provide for the black and brown children of the poor.

I came across a report published in 2015 by some Harvard public policy graduate students that examined the feasibility and advisability of developing Pre-K programs at Uncommon Schools, one of the infamous "no excuses" corporate charter chains based on the KIPP Model.  I will have more to say about the scary possibility of Uncommon Schools getting into the Pre-K business in another post.

A later section of appendices in the 90 page report includes comparisons of some very different Pre-K programs that were examined in the study.  Here are the 12 schools where researchers gathered data in preparation for their recommendations for Uncommon School:

Bank Street School for Children

The Coop School

Fieldston School

First Step NYC

Pre-Pave Academy

Pre-Prep (Public Prep)

Eliot Pearson Children’s School (Tufts)

Calvin Hill Day Care Center (Yale)

DC Prep


Powell Elementary

UDC Lab School

I have provided the data below on two of the schools to give readers an idea of the vast gaps in opportunity that begin formally when children enter Pre-K.  I hope you will go the report, itself, and compare the privileged school environments like Eliot Pearson (Tufts) and Fieldston to the public school and punitive charter Pre-Ks that "serve" the poor.

As you look at the KIPP Pre-K information below, note the stark differences in curriculum, environment, scheduling, goals, pupil-teacher ratio, etc. 

KIPP Grow uses the canned curriculum, Tools of the Mind, which was developed to increase tiny humans' capacity to achieve self-control and grit.  A KIPP Grow faculty member justified the use of this curriculum with this: “(If) this play-based learning is what people are paying big money in private schools for… and that’s considered the best education for kids, why are we not providing that for our kids for free?”
This would be laudable, indeed, except that none of the other programs examined as models used Tools of the Mind.  In fact, the exclusive programs at Fieldston, Bank Street, Tufts Lab School, and Yale all use an emergent curriculum based on student interests, rather than a canned curriculum aimed at self control and grit.

Interestingly, research studies show that Tools of the Mind has been demonstrated to have no effect on improving self-control, memory, or attention span.  I suppose it can be useful when no one in the school has any knowledge of pre-K.  But, then, how would KIPP non-educators ever know what research says, since educational research is not exactly high on the priority list within the corporate model of schooling. 

Note, too, below, how the Harvard researchers warn Uncommon Schools leaders that programs like Yale Lab School would not be appropriate for preparing children for school environment that begins in Uncommon Schools kindergarten.  

Our next post will tell you why. 

One Page Overview: Yale Lab School (Calvin Hill Day Care)
The Calvin Hill Day Care Center (Yale Lab School) serves approximately 60 three to five year olds. Attached to Yale University, students and their families are mostly Yale affiliates. The vast majority of data is collected through observing students in their play. Students perform highly on Connecticut early learning standards.

Philosophy in their own words:
All the research shows that children who have a high quality preschool experience do much better when they get to school….They’ve had opportunity to learn how to live in a group… The
readiness for school is not so much whether they know their alphabet or how to count but that they can wait, they can share, they know how to get help from a teacher, they know how to play with other children, (and) they have been exposed to curriculum that supports their cognitive development” Center Director

Strengths of Academic Program

Strong teacher-student interactions with vocabulary
Teacher 1: “The other day when we were outside, we saw a very special thing. What was that?” Child 1: “A squirrel eating a pumpkin!
Child 2: “That was yesterday!”
Teacher 1: “That was on Friday, which is in the past, like yesterday. But yesterday was Monday.”
Explicit writing practice at the “writing center” during Activity Time: In groups of four, children practice writing words. They tell the teacher what word they want to write, and she writes it on a card for them to copy. They are all holding the markers correctly. They ask to write the words “friend,” “family,” and “once upon a time.” After some time of practicing writing individual words, the teacher gets their “books” out. These are books they have been writing about topics
of their choice. One girl was writing her book about
Frozen. She illustrated it and the teacher wrote the words she dictated.

Other things of note: Strong parent engagement strategies
Teachers go on home visits before school starts.
Parents are invited into the classroom. They even recommend against carpooling so that the teachers can see the parents every day.
 “Parent pockets”: a hanging pocket folder that is stuffed with childrens work, announcements.

Bottom Line:  The Center’s teachers were very strong at developing vocabulary and their community is quite clearly strong. Children were joyful and engaged in the work. However, the population is different than that of Uncommon. [Here we see a clear reminder by the Harvard researchers that this kind of Pre-K should not be offered to children of the poor who are being trained for “no excuses” K-4].

School Overview: KIPP Grow

KIPP Grow is in its fifth year of operation. It serves Pre-K 3, Pre-K 4, and Kindergarten students. KIPP Grow recruits students through word-of-mouth, city-wide fairs and canvasing with flyers. KIPP Pre-K is both publically and privately funded. Philanthropists contributed to the school’s transition to the Tools of the Mind” curriculum.


“We want to make sure students are entering elementary school with no deficits…. [that] there is no achievement gap between our students entering first grade and their suburban counterparts We want them to be academically prepared but we also want to focus on the social-emotional aspect as well… We want to make sure that they have the social and communication skills they need as well as the vocabulary” Vice Principal.

Strengths of Program:

Parent engagement is strong: monthly two-hour Saturday school for students and families; monthly meetings for KIPP Parent Organization; biweekly parenting sessions held by school psychologist; organized days for parent volunteering; lending library of books for families
Summer school is required for Pre-K 4 students.
Behavior management and routines are strongly in place:
o    Numbers on the floor show students where to line up
o    While walking to the carpet, students whisper, “tip, toe, tip, toe”
o    During large group literacy, when students hear music, they erase their board and walk to the carpet
o    Students sit still on the carpet (they sometimes call out but are sometimes instructed to raise their hand)
o    Teachers explicitly narrate how to say “Oh well, maybe next time” or “not getting upset
because it’s a little deal”
o    Students who are misbehaving after corrections are told to take a “break.” While taking          a break, a child flips over a one minute hourglass or three minute hour glass
There are bathrooms in every classroom as well as some whole-class bathroom trips.
o    When a student goes in, he/she velcros a “stop sign” to the door so no one else enters
The classroom environment supports learning: Furniture is labeled “Door,” “Closet,” etc.; there is a classroom job chart; the daily schedule is posted; each child has their own cubby labeled with their name and photo; past months calendars (with days crossed off) are posted; bulletin boards outside classrooms show each childs photo next to their work

Explicit Math and Literacy Instruction:
To track attendance, when students arrive they put their name on one side of the mystery number/word chart to show what number/word they think it is.
During the Morning Meeting the class adds to the weather graph” which shows the number of
rainy, cloudy, snowy, or sunny days.
During small groups there are seven students with each teacher, and one group on the computer with headphones. Each rotation is 12-15 minutes.
o    One teacher works on math. Each student gets a card, and calls out one-by-one: “I have
a brown hexagon, who has a yellow square?” or “I have a six, who has a three?”
o    The other group works on literacy with a Read Aloud.
o    During the computer rotations students use a Waterford Literacy program.
During large group literacy, the teacher models how to write a letter. Students then use
whiteboards to practice the letter/chant (e.g.: they say “down, bump, bump” while writing “m”)
Explicit vocabulary development. Students discuss what a ‘bagger’” at the store does after having gone on a field trip to the grocery story. The teacher then brings out a picture of a bagger for further discussion of this person’s role and how its different  from other jobs at the store.

Curriculum  and  Tools  of   the  Mind”:

They switched to Tools of the Mind last year. “(If) this play-based learning is what people are paying big money in private schools for… and that’s considered the best education for kids, why are we not providing that for our kids for free?”
They have tried to show 100% fidelity to Tools.
They choose Tools of the Mind” because it explicitly teaches self-regulation and grit.
Additionally, the academics are “developmentally appropriate.”
They have a Tools of the Mind trainer.
Before centers, a teacher models how to write a “play plan,” then students choose their centers.
Before going to his or her center, each student writes a “play plan” which is reviewed by a teacher. Play plans say “I am going to….” with an accompanying picture
Student dance to “Mr. Sticks” that allows motion during the song and shows them a position to
get in when it finishes. This is practicing self-regulation and
gross motor development.
Lessons Learned and Recommendations:
Behavior protocol is very important. The school has had a lot of PD on the time out protocol system. Teachers can
adopt their own management system if it is consistent.
Some teachers used Super Sticks”: teacher says the behavior expectations at the beginning of each activity. At the end, they spend one minute giving a stick to each student who met expectations. If students meet the daily goal, they can get a high-five at the end of the day, go to the “class store,” or even just tell their parents. This has been motivating because it is personal and discrete.

Bottom Line: KIPP Grow is a strong resource for learning how a high-performing charter has adapted their programming for young learners.


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