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In the coming weeks I will be posting chapters from the book. Today I offer the Introduction and Chapter 1.
If you are considering a job in a charter school, or if you know someone who is considering working in a charter school, or if you are thinking about enrolling a child in a charter school, please read and share before making that decision.
Introduction: “Negro Problems” and Philanthropic Solutions
The past is never dead. It’s not even past. –William Faulkner (1951)
Shortly after the end the Civil War, a decommissioned Yankee general who was also the son of a former missionary superintendent for the Hawaiian plantation schools, opened the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Hampton, Virginia. When named as Hampton's first superintendent in 1868, Samuel Chapman Armstrong’s mission was to rigorously indoctrinate young freedmen to become workers and teachers who would fan out across the South to teach basic literacy to black children and to instill a lifelong devotion to the “dignity of labor” (Anderson, 1988, p. 34).
Armstrong, along with a couple of male assistant administrators and a faculty comprised of white female missionaries, taught the future teachers of Southern black children that hard toil and compliant behavior were the habits that could build character and, thus, help to mitigate the moral defects that had been passed down to them as a result of their uniquely-inferior race (Anderson, 1988). Armstrong’s vision to instill in the children of freed slaves a lasting dedication to labor and self-sacrifice attracted the financial support of wealthy Northern politicians and philanthropists who were eagerly looking for a solution to what they termed the “Negro problem” (Anderson, 1988, p. 72). With almost four million former slaves that outnumbered whites in some regions of the South, it was of paramount importance that African Americans appreciate their role in rebuilding the Southern economy, while understanding the utter folly of aspirations for social equality. Armstrong and his white philanthropist backers hoped that black children would grow up and help rebuild the cotton and tobacco industries that had been destroyed in the war of Emancipation.
With “Negrophobia” (Anderson, 1988, p. 68) at a high point following the end of the War, it was essential, Armstrong believed, that African-American youngsters learn the appropriate work behaviors and character habits that would make them assets in reestablishing the Southern agricultural economy, which supplied materials for the textile industries and manufacturing economies of the North.
The education that black students received at Hampton and the schools that came to emulate Hampton celebrated the dignity of hard toil as the most viable way students could overcome their moral inferiority, which black students were taught to accept as the unalterable clasp that bound them together as children of African lineage. Only twenty percent of students that began school at Hampton worked hard enough and remained compliant enough to earn a certificate at the end of the 2-3 year rigidly controlled program that focused more on work habits than on book learning.
The new black teachers who had survived their Hampton preparation became the carriers of industrial education ideology that espoused the belief that responsible black citizens must shun civic involvement such as voting and race mixing, as their cultural backgrounds and moral failings had left them unprepared and unfit to do either. Many left Hampton believing, as they were told by their social studies teacher, Thomas J. Jones, that slavery had, indeed, provided the basis for their salvation, for without it, they could never have been converted to Christianity or educated properly, for that matter.
Armstrong’s Hampton Model of industrial education came to embody a systematic method to indoctrinate and pacify the freed black population, which was clamoring for that magical thing called education. Freed slaves, educated according to the Hampton Model, offered a renewable stream of cheap and dependable laborers who could be counted upon to embrace their destiny to “ plow, hoe, ditch, and grub” (Anderson, 1988, p. 48) without protest, agitation, or workplace demands.
Black workers trained to embrace the “dignity of labor” would humbly seek redemption and acceptance for their shortcomings through their unwavering commitment to achieve what powerful white men determined as the necessary knowledge that would purportedly serve to liberate those who remained steadfast in their efforts. In short, Hampton students were taught everything that was necessary to make them entirely complicit in their own subjugation (Anderson, 1988).
Despite rejection by many black citizens, the black press, and leading intellectuals like W. E. B. Dubois, Henry Morehouse, and Malcolm MacVicar, the Hampton Model was fully embraced by a Who’s Who of leading politicians and Northern philanthropists. Rutherford B. Hayes, James Eastman, Theodore Roosevelt, and Andrew Carnegie were just a few of the progressives who viewed the Hampton Model as the solution to the “Negro Problem,” (Anderson, 1988, p. 72), and growing political and financial support for Hampton led to the subsequent founding of the Tuskegee Institute, headed by the Hampton-educated former slave, Booker T. Washington.
By the end of the 19th Century, industrial training schools were promoted among white elites as the most suitable education for African-American, Hispanic, and Native-American students in the South and the North. Hampton’s most famous alumnus, Booker T. Washington, became the leading black educator and proponent for the Hampton Model after he was put in charge of the new Tuskegee Institute in 1881. By 1895 Washington was the leading black spokesman for continuing social apartheid and an incremental approach to civil rights, social concepts that reflected what Washington had learned at Hampton from white Northern teachers.
Having been taught that African-Americans had centuries to make up in terms of moral and cultural development before they could ever expect social or political equality, Washington argued that racial discrimination could only be remedied by earning the respect that would surely come to those blacks who, 1) persisted in working hard at whatever job was offered, and 2) exhibited character traits that would eventually overcome a host of moral and character weaknesses. The story of this largely ignored and dark chapter of our educational history is chronicled in James Anderson’s compelling book, The education of Blacks in the South: 1860-1935.
When Samuel Armstrong died in 1893, Hampton chaplain and Yale graduate, Hollis Frissell, was named principal and remained so until his death in 1917. With the backing of philanthropist and head of Hampton’s Board of Trustees, Robert Ogden, Frissell widely promoted industrial education based on character training and hard manual labor. Ogden and other philanthropists like George Peabody believed that the health of the economy, particularly in the South, depended upon the labor of black men and women, and they sought to promote an educational model that would “attach the Negro to the [Southern] soil and prevent his exodus from the country to the city” (Anderson, quoting Ogden, 1988, p. 89).
The New York Times reported November 14, 1898 that Dr. Frissell, accompanied by Ogden, had been in Manhattan raising money for Hampton scholarships. Accompanied by a black student quartet singing “old plantation melodies with pleasing effect,” Frissell shared his new stereopticon presentation of life among Hampton students learning to become compliant teachers who would take the industrial education philosophy and practices to black communities across the South: “Most of our pupils prefer to do missionary work among their own people. They do not go north to seek their own fortunes, but go out through the South to help uplift their friends. The work is often attended with great difficulty to them, but they endure it willingly for the sake of the good they can do” (New York Times, 1898).
Had it not been for staunch resistance from black intellectuals and religious leaders, the industrial training school model would have had an even deeper impact than it did on the education of African-Americans in the decades just before and after the turn of the 20th Century. In a 1903 essay entitled “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others,” W. E. B. Dubois (1903) offered this damning assessment of the industrial education model:
Mr. Washington represents in Negro thought the old attitude of adjustment and submission; but adjustment at such a peculiar time as to make his programme unique. This is an age of unusual economic development, and Mr. Washington's programme naturally takes an economic cast, becoming a gospel of Work and Money to such an extent as apparently almost completely to overshadow the higher aims of life (chapter 3, para 15).
By 1905, white Northern neo-abolitionists were finally awakened to the ugly realities of the black industrial education model (Anderson, 1988), and resistance to it grew so that Hampton’s methods and curriculum were finally updated after Frissell’s death in 1917. As it turned out, the philanthropists’ public relations machine and the white press could not contain the public debate between Hampton acolyte Booker T. Washington and Harvard sociologist, W.E.B. Dubois.
Dubois’ stinging critique of the Hampton Model became a rallying cry that reminded black and white citizens, alike, how black men and women might interact with the world when they are not trained for subservience and compliance. As it turned out, however, it was Booker T. Washington’s racial accomodationist philosophy that prevailed for the first half of the 20th Century. Trained as he was at Hampton to remain dependable, compliant, hard working, and of sound character, Washington represented the apotheosis of blackness for the vast majority of white elites and policymakers for generations that extended beyond the Civil Rights Era that began with Brown v. Board of Education.
While Dubois’ insistence on equal educational opportunity for black citizens carried a great deal of weight among African-American intellectuals and the black press, we need to remember that it was the dogged determination of local educators and black parents who led the successful resistance against the white philanthropists’ educational solution to the “Negro problem.” And even though educational equality remained elusive, the curriculum and instructional methods used in the black schools that black citizens helped helped build and fund focused most often on the same knowledge and values dominant in the white schools.
By the second decade of the 20th Century, the industrial schooling of the Hampton Model that white philanthropists envisioned for black children came to be understood for what it was: an exploitative and racist indoctrination that served principally the needs of white landowners, northern industrialists, and politicians determined to maintain racial segregation.
Anderson, J. (1988). The education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903). The souls of black folk. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co.; Bartleby.com, 1999. Retrieved from www.bartleby.com/114/
Faulkner, W. (1951). Requiem for a nun. New York: Random House.
New York Times. (1898, November 14). To aid Hampton Institute: Dr. Frissell, the principal, explains the work for colored people and Indians at a church meeting. New York Times. Retrieved from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1898/11/14/102127757.html?pageNumber=2
The New Gospel of “Work and Money”
The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men may become robots. --Erich Fromm (1955).
Just over a hundred years after Dubois’s withering criticism of the educational indoctrination that Washington absorbed at Hampton, the evidence that "Work and Money" have supplanted other "higher aims of life" is even more compelling than it was during America's first Gilded Age. In no venue is it more evident than in the No Excuses KIPP schools that many other charter schools and urban public schools have come to imitate.
The KIPP Model offers a mixture of academic and character education, which KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg explained to a Tulane University audience in 2011: “KIPP teachers believe their job is to teach 49 percent academics and 51 percent character” (Morris, 2011). KIPP schools operate within total compliance environments that are intensely segregated, with inexperienced and mostly white middle class teachers exacting a brand of strict discipline, long school hours,and more hours of homework.
We can only wonder what resistors of the Hampton Model like Dubois, MacVicar, and Morgan would say today about the KIPP Model, which purports to prepare all of its students for college, even though just half of 5th graders who begin at KIPP finish 8th grade at KIPP (Miron, Urshel, & Saxton, 2011; Horn, 2010)—and only a third of 8th grade completers graduate from college.
The Hampton Model died a slow death, with Northern philanthropists clinging to it up through the 1930s repeated attempts to impose school programs that focused on producing black workers with basic literacy competencies and strict character training (Anderson, 1988). We are not suggesting in this book that the KIPP Model and the Hampton Model are on the same level in terms of severity, outcomes, or overt racism. To do so would be to ignore the progress in the area of civil rights since the late 19th Century.
We do, however, find distinct vestiges of the Hampton Model in KIPP’s ideological grounding, rationale, punitive methods, teacher characteristics, and financial support structure. Indeed, the tenacious enthusiasms among white power elites and the mass media today harken back to days when the Hampton Model was viewed as the solution to the “Negro problem.” Echoes of the Hampton message that can still be heard in schools that use the KIPP Model will become clearer in the coming chapters.
Private and Public Support for the KIPP Model
KIPP's corporate chain of charter schools has been touted by the Philanthropy Roundtable as “the most recognizable brand name in contemporary American schooling” (Levenick, 2010), thanks in large part to the deep and ongoing financial support from federal grants, corporate foundation sources, and venture philanthropists (Horn & Libby, 2010) that provide financial advantages to KIPP and other charters that public schools areunable to match. For instance, researchers (Miron, Urschel, & Saxton, 2011) found that KIPP schools collected over a third more in revenue from public and private sources than public schools in the same districts: “Combining public and private sources of revenue, KIPP received, on average, $18,491 per pupil in 2007-08 . . . . $6,500 more per pupil than what the local school districts received in revenues” (p. ii).
The floodgates of corporate donations for charter construction, renovation, and program funding opened in 2000, when a little-understood law sailed through Congress in December 2000 and was signed by President Bill Clinton before leaving office. The Community Renewal Tax Relief Act included a provision known as the New Markets Tax Credit, and it incentivized new levels of giving (Rawls, 2013) for businesses, both non-profit and for-profit, in high poverty areas:
. . .banks and equity funds that invest in charter schools and other projects in underserved areas can take advantage of a very generous tax credit – as much as 39% -- to help offset their expenditure in such projects. In essence, that credit amounts to doubling the amount of money they have invested within just seven years. Moreover, they are allowed to combine that tax credit with job creation credits and other types of credit, as well collect interest payments on the money they are lending out – all of which can add up to far more than double in returns (para 11).
Since 2001, then, billions of dollars have passed from venture philanthropists and philanthrocapitalists through equity bundlers, bond investors, and hedge funds into charter management organizations. Hundreds of millions of those dollars have made KIPP the most prominent and well-funded corporate education solution (Horn & Libby, 2010) for the disenfranchised urban poor. The Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, alone, gave over $90 million to the KIPP Foundation between 2001 and 2013, while investing heavily, as well, in KIPP’s corporate feeder system for teachers and principals, Teach for America (TFA) (Levenick, 2010).
The financial backing from the Fisher family is emblematic of the philosophy of support for KIPP by its largest corporate foundation donors. The Walton Foundation has provided more than $60 million in grants, and the Gates Foundation has given over $20 million in grants to the KIPP Foundation and to individual KIPP schools. The Gates Foundation, too, has underwritten over $60 million in KIPP loan guarantees to various KIPP school networks (Banjo, 2009).
Clothing magnate and Gap founder, Don Fisher, who was Chairman of the Board of the KIPP Foundation when he died in 2009, expressed his conviction that “education is a business” and a school is “not much different from a Gap store” (Duxbury, 2008). Scott Hamilton, Fisher’s point man for his educational venture philanthropy and the person responsible for bringing KIPP to Fisher’s attention as the kind of “scalable” education project he was looking for, told Philanthropy Magazine (Levenick, 2010) that “Don treated KIPP and his philanthropic efforts the same creative and rigorous way he did his clothing business…and during our years of working together, KIPP in particular became like his second Gap” (para 12).
With Fisher’s $15 million initial donation in 2000 to establish the KIPP Foundation, KIPP gained the resources to become a prominent national player in the growing charter school market. That same year, the Republican National Committee provided national attention, when KIPP students (KIPPsters) performed a skit during TV prime time at the RNC Convention.
Until then, founders David Levin and Mike Feinberg had parlayed financial support from wherever they could find it, including an eccentric Houston furniture dealer, Jim McIngvale, who was widely known from his TV commercials as "Mattress Mack" (Mathews, 2008). Since 2000, however, KIPP has enjoyed lavish support from philanthropists, corporate foundations, the federal government, and Wall Street hedge funds (Gabriel & Medina, 2010).
Vast investments are funneled each year through non-profit entities to carry out a persistent public relations campaign and to provide the monetary infrastructure sustain and grow the KIPP enterprise. In 2015, KIPP had 183 schools and 70,000 students in 20 states, with plans to double the number of students by 2019. Below is a list of the largest KIPP Foundation (2015a) donors from 2000 to 2014:
$60,000,000 and Above
Doris & Donald Fisher Fund
Walton Family Foundation
Michael and Susan Dell Foundation
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Thomas and Susan Dunn
Jack Kent Cooke Foundation
Karsh Family Foundation
New Profit, Inc.
Rainwater Charitable Foundation
Arthur Rock and Toni Rembe
Philippe and Debbie Dauman
Reed Hastings and Patty Quillin
Miles Family Foundation
John and Laura Fisher
Morgridge Family Foundation
U.S. Department of Education
Gordon T. Bell
The Big D. Foundation
Steven and Marilyn Casper
Robert and Elizabeth Fisher
William and Sakurako Fisher
The G.R. Harsh IV & M.C. Whitman Charitable Foundation
Leon Lowenstein Foundation
The McCance Foundation Trust
John and Hee-Jung Moon
Peter B. and Adeline W. Ruffin Foundation
Seed the Dream Foundation
Select Equity Group, Inc.
Stephen Jr. and Susan Mandel
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Mr. and Mrs. John D. Baker, II
Jim and Connie Calaway
Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York
David Goldberg and Sheryl Sandberg
Gurley Family Fund
Hellman Family Foundation
JaMel and Tom Perkins Family Foundation
The Jay Pritzker Foundation
The JPMorgan Chase Foundation
The Katzman Family Fund
Jeffrey and Linda Kofsky
Heidi Lynch and Daniel Greenstone
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
Palm, Inc. Corporate Headquarters
Stephen and Deborah Quazzo
Thompson Family Foundation
Federal support for KIPP increased dramatically after the election of President Barack Obama and his appointment of Secretary of Education. Between 2009 and 2012, the federal portion of KIPP’s funding increased from two percent to 21 percent. With experience as Chicago Public Schools’ CEO from 2001 to 2008, Duncan’s energetic support of corporate education reform initiatives was already well-established when he arrived in Washington. In September 2010, KIPP received grants worth $10 million from the U. S. Department of Education, and in December 2010 KIPP and TFA each was awarded $50 million (Dillon, 2010) in “Investing in Innovation” grants.
KIPP DC received a Race to the Top district grant of $10 million in 2012 (Brown, 2102). The U. S. DOE gave another $9.4 million in 2011 (U. S. Department of Education, 2011), and in October 2014, the KIPP Foundation and KIPP regional networks received $13.8 million from the U. S. Department of Education’s Charter School Program (CSP). The KIPP Foundation’s IRS filings in 2011 show federal grants totaled almost $50 million, even though 70 percent of KIPP’s income in 2011 came from private contributions.
This represented for the KIPP Foundation a 100.5 percent increase in revenue in a single year and 288% increase over the 2008 total. During the four-year span (2008-2011), KIPP Foundation receipts went from $17.5 million to $49.2 million per year. Between 2007 and 2011, the KIPP Foundation reported to the IRS that it took in $157,948,811 in donations and philanthropic investments.
These impressive totals do not take into account the money received in public per-pupil state education funds. In 2015, KIPP had 70,000 students in 183 schools. Based on a conservative estimate of $8,000 per student from state funds, KIPP schools would take in $560 million each year in state funding, alone. With generous support from both corporate and governmental sources, evidence abounds that the KIPP Foundation is flush with a decade after its founding. The venture philanthropists’ newsletter, Nonprofit investor, rated KIPP a “Buy” in 2012 for individual and corporate funders looking for a good bet on their philanthropic investments.
The philanthropic investments by corporations and their foundations in the KIPP Model schools serve a number of important functions for givers, some of which are more visible than other. Beyond the obvious and substantial reductions in individual and corporate tax obligations that accompanies charitable giving, there is the public relations benefit that accrues for philanthrocapitalists who embark on ventures that are viewed as public-minded and generous to the oppressed and disadvantaged. This remains true for Walton, Gates, and the Broad foundations, among others, as well as for Fisher family enterprises.
Less obvious are the benefits emanating from the ongoing corporate crusade to spread business efficiencies that will drive down the cost of public services. The spread of the long-held belief that market models will improve educational and behavioral outcomes while saving money remains a prime motivator for corporate support of KIPP Model schools. In addition, the entrepreneurial rationale and methods undergirding charters translates into reduction of public oversight, increase in private management, and the shrinkage of employee protections/benefits.
These less obvious corporate benefits were not invisible to some of the former KIPP teachers interviewed for this book. At the end of our conversation, one teacher expressed her concern that the civil and human rights rhetoric by KIPP’s corporate supporters was being used to mask exploitative management and labor practices:
I guess the one thing that kind of just rubbed me the wrong way and maybe I’m too idealistic about the whole thing—but for an organization [KIPP] supposedly committed to addressing some of the negative effects of poverty, I always found it curious that the organization relied so much on from The Gap organization. Gap has a pretty atrocious record when it comes to sweatshop labor and human rights violations around the world. And they [the Fishers] all sit on the Board, and so to me it seems like there’s a definite corporate agenda behind the organization. That’s okay for sort of the bandage wound that they’re putting on educational inequality and poverty in general, but there’s no addressing of the system as a whole and some of the systematic failures that exist in urban education. Because frankly and honestly, for our school to have functioned well we probably would have needed at least six trained counselors. And plenty of other social services for these children, but no one wants to talk about that.
Even if KIPP’s original corporate patron, Donald Fisher, viewed schools as “not much different from a GAP store,” former teachers interviewed for this book view the sweatshop conditions at KIPP as unsustainable for any significant duration:
It [teaching at KIPP] was ultimately unsustainable. It felt like sprinting a marathon for two years. I probably worked somewhere between 80 and 100 hours every single week for two years and that’s unsustainable, even for somebody who didn’t have a family. . . .The money was fine. I had no chance to spend it. I was literally at school from 6:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night six days a week, and then working on Sundays as well. It was extremely unsustainable from the time perspective. The second piece, the second part of that answer I think, comes not just from the hours, but the intensity of the hours. It wasn’t just working on being at the office or something like that. It was we had to create and own an environment that was difficult to manage, and had to do that over a very long period.
Pillars, Underpinnings, and Ideological Load
While KIPP’s financial foundation was solidified after 2000 with grants th yielded large tax breaks donors, the charter chain had already captured the attention of power elites some years earlier. We find out from Jay Mathews’ (2009a) that KIPP’s media coming out party took the form of a 2,799-word story in 1994 on the front page of the Houston Post. Mathews offers no details as to how an obscure little program in its first year with 47 students was chosen for such coverage, but we know that KIPP’s sister organization, Teach for America (TFA), had built an impressive network of corporate funders by 1994. We know, in fact, that TFA’s first big media splash in 1990 had resulted after corporate donors wrote to media outlets requesting that reporters be sent out to do a story on Wendy Kopp’s new venture (Kopp, 2003).
Nor does the Mathews book tell us how KIPP co-founder, David Levin, who in 1995 was a third year teacher from TFA without credentials, found support from the Giuliani Administration for opening the second KIPP school in New York City. How did this unknown and uncertified educational neophyte land a New York City teaching position with multiple classrooms and support staff in a public school building in The Bronx? There, Levin would work out the kinks of the KIPP School Model, as Mike Feinberg was doing the same at the original KIPP Academy Middle School in Houston.
Mike Feinberg and David Levin were recent graduates of Yale and University of Pennsylvania, respectively, when they launched KIPP near the end of their two-year stint with Teach for America (TFA) (Horn, 2010; Ellison, 2012). The story of KIPP’s founders has been frequently repeated in popular media and chronicled in Jay Mathew’s (2009) celebratory book, and it has now entered into the canon of entrepreneurial folktales with other famous business success stories, such as Google’s genesis in a garage in Silicon Valley (Ellison, 2012).
In the Mathews account of the KIPP founders (Horn, 2009), Levin and Feinberg returned to their apartment one evening in 1994, following an inspirational speech by famed teacher, Rafe Esquith, whose classroom mottoes of “be nice, work hard” and “there are no shortcuts” would subsequently find prominent placement among the festoons and placards in KIPP classrooms. Borrowing from Esquith’s “no shortcuts” approach but leaving behind his casual warmth and humane connectedness, Feinberg and Levin created a total compliance version of the traditional classroom.
The KIPP Model applies a psychological/character intervention program that is sustained by pedagogical machismo mixed with No Excuses authoritarianism. The young founders also borrowed heavily from the inimitable Harriet Ball from Houston, whose teaching style offered a culturally-sensitive mash-up of gospel, hip-hop, and rhyming that, one suspects, loses some of its charm in the hands of the white, middle class TFA enlistees that KIPP depends upon for 30-40 percent of its teachers.
It was one of Harriet Ball’s chants, as Mathews (2009a) recalls, that inspired the name, Knowledge is Power Program:
You gotta read, baby, read.
You gotta read, baby, read.
The more you read, the more you know,
Cause knowledge is power,
Power is money, and
I want it (p. 62).
Despite the many hours that Jay Mathews (2009a) spent visiting the No Excuses KIPP schools during the writing Work hard, be nice…, there were most likely some disturbing realities for which Mathews remained unaware, such as problem children being sent to the school basement when important visitors were on campus (see Chapter 8). Nor was he likely aware of the practice of forcing 100 new fifth graders to sit on the floor for days until they learn to follow orders and respect the rules (See Chapter 2).
Other troubling facts he does report in his book, and whether of minor of major significance, Mathews recounts them with neither concern nor apparent alarm. As for incidents that may simply raise eyebrows, perhaps, we learn from Mathews that KIPP principals, or “school leaders,” view school recess as a “prime distraction,” and that field trips are commonly referred to as “field lessons” aimed to produce more grist for the learning mill that grinds on when recreation might, otherwise, intrude.
And then there are the scarier events that Mathews reports with no evident concern, including the time when KIPP founders, David Levin and Mike Feinberg loaded school children into a closed, windowless U-Haul trailer to take them on a local “field lesson” in Houston. More troubling, still, is the incident that Mathews recalls in a tone more appropriate for reporting on a youthful prank, when Feinberg once smashed a plate glass school window with a chair, while in a rage that his Houston KIPP students did not show the proper contrition for the admitted offense of having talked during a video lesson (Horn, 2010).
According to the oft-repeated story by Levin and Feinberg, the founding pair had stayed up the entire night after the Rafe Esquith presentation, listening to a repeating loop of U2’s Achtung Baby, while collaborating on what came to be the Five Pillars of the KIPP Model school: high expectations, choice and commitment, more time, power to lead, and focus on results (KIPP, 2015b). Levin and Feinberg had been sent to Houston during their TFA assignments, where they experienced many of the same frustrations of beginning teachers in urban schools with high levels of poverty and low levels of achievement on standardized tests.
The Five Pillars were meant to address four issues plaguing public schools. The first issue Levin and Feinberg identified was a lack of time for the intensive instruction that they felt struggling students require to catch up to their peers (Ellison, 2012). They believed that longer school days and school years were first necessary steps to raising academic achievement. The second issue relates to the academic malaise common in poor urban schools that Feinberg and Levin attributed to low expectations. For Levin and Feinberg, the low expectations of both teachers and administrators for their students become self-fulfilling prophecies that foster an institutional culture of academic failure.
The third issue stems from the bureaucratic nature of large public schools systems. Based on their TFA indoctrination, Feinberg and Levin believed that teachers’ unions put the interests of their adults before the needs of students and that the university teacher preparation programs block talented young people from entering the teaching profession. Feinberg and Levin became convinced that institutional constraints placed on school principals and teachers made public schools structurally unable to bring about the kind of reforms necessary to raise student test scores and close the achievement gap.
The fourth issue, which Feinberg and Levin identify as compulsion to attend public schools, is due, they contend, to a lack of educational choices available to students and parents. Levin and Feinberg came to believe that these four issues create a situation whereby academic failure becomes a predictable conclusion, and they developed the non-negotiable pillars to support an ideological blueprint they had acquired as Teach for America enlistees: entrepreneurship, commitment, innovation, and leadership can overcome the achievement gap when applied in environments where issues of time, low expectations, bureaucracy, and compulsion have been neutralized (Ellison, 2012).
The KIPP Model holds students to high expectations, and it requires teachers to foster high expectations in their classrooms. KIPP emphasizes that KIPP stakeholders (students, parents, and teachers) are there by choice and must make a commitment to meeting the high expectations of the school, with each party required to sign a non-negotiable contract to that effect. The KIPP model extends the school day, week, and year.
The typical KIPP school day begins instruction at 7:30 and ends at 5:00, and two to three hours of homework are added on top of that. KIPP students are also expected to attend school every other Saturday from 8:00 to 12:30 and to attend three weeks of full instruction during the summer. Altogether, the average KIPP student spends around 60% more time in school than do their peers in traditional public schools (Mathews, 2009a).
Principals, who are known as CEOs or “school leaders,” are expected to be embody an entrepreneurial spirit while maintaining total control over budgetary, program, and personnel decisions. Finally, the KIPP Model is built around a commitment to producing high scores on standardized tests and “other objective measures” as the way for KIPP students “to succeed at the nation’s best high schools and colleges.” According to the KIPP’s website, twenty years after that fateful evening in 1994 the KIPP Model now, as then, is intended to foster a school “culture of high expectations” based on “clearly defined and measurable high expectations for academic achievement and conduct that make no excuses based on the students’ background” (KIPP, 2015b).
The effects of operationalizing the No Excuses ideology for students and teachers within the KIPP schools comes out clearly in the accounts of former KIPP teachers interviewed for this book. Their accounts are interspersed throughout the book, for reasons that include consideration for readers’ capacities to absorb the psychological brutality and physical stresses that characterize KIPP teacher experiences. One teacher who was able to revisit some of her painful personal sacrifices during her years at KIPP offered some disturbing insights regarding the repercussions of the No Excuses credo in practice.
When asked why she stayed at KIPP, this teacher pointed to how school leaders had convinced her and many of her fellow teachers of their unique importance to the children and how their work at KIPP was saving children who, otherwise, would be lost to the public bureaucracies that operated for the benefit of adults, not children. As a result, she committed herself to carrying out the mission, regardless of what it took and regardless of personal consequences.
She noted that a mutual lifeboat mentality among the teachers helps create a camaraderie among “team and family,” which enables levels of self sacrifice that remain somewhat mysterious to those who are on the outside. The following teacher’s understanding of the phenomenon only took hold when her life was put in jeopardy by refusing to accept her own physical limits in upholding the demand imposed by No Excuses code:
I think that there is an expectation where you don’t want to let anyone down at KIPP. They [KIPP leaders] are constantly telling you how important you are and how important this work is, and how you’re saving all these children. And then you do find yourself thinking, oh my God, what am I doing? You’re watching teachers drop left and right. I mean I’m stronger than most because I was experienced, but I’m sitting there watching new teachers literally have—I’ve seen about four teachers have complete nervous breakdowns.
And then you find yourself asking, why am I doing this? And it’s basically because I think something kicks in where you don’t want to disappoint. You become almost catatonic. You just keep doing it over and over and over, and it’s like you keep telling yourself I’ve got to stop. I’ve got to stop this. I got to stop this.
And then before you know it, you’re in there a year, you’re in there two years. And after two years you’re considered like a veteran teacher at KIPP. Then, finally, I just had to stop. I mean you become physically ill. Your body breaks down—you can’t take it anymore. I fell asleep one day driving home from work, and I hit a car in front of me. That’s when I woke up, and I was like, okay, this is enough. My family’s begging me to quit. They’re begging me to stop. Why are you doing this? Why are you doing this? So finally you have to start answering to other people because they notice, and that’s when I decided to stop. It’s enough.
Predictably, this kind of distress contributes to many teachers like this one eventually leaving KIPP. When I asked her what it was like when she left KIPP, she had this to say:
Heaven, if there is one. It was like for the first time I got to sleep. My body started to repair itself. I noticed that my mind was clearing up. I was being able to communicate effectively. I can’t explain what your body does. It shuts down—your body shuts down. You just become like a robot. It took me a good six months . . . to recover from that experience. And after six months I found myself like enjoying life again because it was absolutely miserable for two years. I was not a happy person.
When I asked another teacher how she understood the KIPP concept of unity expressed in “team and family,” she said that she had been encouraged to use “that terminology, even though she said her experiences at KIPP were more akin to being “part of a very abusive, dysfunctional family.”
Fanciful Goals and Dangerous Assumptions
A significant component of the ideological mortar that built the Five Pillars is based on late 20th Century education reform assumption that schools and teachers could “reduce inequality in educational achievement if disadvantaged students were held to the same high standards as everybody else” (Cohen, 1996, p. 101). This belief was foundational to the testing accountability movement that took hold in the United States following the publication of A Nation at Risk (ANAR) in 1983.
The language adopted by ANAR initiated the media meme that the urban public schools do not promote learning and that children’s achievement is low because public school teachers in poor urban schools believe that children living in poverty cannot perform at the same levels as privileged children. The prior focus on education funding initiatives to mitigate poverty during the 1960s and 1970s was transformed by the late 1980s to a focus on school and teacher quality and accountability as keys to student achievement.
Two privileged and ambitious young men like Feinberg and Levin who came of age during an era that accepted President Reagan’s belief that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” were surely not immune to the rhetorical jiu-jitsu by reformist policymakers in education focused on “choice.” These advocates for privatization enjoyed success in shifting attention from the tangible effects of child poverty and discrimination in schooling to a kind of brutal, alarmist rhetoric that blamed society’s shortcomings on the public institutions that had been previously established and maintained to mitigate some of those problems.
If the kinds of market-based solutions to which education reformers and the KIPP founders subscribed were to gain any traction, then the perception of the problem had to altered so that the preferred market solutions could fit. The result was the beginning of an education policy era that culminated with the creation of public policy that would assure the widespread public failure required for market solutions to gain some degree of public acceptance. The fact that three-quarters of American children (Anderson, 2011) failed to achieve the fanciful No Child Left Behind mandate of 100 percent reading and math proficiency ten years after NCLB passage has not deterred continuing enthusiasms for similarly unachievable targets among the corporate foundations that determine federal and state education policies.
Billed as an antidote to No Child Left Behind’s impossible proficiency targets (100 percent proficiency by 2014), a federal waiver program was devised in 2011 that demanded what some states, including Vermont, considered equally onerous accountability demands for seeking relief from the NCLB proficiency sword. Rather than trade one monstrous system for another that offered more punishing sanctions for low scoring high poverty schools, Vermont stuck with the impossible NCLB mandates.
As predicted by every testing authority in the U. S., the state’s Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe (Holcombe, 2014) announced in a memorandum to parents and caregivers in August 2014 that, based on federal accountability rules, all Vermont public schools in the state were “low performing,” with the exception of eight schools that did not take the state tests in 2014. To draw attention to the ludicrous nature of the manufactured dilemma, Holcombe’s memo also noted that a national media firm had ranked Vermont schools third in the nation in overall quality the same week that the federal failure was formally acknowledged. Earlier in 2014, Education Week’s annual report card had ranked Vermont schools 7th in the nation for overall quality (Education Week, 2014).
While there remains some question as to the percentage of public school personnel who still share in the fanciful myth that all children, regardless of conditions, will achieve the same results on standardized tests, there is less uncertainty about the important role of factors outside the school that influence the academic performance of children in school. We know that
. . . teacher effectiveness constitutes the most important school-based factor to variations in test score achievement (Goldhaber, Liddle, Theobald, & Walch, 2010), with the exact percentage dependent upon the methodology used. Goldhaber (2002), for instance, found that teacher characteristics account for 8.5% of the “variation in student achievement” (para 8), while analyses by Nye and her colleagues (Nye, Konstantopoulos, & Hedges, 2004) found among 17 studies that “7% to 21% of the variance in achievement gains is associated with variation in teacher effectiveness” (p. 240). What we know, too, is that that other factors have much more influence on student achievement variations than do teachers. Goldhaber and his colleagues (Goldhaber, 2002) have found that additional factors involving family background, peer composition, and other social capital influences make up 60% of the variance in student test scores (Horn & Wilburn, 2013, p. 77).
Since James Coleman’s (1966) groundbreaking research findings were presented and largely ignored, we have known that “most of the variability in student achievement overall . . . is associated with students (and their families and communities), not the schools they attend” (Rumberger & Palardy, 2005, p. 2023. Even so, there are certain characteristics of schools that may further hinder the limited influence that schools and teachers do have on student achievement. For instance, Coleman scholar, Gerald Grant (2009), has noted that class and racial isolation negatively affect student achievement:
Coleman found that the achievement of both poor and rich children was depressed by attending a school where most children came from low-income families. More important to the goal of achieving equal educational opportunity, he found that the achievement of poor children was raised by attending a predominantly middle-class school, while the achievement of affluent children in the school was not harmed. This was true even if per-pupil expenditures were the same at both schools. No research over the past 40 years has overturned Coleman’s finding. . . . (p. 159)
Some factors that influence student achievement are attributable to both school and community influences. Pupil attitude is an example of this. Of all the school influences, in fact, James Coleman (1966) found pupil attitude to have the strongest relationship to student achievement: “a pupil attitude factor, which appears to have a stronger relationship to achievement than do all the “school” factors together, is the extent to which an individual feels that he has some control over his own destiny” (p. 23).
A sense of individual autonomy, then, is linked to a sense of individual power to effect change in one’s life. Although this Coleman finding has been largely ignored for decades, the effects of what may be termed an attitude of hope are most significant in terms of student achievement:
The responses of pupils to questions in the survey show that minority pupils, except for Orientals, have far less conviction than Whites that they can affect their own environments and futures. When they do, however, their achievement is higher than that of Whites who lack that conviction.
Furthermore, while this characteristic shows little relationship to most school factors, it is related, for Negroes, to the proportion of Whites in the schools. Those Negroes in schools with a higher proportion of Whites have a greater sense of control. This finding suggests that the direction such an attitude takes may be associated with the pupil’s school experience as well as the experience in the larger community (p. 23).
High expectations, then, are embodied within a complex human social system that cannot be boiled down to a set of imposed beliefs, noble or harsh or relentless the enforcement of those beliefs become or how much said beliefs claim the power to alter realities that remain immune, nonetheless, to wishful thinking. While high expectations are absolutely required to raise achievement, they are entirely insufficient to complete the job.
To promote the cynical fallacy that high expectations in schools, alone, hold the key to the problem of low achievement among poor children leads to four possible outcomes, all of them bad: 1) it leads us away from the corrosive socioeconomic realities outside of school, while pushing our attention toward blaming children or blaming schools and their teachers, 2) it requires educators and children to subscribe to an ideology that demands superhuman and/or unhealthy levels of anxiety and stress to attain, even temporarily, 3) it leads to eventual failure to live up expectations that are more fanciful than reality-based, which creates self-loathing or self-blame for failing to achieve the impossible, 4) it leads to totalizing compliance methods in schools that look more penal than pedagogical.
The enormous pressure to remain true to distant, adult goals disconnected from sociological realities requires a blinkered, autonomic acceptance to No Excuses and “by any means required.” To substantiate the perverse fallacy that class, income, and race are unrelated to children’s achievement scores, there arises a perverse permission to sacrifice both teacher and student autonomy, safety, and health. The imposition of a No Excuses group order leads to displacement of individual autonomy, even though it is autonomy that provides the basis for “pupil attitudes” based on real hope, rather than a manufactured optimism.
We know that the achievement beliefs, or pupil attitudes, are shaped early in life (Heyman, Dweck, & Cain, 1992), and the more often children experience the common failure to live up to KIPP expectations, the harder it is for them to believe in their own worth or in their capacity and potential to succeed. We know, too, from research that “increased surveillance of students . . . and punishment-oriented responses to rule infractions (e. g., push-outs, suspensions and expulsions) do little to create a climate of academic success or teach students prosocial skills” (McEvoy & Welker, 2000, p. 138).
We also know that student confidence is undermined (Roesner, Eccles, & Sameroff, 1998) by organizational practices that are common at KIPP schools, which emphasize competition, public awards, and rewards for “highest grades rather than deep task engagement” (p. 325). Research also tells us that achievement, motivation, and feelings of well-being are enhanced where “authentic learning” or “cooperative learning” (McEvoy & Welker, 2000, p. 138) practices are common, either of which are uncommon in No Excuses schools.
Motivation, achievement, and well-being are enhanced, as well, in schools where students engage in “self-exploration and expression” and where caring teachers have emotionally and academically supportive relationships with students (Roesner, Eccles, & Sameroff, 1998, p. 326). From what former teachers report, teachers at KIPP do not have the opportunity to develop relationships with students, supportive or otherwise, and learning tasks are laser focused on tests and preparing for tests.
A number of former KIPP teachers felt that the laser focus on raising scores kept them from being able to interact with students in effective ways. One teacher felt that the large class size of thirty middle school students (ninety per day) created another barrier to getting to know students: “not at all was I able to build a relationship with them.” The expectations for teacher and student behavior also created barriers to communication with students, as the focus on silent compliance leaves little or no social space for getting to know students. This same teacher found the fixation on testing got in the way of teaching students how to interact with one another, which did not allow students to learn important lessons about social adaptation and empathy.
Some teachers noted that KIPP’s absorption with total compliance demands for procedure and behavior left little time for caring relationships, which created a situation that encouraged a form of detached callousness that both teachers and students reflect in the way they regard themselves and others. An experienced teacher who resigned before the end of his first year at KIPP found school leaders “treating the teachers as though they were 10th grade children in terms of almost browbeating the teachers” and urging them toward an abrasive militancy aligned with the classroom management expectations of the KIPP Model. More will be said about this in Chapter 4.
There is a deep, broad, and long-established empirical basis for believing that Five Pillars may not support KIPP’s ideological load and the expectations for disadvantaged students that come with it. Whether we are using 4th grade standardized tests or college entrance exams, decades of student achievement measures show strong correlations between family income/wealth and standardized test results (see Figure 1.1). In fact, researchers (Orlich & Gifford, 2006; Orlich, 2007; Rampell, 2009) have found from .95 to .97 correlation between family income and SAT and ACT test scores, which means that over 90 percent of the variance in college entrance test scores may be explained by family income of the test takers (Orlich & Gifford, 2006, p. 1).
The same strong correlations between socioeconomic status and test performance can be found, as well, in the standardized tests that public school children are administered each year. In New Jersey, where District Factor Groups (DFGs) are used to represent school districts’ socioeconomic status, six factors are considered to arrive at DFG rankings, A-J, with “A” representing the lowest SES and “J” the highest:
1) Percent of adults with no high school diploma
2) Percent of adults with some college education
3) Occupational status
4) Unemployment rate
5) Percent of individuals in poverty
6) Median family income (New Jersey Department of Education, 2004).
Figure 1.2 shows 2001-2002 composite scores for the three state tests administered in public schools: 1) Elementary School Proficiency Test (ESPA), 2) Grade Eight Proficiency Test (ESPA), and 3) High School Proficiency Test (HSPA). In each test case and without exception, the average student performance increases as one moves from poorest (A) to wealthiest (J) districts.
Do pillars made of high expectations, choice and commitment, more time, power to lead, and focus on results offer KIPP’s supporters a legitimate excuse to declare “No Excuses,” especially when the expected results are standardized test scores that are more precise measures of house sizes in neighborhoods where tests are administered (Kohn, 2001) than they are any reliable gauge of school quality or teacher/student commitment or expectations Does a laser focus on the Five Pillars offer us an ethical pass to blot out from our consciousness and conscience any consideration of economic disadvantage as we examine the faces of malnourished, sleep-deprived, or traumatized children getting ready to take the next big math test?
The KIPP Foundation and its political and financial supporters would have us believe that there are, indeed, no excuses, and that its programs prove as much. Are they right, and if they are right, what are the economic and human costs and benefits of such a program, and for whom?
The answers to these questions are teased out in the following pages, but for now one thing is certain: by ignoring or denying the effects of economic disadvantage, segregation, and school resources on student achievement scores, corporate education reformers who support the KIPP mission must push even harder to pressure KIPP personnel to corral and channel the behaviors and attitudes of KIPP children whose lives, from the beginning, have been shaped by the multiple effects of economic deprivation.
To ignore the need to acknowledge and to alter those deprivations places an intense focus and weight upon what happens inside the KIPP classroom to change children so that they become, in effect, impervious to socioeconomic disadvantage. The resulting cultural, character, and behavioral compacting process, then, creates debilitating and unsustainable pressures for teachers and students, alike. In the process of sustaining its ideology and the irrational insistence that the most disadvantaged children will perform at the same levels on standardized tests as the most advantaged, basic human needs of children and teachers become regularly displaced, and many students and teachers, alike, are sacrificed to the grinding KIPP crucible.
Parents of KIPP students whose own educational experiences are likely to have been shaped, as well, by the many effects of economic disadvantage, often misplace blame on their former teachers for not having forced them to learn more when they were students in school. This rationalization provides, then, a further impetus and permission for KIPP Model schools to use harsh measures to extract total compliance and test scores that serve to burnish the brand.
The children who survive the harsh KIPP gauntlet with high test scores intact serve to perpetuate the myth that teachers and schools, alone, are responsible for differences in student achievement, even as attrition is particularly high among first year KIPP students who must contend this insistent claim. Mathematica, Inc., which was commissioned by KIPP (Nichols-Barrer, Gill, Gleason & Tuttle, 2014) to analyze KIPP’s enrollment and performance data, reported in 2014 that KIPP’s attrition among fifth graders was almost one and half times higher at KIPP (16%) than at public feeder schools (11%).
In pressing to make the exceptional the perceived commonplace, the KIPP model stands at the forefront of a national effort to disprove the need for alterations to the long-established institutional and structural inequalities the vast differences in educational, social, and economic achievement. Preferred by venture philanthropists and foundations are the cheaper and less disruptive educational treatments that have the added benefit of creating new corporate revenue streams and tax savings, all the while tightening the social steering mechanisms within schools to advantage the business community.
the prominence of TFA has helped to temporalize, and . Too,
The belief that economically disadvantaged children will perform on standardized tests at the same levels as privileged students provides a crusader dimension to KIPP mission and impulse to KIPP to TFApromotional material used during college recruiting visits (Veltri, 2010) state that inadequate public schools in high minority and high poverty areas constitutes “our nation’s greatest injustice,” which can be “solved” by becoming a TFA corps member.
Feinberg and Levin have used that TFA’s missionary zeal to create a schooling environment and methodology to produce test scores, at least for those students who survive the KIPP treatment, that are used to justify the KIPP Model. Large numbers of these children do not survive—sixty percent left between 5th and 8th grade in a 2008 study conducted in Bay Area KIPP Schools (Woodworth et al, 2008, p. ix). And in a later study (Miron, Urschel, & Saxton, 2011), researchers similarly found that “approximately 15% of the originally enrolled students disappear from the KIPP cohort every year” (p. 12).
Helping, too, to drive up scores for the remaining cohorts is the fact that KIPP leavers are most often not replaced by new students, as they are in public schools that must accept all students who walk through the door. Because they are not replaced, the
The implications of implementing a model of schooling based on KIPP’s core values and ideological commitments are many, and they have proven hazardous to the emotional, intellectual, and ethical well-being of many students and teachers, alike, who have been indoctrinated and often discarded by a system that is unforgiving in its ironclad “non-negotiables.” During talks with the teachers who volunteered to be interviewed for this book, we came to understand, in part at least, the rupture between KIPP rhetoric and KIPP reality for those who work within the KIPP system.
The level of commitment required of teachers and students assures that large numbers will not survive the KIPP gauntlet. In the brave new world of corporate schooling aimed to build gritty super kids, however, such losses have become entirely unexceptional and forgotten by the survivors who must continue to face the unrelenting demands of a system that assures one’s best is almost never good enough. In a system where teaching experience is often not required or even desired, new and inexperienced teachers’ lack the knowledge or experience to challenge narrow conceptions of learning that are enforced with brute methods.
KIPP’s preference for psychological indoctrination to replace children’s developmental learning needs and KIPP’s insensitivity to sociological and cultural contexts provide a breeding ground for rationalizations and practices to become accepted that, outside the KIPP bubble, would be considered hostile to the well-being of children or tantamount to educational malpractice. There is a treacherous tipping point that separates zealous commitment from cult-like blindness, where moral clarity and educative purpose may become outweighed by relentless fixations on data, chain-gang behavioral regimen, and foggy, futuristic abstractions (Brookfield, 2005, p. 164) that place testing accountability ahead of conscience.
This potential outcome is made more likely when market based education solutions grounded by amoral capitalism are applied to public institutions that, otherwise, demand deep moral commitments to the public good. The result, too often, are lapses in professional behaviors and in the treatment of children at KIPP that only become discussable after teachers leave KIPP (many examples are shared in the following chapters).
One example worth noting here is referenced in Jay Mathews’ chronicle of KIPP founders Feinberg and Levin (Horn, 2009). Even though public reports from visitors to KIPP have documented that rule breakers were labeled (sometimes literally with signs) as “miscreants,” Mathews (2009a) never makes note of these labeling practices other than to use the label, himself, to describe a child who received a private tongue-lashing for whispering on the first day of school. The teacher reminds this “miscreant” that
you are too big for that kind of stuff. From now on, when a teacher is speaking, you are going to track your eyes on the teacher and listen to what he or she is saying. You are in KIPP now. It is time to grow up. I am expecting a lot from you” (p. 67).
Unfortunately for the children of KIPP who are expected to “grow up,” the penalty for even the smallest infraction is clearly demonstrated in various forms of harsh discipline, humiliation, isolation, silencing, and public shaming. Otherwise, pent-up energy is often burned off on a dizzying carousel of chanting, singing, snapping, nodding, waving, and clapping in an exhibition of mechanical unanimity by all “teammates.”
When combined with long, silent hours at school and hours more of homework drudgery after school, these practices resemble the same ones commonly used to indoctrinate and maintain control within cults:
Keeping devotees constantly fatigued, deprived of sensory input and suffering protein deprivation, working extremely long hours . . . in cult-owned businesses, engaging in monotonous chanting and rhythmical singing, may induce psychophysiological changes in the brain. The rhythmical movement of the body can lead to altered states of consciousness, and changes in the pressure or vibration pattern of the brain may affect the temporal lobe (Cath quoted in Collins, 1982, para 33).
Without the capacity or intent to change the social, economic, health, safety, and housing conditions that influence KIPP students’ levels of achievement and behaviors (or any other student, for that matter), KIPP teachers and those embracing the KIPP Model must focus on changing the children, themselves, in order to alter the educational outcomes as measured by performance character grading and standardized tests.
In short, education reform necessarily merges with thought reform, or coercive persuasion, as defined by the Encyclopedia of Sociology as “programs of social influence capable of producing substantial behavior and attitude change through the use of coercive tactics, persuasion, and/or interpersonal and group-based influence manipulations (Schein 1961; Lifton 196). When the demand for changing student achievement and character traits, or “performance character” (Tough, 2012), routinely ignore sociological realities that shape human beings, then the pressure to control these environmental elements demands ongoing psychological interventions.
More will be said about these interventions in subsequent chapters. Now it is time to turn to the social theory and practices that provide the deeper rationale for schools based on the KIPP Model, where coercion, surveillance, and compliance embody the paternalistic goals inherent in what has come to known as “broken windows theory.”
Broken Windows Theory and the New Paternalism
“Broken windows theory” adheres to the belief that social order demands that any rule infraction or unlawful act, whether on city streets, in homeless shelters, or in schools has to be met with strict intervention and corrective measures. Beginning with Rudolph Giuliani’s administration in New York City, the restoration and preservation of order on New York streets or public spaces required that any broken window be mended, just as the smallest act of law-breaking or defiance to public authority had to be immediately noted and punished.
To bring this philosophy to bear in the delivery of public services to the disenfranchised, Giuliani stepped around legal protections for the poor by contracting services like homeless shelters to privately-operated shelters that imposed strict measures that were beyond public oversight. Anyone, for instance, who failed to tuck in his blanket at New York’s privatized homeless shelters had to be confronted and corrected; if the homeless individuals didn’t like it, then they could choose to return to the underfunded and sometimes chaotic environments of the remaining public shelters.
Privately-operated facilities would offer the latitude for rules and enforcement practices that, otherwise, would not survive the public scrutiny of institutions based on less punitive protocols and legal protections. “Broken windows theory” adheres to the notion that any crack in the dam requires an immediate and forceful fixative in order to stem the flood of chaotic rule breaking that threatens social order. At the same time, swift and sure interventions are thought be the best training for the poor and disenfranchised, who are thought to be unable to self-correct and to function as societal assets, rather than liabilities.
Supporters of the “new paternalism” find ideological grounding in the work of political scientist, Lawrence Mead, whose writings (1986; 1993; 1997) inspired the get-tough welfare reforms in New York and other U. S. cities during the 1990s. Though often draconian in its applications, Mead’s philosophy, nonetheless, represents a less harsh solution than the one advocated by people like Charles Murray, who has argued for severing welfare programs entirely, and consequences be damned (Schram, 1999).
Instead, Mead calls for more effective and efficient management of services by government bureaucrats, along with accountability measures aimed to wean those receiving public services from the need for them. In fact, the welfare reform legislation, The Personal Responsibility Work and Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, reflected the ideas of the new paternalists’ call for “holding welfare recipients accountable for making progress toward self-sufficiency” (Schram, 1999, p. 669).
The contributors to Mead’s (1997) influential edited volume, The New Paternalism: Supervisory Approaches to Poverty, advocate for a system whereby social policy, whether in the area of child support, homelessness, drug treatment, or education, is designed around strategies and tactics for changing the behaviors among the poor and needy who depend upon public services. Those following this line of thinking argue that the poor are incapable of changing their attitudes and behaviors on their own without assistance. Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of policy elites to create enforceable expectations that are deemed in the best interests of those whose behaviors are targeted for change.
As a hybrid form of political thought that combines liberal and conservative elements, it advocates, essentially, for using government for conservative ends, i.e, to replace government authority with “social authority” as “the key to reducing poverty” (Mead, 2012, para 6), even if government is required to initiate interventions for achieving that social authority. As Mead summed up his social policy thinking twelve years after publication of The New Paternalism . . ., “Welfare recipients must work to get aid, the homeless must obey rules to get shelter, and students must pass tests to be promoted in school” (Mead, 2009).
If government management by force is required to achieve individual conduct that ends the need for government assistance to the poor, then so be it, according to James Q. Wilson, who wrote the concluding essay for Mead’s The New Paternalism. In 1982 Wilson co-created (Kelling & Wilson, 1982,) “broken windows theory,” which is based on the claim that “disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence,” and that “if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken” (para 11).
Furthermore, if regulations and legal protections get in the way of enforcement mechanisms and accountability demands, as they did in New York City homeless shelters during the 1990s, then contracting out government services to private firms is seen by paternalists as a viable solution, which represent for paternalists their own forms of governmental “broken windows.” As noted already, Giuliani’s “choice” vouchers in New York were provided to homeless clients, who could then sign up for private sector shelters that were not bound by government red tape or oversight.
This, in effect, guaranteed compliance by the homeless to strict rules intended to instill character and good habits. Those individuals who refused prescribed behaviors for shelter inhabitants in return for the privilege of having a bed would be forced to return to the remaining public shelters. nclude below a somewhat lengthy quote by Thomas Main (1997), who also had an essay in Mead’s The New Paternalism he rationale Main offers for private sector homeless shelters is the same one that underpins charter schools and the second of KIPP’s Five Pillars: “students, their parents, and the faculty of each KIPP school choose to participate in the program” (KIPP Foundation, 2015b):
Because clients have no right to a particular shelter, private shelter may require and enforce participation in their program as long as noncompliant clients are free to return to a general shelter. [This] gives clients a degree of choice that is not available in an all-city-run-system. It also makes possible an exercise of authority that is less drastic than the impermissible denial of city shelters. Indeed, the provision of choice and the existence of a usable sanction go hand-in-hand. It is because clients make a voluntary choice to go to a certain program that the shelters can reasonably expect clients to adhere to their program” (Main, 1997, p. 174).
Even though education reformists usually base their arguments for the paternalistic corporate charter schools like KIPP on innovative methods and an absence of bureaucratic restrictions, the less acknowledged advantages come into focus when examining KIPP’s authoritarian culture, total compliance demands, and character alteration programs. As schools of “choice,” KIPP is free to invite anyone who does not wish to abide by a contract assuring compliance with KIPP expectations to return to the other school choice that poor communities can usually offer: under-resourced public schools that are ravaged by malignant neglect and generations of battering from fanciful accountability demands.
Choosing the new paternalist schools is often the only other choice in town for economically disadvantaged parents. One of the ironies inherent in the operation of the “Knowledge Is Power Program” is that acquiring the knowledge and character traits that KIPP advertises to be the solution to inequality requires a totalizing submissiveness to a domineering and “non-negotiable” system.
Chester Finn, the doyen of the conservative education reform movement, has a chapter (Finn, 1997) in The New Paternalism, where he lays out his case against any progressive agenda and for another era of reform centered on the traditional basics, this time under closer supervision the new paternalists (Finn, 1997). In 2008, Finn once again offered his full-throated enthusiasm for paternalism in schools (Finn & Kanstoroom, 2008): “. . . giving disadvantaged adolescents a full and fair shot at success in life may require a period of close supervision and explicit instruction in how to learn and how to live. If this makes the schools paternalistic, many education reformers will have no objection to the practice even if they’re nervous about the terminology . . .” (xii-xiii).
As an enthusiastic advocate of the new paternalist agenda, which begins by fixing any broken window and by “sweating the small stuff,” Finn shows no such nervousness about imposing academic, moral, or cultural values among the children of the poor:
The [No Excuses] schools are preoccupied with fighting disorder; they fix the proverbial broken windows quickly to deter further unruliness. Students are shown exactly how they are expected to behave — how to sit in a chair without slumping, how to track the teacher with their eyes, how to walk silently down the hall, how to greet visitors with a firm handshake, and how to keep track of daily assignments. Their behavior is closely monitored at all times and the schools mete out real rewards for excellence and real punishments for rule-breaking (p. x).
If nervousness remains at the KIPP Foundation about admitting its paternalist agenda, the words and actions within the KIPP schools leave no doubt as to the conscious efforts to establish adherence among children to values and behaviors that are approved by No Excuses interventionists. With child poverty rates steadily increasing, such alterations have proven over the past twenty years to be no small feat, and extraordinary interventions to change the cultural and psychological realities of KIPP children now indicate a hardened and more systematic commitment the paternalist program in schools to alter the effects of child poverty by altering children, instead.
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