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

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Understanding KIPP Model Charter Schools: Part 2

Part 1 here.

Even though my book was published in March 2016, I continue to document the experiences of former KIPP Model charter school teachers, whose grueling experiences in "no excuses" charter schools are at the core of Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys Through "No Excuses" Teaching.

My most recent interview was with Danielle, who taught for an Arkansas KIPP school in 2015.  Like many other KIPP Model teachers, Danielle describes a school where she received lots of criticism but almost no instructional or curricular support.  She described a school where most of the teachers who stay more than a year are from Teach for America (these teachers are looking to have their school loans reduced by completing their 2-year TFA commitments).

Danielle described a school that tried to turn children into "zombies" who would follow orders and maintain strict compliance to unbending rules.  She described a draconian discipline system that offered ineffective punishments and no counseling, thus turning children into repeat offenders who are either suspended or sent to a tiny room that she described as a "prison cell" without windows, which was staffed by a bus driver.  She described a school without counselors or librarians or a library.

Danielle talked about the KIPP Foundation's active role in perpetuating a system based on outward appearances that concealed a deeply dysfunctional organization, where shortcuts were encouraged to push students through the system whether or not learning occurred.  She was particularly bothered by a directive to provide a 55 point curve in her subject in order to keep passing rates high.  She talked about a system of perpetually-changing expectations and requirements, where teachers and students could not keep up with the incessant churn of altered rules and regulations.

Danielle described a system that required of teachers more than any teacher could ever sustain over time.  She talked of teachers who yelled at children and who screamed out of frustration, teachers who ate on the run and who remained on-call until 9 PM each evening.  Much of what Danielle experienced has been experienced by other teachers who have been chewed up and discarded by a system of profligate human capital consumption.  Danielle's story will part of an unedited volume of interviews to be published late next year.

Below is Chapter 2 from Work Hard, Be Hard . . . If you are considering teaching in a charter school or if you know someone who is thinking about enrolling a child, please read this and share it widely.

Chapter 2
Broken Windows Theory and the KIPP Teaching Model

The limitation that was put upon outward action by the fixed arrangements of the typical traditional schoolroom, with its fixed rows of desks and its military regimen of pupils who were permitted to move only at certain fixed signals, put a great restriction upon intellectual and moral freedom.  Straitjacket and chain-gang procedures had to be done away with if there was to be a chance for growth of individuals in the intellectual springs of freedom without which there is no assurance of genuine and continued normal growth. –John Dewey (1938/2007)

         As we pointed out in Chapter 1, underpinning the “new paternalism” of the 1990s was the belief that social order demanded that any rule infraction, whether on city streets, homeless shelters, or in schools had to be met with strict intervention and corrective measures. Any broken window on New York streets had to be mended, or anyone failing to tuck in his blanket at New York’s privatized homeless shelters had to be exorcised. And if the homeless clients didn’t like it, then they could choose to return to the underfunded and sometimes chaotic environments of the surviving public shelters.
         Privately-operated facilities would offer the latitude for rules and enforcement regimen that, otherwise, would not survive the public scrutiny of institutions with accountable public officials and legal protections for the poor.  As noted earlier, any crack in the dam required an immediate and forceful in order to stem the flood of chaotic rule breaking.  These same paternalistic underpinnings were cemented into place when Mike Feinberg and David Levin set out to create their KIPP Model for schooling economically disadvantaged children.  
         Researcher Howard Berlak (Horn, 2010) reported the following from his own visit to a KIPP school in San Francisco:
. . . .When I was there, children who followed all the rules were given points that could be exchanged for goodies at the school store. Those who resisted the rules or were slackers wore a large sign pinned to their clothes labeled "miscreant." Miscreants sat apart from the others at all times including lunch, were denied recess and participation in all other school projects and events.
. . . . I've spent many years in schools. This one felt like a humane, low security prison or something resembling a locked-down drug rehab program for adolescents run on reward and punishments by well meaning people. Maybe a case can be made for such places, but I cannot imagine anyone (including the Times reporter) sending their kids there unless they have no other acceptable options. What is most disturbing is the apparent universal belief by KIPP staff and partisans that standardized tests scores are the singular and most important measure of a truly good education (p. 95).
One former KIPP teacher told me that she experienced so much anxiety and dread of going to work that she did not sleep the night before returning to her KIPP school after Spring Break.  She realized that in the previous months at KIPP she had become less like a teacher and more like a “referee or a cop,” whose principal aim was apprehending offenders of total compliance expectations:
There was so much pressure to "catch" the kids.  Catch them whispering.  Catch them doing this.  Catch them doing that.  It was exhausting.  It was all about catching them.  One of Doug Lemov's ideas is that if you don't have one hundred percent compliance, one hundred percent authority, then others will think they can question. 
Doug Lemov’s (2010) book, Teach Like a Champion, is sometimes referred to as the No Excuses teaching bible, and it includes 49 “techniques” that promise to produce championship teaching.  Technique 36 is one referred to above, which states “there’s one suitable percentage of students following a direction given in your classroom: 100 Percent. If you don’t achieve this, you make your authority subject to interpretation, situation, and motivation” (p. 168).  It would be hard to find a pedagogical dictum that is any more expressive of the new paternalism for schools serving poor and disenfranchised students.
         Having spent a good deal of time in Philadelphia’s Mastery Charter Schools, a No Excuses corporate chain of fifteen schools, Professor Joan Goodman (Strauss, 2014) used the domino metaphor, rather than broken windows, to explain Mastery’s total compliance school regimen based on the No Excuses model:
These schools believe that behaviors that you might not think are directly related to academic learning can have a domino effect if left unaddressed. Getting up from your chair to go to the bathroom without explicit permission, for example, or not having your hands folded on your desk, or not looking at the teacher every minute, or not having your feet firmly planted on each side of the center of the desk are problematic behaviors. Because if you don’t conform to these rules then you are going to precipitate the next domino and the next domino. It’s going to have a cascading effect on your behavior and pretty soon you’re going to be very disruptive (para 9).
         In the sections below, former KIPP teachers provide insights and reflections that help us understand the ramifications of the new paternalism for the teachers and students in economically deprived communities.  Keep in mind that KIPP Model teachers, often with little classroom management capability, are focused on enforcement of unbending rules among students, even as they are also subject to punitive enforcement mechanisms to do everything the KIPP way. 
Pressure from school leaders to improve test performance and “performance character” takes the form of encouraging teachers to be “militant” and punitive.  This regularly produces teacher behaviors that are not like the teacher behaviors in schools we are accustomed to but, rather, more reminiscent of subjects in one of Stanley Milgram’s experiments (Milgram, 2009), whereby “teachers” set aside personal conscience to administer increasingly-severe shocks in futile efforts to decrease errors by learners.
         In the federal report entitled Successful Charter Schools (U. S. Department of Education, 2004), the KIPP Foundation’s flagship, KIPP Academy Houston, was identified as one of nine exemplary charter schools.  Even though the KIPP Foundation provides latitude to individual schools in developing disciplinary procedures, the infractions criteria and modes of punishment listed in Figure 2.1 from the USDOE report are common in many of the 183 KIPP schools. 

The KIPP Model views any infraction as serious enough to bring about any of the punishments listed, from additional assignments to detention to being confined to the “porch,” or the “bench,” as it is sometimes called.  In explaining how the “bench” worked at her school, one former KIPP teacher noted that being benched carries with it a label that no one could miss:
It’s meant to tie into the metaphor of this is KIPP as a team and if you don’t do something that jibes with the expectations, then you go to the bench, just like you would on a sports team.   It was a very overly complex system with–it was just way too complex to be an actual, successfully-implemented discipline system.  The thrust of it is a student that commits an offense that is really worthy of probation is placed on the bench, and they have to do a certain number of things to work their way off the bench.  They go through detention.  They carry around a “choices form” throughout the day, which has to be signed by each teacher at the end of each period, whether or not they made good choices for that period. 
At the end of a period, a teacher will sign off on, yes, he made good choices, or no, he made bad choices today.  I think the most striking thing to me about it is that students, while they’re on the bench, until they earn their way off by completing these requirements, having multiple days of good choices, having written a reflective essay, having had a meeting with the teacher that put them on the bench originally, that student also each day until they earn their way off the bench, they wear a sticker across their uniform that says BENCH on it, in big, bold letters.   
The “porch” or the “bench” at KIPP provides a form of psychological solitary confinement, and it functions as a form of public humiliation and ostracism that may last for hours or weeks, depending upon the infraction and how the student behaves while he is on the bench. At one KIPP school, students on the bench had to earn 20 of 29 possible KIPP dollars for three consecutive days in order to get off the “bench.”  The practice underscores the connection between approved behavior and financial reward. 
At other schools, students must write letters of contrition and read them aloud to the class or the entire school.  Depending on the school, benched students may be placed in a different part of the room from other students, on a lower chair (porch chair) than the other students, or on the floor.  Students on the “porch” must also sit apart from other students during lunch, and they may not communicate with other students away from school. 
Students on the “porch” sometimes wear the “Miscreant” sign, but more often they are required to turn their KIPP shirts inside out or forced to wear a different shirt entirely. At some schools, KIPPsters wear blue shirts emblazoned with “Work Hard, Be Nice,” unless they have broken a rule and are on the “bench,” which may require them to wear a white shirt.  Earning the KIPP shirt is a rite of passage, and to lose it is a serious blow to some students.   
         One former teacher described an incident where a student was placed in a “porch chair” for making fun of girl who had a gap between her front teeth.  The teacher took an example of the perpetrator’s writing and posted it on an overhead projector “in front of the entire student body,” telling the assembly, “you want to talk about a gap—here’s the gap, look at your writing—you’re in sixth grade not even capitalizing the letters.”  Another teacher referred to this kind of public humiliation as “public shaming:”
. . . if a student collects enough demerits, then his shirt is turned inside out, and the kid is “on bench” the way someone, you know, a basketball player would be sitting out.  And when a kid’s shirt is inside-out, you can’t talk to him. He’s not a member of the class. He might even have to sit on the floor or outside. And the other kids can’t talk to him. And if the kids do, then it’s, like, wildfire. Then they all have their shirts inside-out very quickly.
         Another teacher worked at a KIPP school where the “bench” had been replaced by RAA (Reflect, Assess, Act), which was “the equivalent of The Bench, where kids are on detention for a week, and they have lunch separate [and] they don’t get to go out to PE, which is—there is no PE, just not going out . . . and playing on the swings and they have to stay after school for an hour.” 
         In reflecting on the use of the “bench” as one of KIPP’s devices used to maintain total compliance, one teacher who was still working at KIPP at the time of our interview, shared this encounter with a student who had come to see the abnormality of the KIPP regimen:
I had a kid the other day come up, this just happened this week, but he was like ‘Ms. _________, . . . the other schools don’t have paychecks and they don’t have deductions, they don’t have detention . . . why can’t KIPP be like a normal school.’  And I feel like that kind of sums it up. . . . I feel like they aren’t given the opportunity to really be kids.
         The KIPP Model uses a discipline system that puts tremendous pressure on teachers to maintain straightjacket classroom conditions that are always breaking down under the countervailing influence of students’ irrepressible needs to be the children they are.  The more teachers put their fingers into the leaks in the dam, the sooner they find that ten fingers are not enough.  The anxiety that is created for children and teachers, alike, is counterproductive to efforts to learn and to teach. 
One teacher noted that KIPP had made her a worse teacher by forcing her to focus on behavioral compliance, rather than teaching in effective ways that successfully channel the energy of children:
Retrospectively if I look at it [teaching at KIPP], it has made me a worse teacher because like now I feel I am constantly thinking of these expectations that I am supposed to have in terms of behavior, like having them be silent and all those things, and I feel like it is making me a bad teacher because it is constantly looking at the negative like, ‘oh they are not doing good’ . . . . I feel like it has not helped me to focus on the positive things as much.

Equal to Character and Academics
One aspect of the KIPP model that deserves more public scrutiny is KIPP’s “performance character” training, which is inspired by David Levin’s association (Tough, 2006) with positive psychology guru, Dr. Martin Seligman.  Seligman’s early research from the 1960s on “learned helplessness” took on an added element of controversy in 2008 and again in 2014, when it was found that Seligman’s techniques for achieving total compliance were infamously used by psychologists under contract from the CIA after September 11, 2001 (Mayer, 2008a; Singal, 2014).  
Although Seligman has consistently denied knowing anything of plans to use learned helplessness with enemy detainees, he delivered, at the behest of the CIA, a three-hour lecture on learned helplessness in 2002 at the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Survival (SERE) school in San Diego.  Investigative journalist, Jane Mayer (2008b), later wrote that “Professor Seligman says he has no idea why he was called in from his academic position in Pennsylvania, to suddenly appear at this CIA event. He just showed up and talked for three hours about how dogs, when exposed to horrible treatment, give up all hope, and become compliant. Why the CIA wanted to know about this at this point, he says he never asked” (para 3).
         In 2015, the New York Times (Risen, 2015) published a report (Soldz, Raymond, Reisner, Allen, Baker, & Keller, 2015) that included new details regarding the involvement of the American Psychological Association in the CIA torture program that occurred during the GW Bush Administration.  Included in the report are emails from APA members, CIA officers, and White House officials.  Among the emails is one from Kirk Hubbard, the CIA’s Chief of the Operational Assessment Division, who obviously viewed Seligman’s work on behalf of the CIA as significant.  Here Hubbard complains to Susan Brandon (NIH), Dr. Geoffrey Mumford (APA Director of Science Policy), and Scott Gerwehr (RAND Corporation contractor) that his bosses at the CIA would not pay for gifts for Dr. Seligman’s children: “My office director would not even reimburse me for circa $100 bucks for CIA logo t­shirts and ball caps for Marty Seligman's five kids! He's helped out alot over the past four years so I thought that was the least I could do. But no, has to come out of my own pocket! And people wonder why I am so cynical!” (p. 41).
It was during the 1960s and early 1970s Seligman and his colleagues conducted a series of historic experiments that demonstrated dogs receiving “unavoidable electric shocks failed to take action in subsequent situations—even those in which escape or avoidance was in fact possible . . .” (Nolen, 2014).  Seligman found that dogs that had once tried to escape their cages never tried to escape after the random series of shocks, even when the doors of their cages were left open.  He called the phenomenon “learned helplessness.”
The extent of Dr. Seligman’s role in developing the KIPP Model surely deserves further study, and central to that inquiry should be this question: how does one tell the difference between a manifestation of learned helplessness and a display of self-control, or self-regulation, particularly when the depressive effects of learned helplessness may be masked by ongoing doses of “learned optimism,” which is essential to the happiness training (Hedges, 2010) of positive psychology and the character rehab that KIPP tries to accomplish?
         Dr. Seligman’s more recent research has been focused on emotional resiliency training to achieve “learned optimism,” which Seligman’s University of Pennsylvania colleagues put into use among urban adolescent school children to gauge the effects.  Researchers (Gillham et al., 2007) found that the Penn Resiliency Program (PRP) was successful in temporarily reducing depression among late elementary and middle school children. 
Despite the limited success with children and adolescents, and despite the fact that no protocols had been developed for use with adults, Dr. Seligman received a no-bid contract (Benjamin, 2010) in 2010 from the U. S. Army worth $31 million to provide two weeks of training for Army drill sergeants, who would then apply their new knowledge with recruits.  In doing so, it was hoped that post-traumatic stress disorder among GIs could be averted at some later date.   
Subsequently, Seligman’s resiliency training program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center became the centerpiece for a $145 million dollar U. S. Army program to provide ten days of intense training for all of the Army’s 40,000 drill sergeants.  In early 2014, a National Academies Institute of Medicine (Denning, Meisner, & Warner, 2014) found, in an evaluation study, that Army personnel suffering from PTSD and other re-integration problems had received no benefit from Seligman’s programs:
Resilience, prevention, and reintegration interventions should be based on well- established theoretical frameworks. Assessments of DOD programs conducted by this committee and others show that a majority of DOD resilience, prevention, and reintegration programs are not consistently based on evidence and that programs are evaluated infrequently or inadequately. For example, on the basis of internal research data that show only very small effect sizes, DOD concluded that Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, a broadly implemented program intended to foster resilience, is effective—despite external evaluations that dispute that conclusion. Among the small number of DOD-sponsored reintegration programs that exist, none appears to be based on scientific evidence (p. 5).

Performance Character
Seligman’s influence and that of his protégé, Angela Duckworth, continue to be central in controlling the “non-cognitive” behaviors and attitudes that are central to completing the KIPP Model mission. As “KIPP teachers believe their job is to teach 49 percent academics and 51 percent character” (Morris, 2011), “grit” and “self-control” are the two most important character traits that KIPP develops in their students. The other components of character are zest, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity, although the KIPP model is principally concerned with developing grit, or relentless determination to achieve and to maintain self-control. 
KIPP further divides self-control into two categories, each having four components:
 School Work
  • Came to class prepared
  • Remembered and followed directions
  • Got to work right away instead of waiting until the last minute
  • Paid attention and resisted distractions
  • Remained calm even when criticized or otherwise provoked
  • Allowed others to speak without interrupting
  • Was polite to adults and peers
Kept temper in check (KIPP Foundation, 2015c)
KIPP refers to its character goals as “performance character,” or “achievement character,” and KIPP’s list of traits represents a distillation of a more expansive list that includes 24 characteristics, which was developed by Dr. Seligman and his colleague, Dr. Peterson (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).  The narrowing down of the list was the principal work of Duckworth and Levin, who selected those qualities that they believed were crucial for raising achievement for children who, otherwise, may be distracted by the challenges of living in poverty.
Notably missing are some of the more common elements of moral character that have been traditionally taught in school, such as honesty, integrity, thrift, and humility.  According to Paul Tough (2012), Levin contends that moral character is based on moral law that, by necessity, is imposed by some higher authority.  In following Seligman and Peterson, Tough claims “moral laws were limiting when it came to character because they reduced virtuous conduct to a simple matter of obedience to a higher authority” (p. 59). 
In exchanging goals of moral character for those aimed at developing “performance character,” students are likely to grow up with values suited to the needs of the modern workplace, as described by Eric Fromm (1956) in The Art of Loving:
Modern capitalism needs men who co-operate smoothly and in large numbers: who want to consume more and more: and whose tastes are standardized and can be easily influenced and anticipated.  It needs men who feel free and independent, not subject to any authority or principle or conscience—yet willing to be commanded, to do what is expected of them, to fit into the social machine without friction; who can be guided without force, led without leaders, prompted without aim—except the one to make good, to be on the move, to function, to go ahead (p. 85). 
David Levin’s focus on “grit” and “self-control” suggests a high value attached to a kind of crusty abrasiveness, or personality pumice, that may be used to deal with difficult life situations.  According to Tough (2012), Levin believes his approach stands above any charge of indoctrination or cultural colonialism by KIPP because “the character-strength approach is…fundamentally devoid of value judgment” (p. 60).  We are left to wonder how Levin’s preferred values of grit, self-control, gratitude, zest, and the rest are any less of an imposition than, let’s say, wisdom, justice, honesty, and temperance
Levin’s proselytizing for positive psychologists’ preferred values attempts to cloak any signs of imposition of behaviors among KIPP children, who are routinely taught that grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity are the keys to attracting the best that life has to offer. Those who are unsuccessful at working or wishing hard enough to lure are taught that it is only themselves they have to blame if the best in life remains elusive.  Hedges (2010) sums it up this way for those whose positivity efforts fail to attract the best things in life: “for those who run into the hard walls of reality, the ideology has the pernicious effect of forcing the victim to blame him or herself for his or her pain or suffering” (p. 119).
Indeed, students are taught to blame themselves, even if they encounter harsh treatment from others (Horn, 2012).  Such mistreatment by an adult in position of authority is an indicator that they, obviously, are not working hard enough or being good enough to be treated with the respect that comes when one “makes good.”  The drawing below (see Figure 2.2) is a copy of a worksheet that Seligman disciple, Dr. Angela Duckworth, has used in developing performance character curricula for children in Philadelphia area schools and for Levin’s New York KIPP schools.

In Figure 2.2, we see that children are taught that they should “feel okay” about abusive treatment from authority figures, whose verbal assaults and harsh treatment are to be viewed as the earned result for failure to meet expectations, which, in turn, requires more grit and working harder to avoid more justifiable denigration for falling short of expectations.  In this new urban character building regimen and emotional resilience training, children are expected to internalize abusive treatment from authority figures and to blame any such behavior on their own shortcomings. 
At the same time, they are expected to maintain emotional resilience and self-control when faced with any of the sociological cancers that are triggered by poverty and that, otherwise, might serve as an excuse for not achieving the expectations from school leaders and teachers who work within the KIPP Model.  Too, any anger or resentment among students that may result from punishments becomes suppressed as an improper reaction, rather than as a legitimate expression against KIPP’s total control, constant surveillance, and unrealistic demands.
Many of the students who survive at KIPP become docile hard workers, whose submission to KIPP total compliance regime embellishes a highly developed sense of self-blame, even as they are effectively dehumanized in the process.  If things don't work out for these children in terms of working hard enough or being nice enough to survive in KIPP and, later, to attract the “best things in life” further down life’s road, then they will at least have learned along the way that no one will be to blame except themselves. They, themselves, will be responsible for the failure that, based on KIPP’s definition, the majority of them will experience as a result of not finishing college. No excuses. No shortcuts.  Work hard, be nice.
Angela Duckworth’s ongoing research projects include working directly with Levin at a KIPP school in New York to develop and fine tune a report card that can be used to measure and grade what she prefers to call “achievement character” among the disadvantaged KIPPsters in The Bronx.  Per the worksheet above, Duckworth is working there and elsewhere to develop curriculum that is intended to inject character and personality traits into children that purports to build immunity against the epidemic of urban poverty and disenfranchisement.
Duckworth, herself, grew up the daughter of privileged Chinese immigrants in the middle class town of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and she studied neuroscience as an undergraduate at Harvard (Hartnett, 2012).  After a Masters at Oxford and then a year at McKinsey and Co., Duckworth became the CEO of the online public school rating company, Great Schools, before she altered course to become a charter school teacher on both the West and East Coasts. 
After a late night email exchange with Martin Seligman in 2002 and a face-to-face meeting the next day, Seligman cleared the way for Duckworth to be considered for the doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania, even after the normal admissions process was closed.  Duckworth became Seligman’s protégé, and she earned a PhD in psychology in 2006.  The next year Duckworth was hired as Assistant Professor of Psychology at UPenn. 
Since then, she has earned a reputation as a bold experimenter and unabashed extrovert, who exhibits a particularly salty vocabulary. According to a reporter (Hartnett, 2012) for the Pennsylvania Gazette, Duckworth
. . . uses expletives in a way that might impress even high-powered cursers like Rahm Emanuel.  In the course of a 90-minute conversation she called a principal she knew “an asshole,” described the opinion of a leading education foundation as “fucking idiotic,” and did a spot-on impression of a teenager with attitude when explaining the challenge of conducting experiments with adolescents: “When you pay adults they always work harder but sometimes in schools when I’ve done experiments with monetary incentives there’s this like adolescent ‘fuck you’ response. They’ll be like ‘Oh, you really want me to do well on this test? Fuck you, I’m going to do exactly the opposite’” (p. 61).
         With David Levin’s promotional prowess, top charter chains such as Aspire, YES Prep, and Uncommon Schools have been significantly influenced by Seligman’s techniques (Tough, 2006) that became central to his and Duckworth’s research agenda. Seligman’s protégé has extended Seligman’s resilience methodology known as “learned optimism” to further develop programs for urban school children to shape their persistence, self-control, adaptability, and patience. 
Duckworth’s ongoing experiments in the public schools near the University of Pennsylvania attempt to devise ways to measure efforts to inoculate disadvantaged children from poverty’s effects and to boost their immunity to the severe measures used in No Excuses schools to instill grit and self-control. Levin and other total compliance charter operators want to engender a version of Seligman’s “learned optimism” that will background the degrading life conditions that, otherwise, remain dispiriting or depressing for children.  In doing so, the experimenters hope that KIPP model students will develop the tenacity to rise above circumstances that would drag down lesser beings.  Attitude, Duckworth argues, becomes as important or more important than ability.
         In the absence of any program that might modify or eradicate the actual stress, distress, and irrationality of living in poverty, Duckworth and Levin’s character performance experiments may be viewed as little more than involuntary behavioral and neurological sterilization techniques that could hinder, in fact, the capacities of children who have to survive daily in environments where internalizing abuse or acquiescing to domination could prove disadvantageous or even deadly.  Even so, the unregulated and unchecked experimentation on children without regard for potentially harmful outcomes remains one the hallmarks of Duckworth and Levin’s “ready-fire-aim” approach, which may be very useful for business entrepreneurs (Zwilling, 2012) developing new processes or products, but extremely risky and potentially dangerous when it comes to educating the most vulnerable children.

Maintaining Control by Losing Control
         From talking with former KIPP teachers, it became clear that demands for more grit and self-control and the total compliance requirements of the KIPP Model result in rules, surveillance procedures, and enforcement strategies that are often discarded when school leaders find that students do not fully comply or that monitoring and enforcement become unmanageable.  Failure to achieve total compliance leads to a proliferation of new and, often, more draconian rules that require more time and effort for enforcement by teachers who lack experience, confidence, or skills for establishing realistic classroom management, not to mention the wherewithal to stay above the quicksand of rigid minutiae that characterizes teaching the KIPP way. 
Teachers describe KIPP teaching environments as sometimes chaotic and emotionally explosive, and the resulting atmosphere makes the teacher-coach in Figure 2.2 above seem a much more plausible and familiar character.  One beginning KIPP teacher hired to teach middle school, but with a degree in early childhood education, clearly understood, in retrospect, how his inexperience and unrealistic job expectations worked to his students’ disadvantage:
I didn’t have any classroom management at all.  They didn’t teach me classroom management.  I didn’t learn as far as setting routines and procedures, so at the beginning of the year I was basically thrown into the deep end and I was trying to swim, but I was constantly drowning.  I would come to the administration and constantly tell them that I was drowning because I wasn’t able to hold the children up; I couldn’t teach because of all the chaos that I was having in the classroom.
Efforts to enforce total compliance, without the requisite skills for basic classroom management, regularly lead to emotional outbursts that could easily jeopardize the health and safety of both teachers and students.  This same beginning teacher described his “going crazy,” which almost culminated in a violent incident in the classroom, which precipitated this beginning teacher’s leaving KIPP before the first year was up:
I had one child that basically had one of those little skateboards, finger skateboard; I took that away from him and he took my clipboard and that’s when I say that I snapped because I have never been disrespected by a child like that.  And then another girl, she just threw her notebook on the ground.  For me to try to control, I am thinking, I have to be mean to the children, and so I took the desk and I looked into the corner where I was going to throw the desk.  I was aiming for the ceiling.  So I didn’t do it, but I did move the desk and that scared her and for me doing that, I thought that I was losing myself in the process.  I wasn’t doing what I felt like I was sent there to do, which was educate children and have them love learning.  Those children did not love learning at all and will they ever?  I hope so, but from the way it was looking, they are testing constantly, so they will learn how to test.  That is what they will learn.

         While students are forced to stay silent for much of the time at a KIPP Model school, teachers are often loud—very loud.  The At PS Hope in Sacramento, a No Excuses charter school that takes special pride in its adoption of the KIPP Model, one administrator whose title is Dean of Culture regularly encouraged the eighteen or so teachers there to use yelling to maintain control.  When the Dean of Culture visited a classroom of one former PS Hope teacher, the dean told her “you’re too nice to the kids, you’re too soft with them.”  This teacher said the behavior that the administrators modeled was “very militaristic screaming at the kids—I mean, shouting.”
         At some KIPP schools, yelling or screaming at students by teachers and school leaders is a sanctioned control technique.   Teachers are regularly encouraged to be “forceful” or “militant” in their interactions with rule breakers or those who fall short of expectations.  One teacher told me that teachers who do well at KIPP are “forceful and think for the child instead of having them think for themselves.” 
         Another young teacher had school leaders who told her that poor, black children expect to be yelled and screamed at, and that any other disciplinary approach will not work.  She did not comply, and she resigned after Spring Break of her first year at KIPP. The following is part of her resignation letter:
…the most important issue at ­­­[the KIPP school where this teacher worked] is the way students are managed.  I imagined that working at KIPP meant a systematized way of managing behavior (paychecks).  However, I came to find out that this is very far from the truth.  In fact, [a coworker who was a lead teacher] told me in our first week not to use the paychecks if we could help it.  I came to realize that students are managed largely through bullying, screaming and personal insults.  At my previous school, teachers did not raise their voice ONCE during the course of the year.  At ­­­[the KIPP school where this teacher worked], screaming and yelling is ubiquitous. 
            Unlike at [two other schools], where there are school-sanctioned consequences for actions (namely, detention), at ­­­[the KIPP school where this teacher worked] students are managed by personal insults.  I’ve witnessed [the coworker lead teacher] calling kids “gay,” saying “that’s why you have no friends” or other rude comments.  And that’s on a typical day.  I’ve also seen teachers on my team get in students’ faces and scream at them, I’ve seen teachers slam clipboards on desks until they break, I’ve seen teachers physically intimidate students.  Needless to say, this is not beneficial to the students.  In fact, I would never send my student to a school where these actions took place.  I can only imagine that it is BECAUSE not many people know that these actions take place that they are allowed to continue (personal communication). 
         Another teacher was told something very similar.  When she resisted the pressure to be “militant,” school leaders countered that because of cultural differences, black students are accustomed to being screamed at: “…[screaming] was encouraged because [school leaders] would say, well that’s how their parents speak to them. And that’s how they listen. . . . That’s their justification, yeah, is that it was a cultural difference, and … I needed to speak to them in the way that their parents speak to them.”
         Screaming at students, then, is a common occurrence at KIPP and other schools that emulate the model, even though there are intense public relations efforts to promote the image of zest-filled, optimistic KIPP students engaged in “joyful learning,” or the “J-Factor.”  As with other aspects of KIPP life, academics are key considerations for any manifestation of joy, as in the following examples (Sullivan, 2012) shared on a web page belonging to the venture philanthropy bundler and KIPP supporter, the New Schools Venture Fund:
For [KIPP] middle schoolers, distributing index cards turns into a competition in no time. Fun thrives in the virtual world of education technology as well. Who doesn’t want to see a bright orange and red flame to celebrate a hot streak of test prep questions answered correctly on Grockit? [a computerized platform for test preparation]. And chances are great that the whimsical characters of Class Dojo [a computerized class management tool] are much more effective at catalyzing positive classroom behavior than listing students’ initials under “Leading Scholars” ever was on my whiteboard (para 2).
         While celebrating a “hot streak of test prep questions answered correctly” may fail to evoke the elusive “J-Factor” in many classrooms, the consequences of off-task behavior at KIPP are certain to produce the opposite of joy.  Teachers under the constant stress of test performance expectations and KIPP’s strict character catechism aimed to instill grit and self-control offers little patience for wandering student attention or any lapse in acceptable behavioral responses. One of the teachers who found it impossible to “follow their model” had this to say about the KIPP Model’s regimen, which she said reminded her of “a concentration camp:”
There’s nothing wrong with thinking outside of the KIPP values but you weren’t allowed to….There’s one leader, there’s a group of people who are just in it following a day to day routine that’s exactly the same. . . .And you either hang in there or you drop out.  The ones that are hanging in are barely hanging in.  No one is just bright and cheery and coming to work happy.  It’s like they’re coming to work and from the minute they walk in, they are screaming and yelling. . . .One thing the school leader worked on was—you have to smile.  If you’re not smiling, something’s wrong. . . . No one was smilingdd.
         At the same time, then, that KIPP teachers are told to smile and to focus on learned optimism and the “J-Factor,” school leaders insist, either explicitly or implicitly, that teachers should be more “militant.”  This same teacher elaborated, when I asked her who was screaming and yelling:
I … was free to move from classroom to classroom because I was over the ______________ program.  Almost every type classroom I went into, some worse than others, I couldn’t stand the screaming.  The teachers were at their end.  They were screaming … to get attention from children, and you know your last step is just screaming …. There’s a lot of yelling and screaming from the teacher trying to get control of the classroom.  There’s a lot of discipline problems in a KIPP school, which are not usually discussed at all.  I would say that is usually the number one reason teachers leave--lack of classroom management skills.
Not every KIPP school is as chaotic as this one.  In many of the 183 KIPP schools and the thousands of other schools that emulate the KIPP Model, however, a consistent absence of classroom management preparation contributes to KIPP teachers and leaders resorting to the authoritarian power play of screaming and yelling to control student behavior and establish a total compliance environment.   Another teacher reported
“… teachers yelled at students … [but] I’m not that person….And you know, some of the teachers that were most effective were the loudest, and they came down on the kids. So I think that was more of the discipline that they were looking for.”
This teacher, however, noted that the school leader, who was a “screamer,” too, sometimes reminded teachers that “we really need to tone it down—we need to watch the way we’re speaking to our students.” As a result, this teacher was caught in a double bind that resulted from personal conscience and school leader reminders coming in conflict with practices that were encouraged and that brought the results that school leaders were looking for.  This same teacher noted that some of the teachers with the best test scores were “screamers,” and she remained uncertain during her time at KIPP as to whether she was to yell more to establish her “militancy.” 
         Three KIPP teachers interviewed had direct knowledge of abusive practices by teachers at KIPP that went beyond yelling and screaming.  The first teacher talked of a “foul-mouthed teacher,” in particular, that she eventually reported for his yelling obscenities at children. Even though he “said the four-letter S word and the four-letter F word in class” on a regular basis, he was still teaching at KIPP when our interview took place, which was months after her leaving.  A second teacher referred to a neighboring teacher as a “screamer, swearer, humiliator:”  “I had never seen anybody who would go to the lows that he did to really just knock a kid down, you know way down, but there was a lot of yelling and that was something that really bothered me.”
         A third teacher had similar experiences with a “hostile environment” next door.  Hearing her neighbor’s tirades caused her to feel “shaky” and have “that feeling of knots in my stomach:”
…he would literally be yelling ‘what’s wrong with you, are you an idiot?’ He was the only one that I saw doing this….He was, perhaps, an anomaly—I think he was, but ‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘Goddamn it,’ and he would really work through humiliation. So when students would take a quiz, when the quiz was over they would correct it, and then he would call on each student and they would have to say their score out loud. Then he would start harassing the ones that got low scores—it was a bloody battlefield. That is what his classroom looked like.
         When she reported the abusive teacher, the administrative reaction registered no alarm.  There are many things that can trigger a teacher being fired at KIPP, but screaming and abusive language do not seem to be on that list:
I couldn’t take it anymore for the kid’s part and for my own health. It was really a hostile environment. So I finally talked to the second principal and said ‘this is what is going on, I don’t know if you know and I want to remain anonymous’ and she said ‘okay thank you for telling us—he has had trouble in the past, we’ve talked to him in the past, and we will do more visits to his room.’ 
         Great, I thought, wonderful. I can tell you even without being able to see his classroom door, I would know when somebody came into his room—it was like a switch went on, it was scary.  So that went on and they knew about it and I said something again . . . and I got the same thing. ‘Oh yes he has been talked to, we will work on that.’  But it never changed.
         One teacher attributed the screaming and verbal abuse at KIPP to a student management system “that doesn’t reward kids for doing well” nearly as often as it “penalizes them for doing poorly.”  He added, “I saw teachers literally screaming at kids, and I’d never seen that before. I saw teachers, you know, slamming books and clipboards down on the desk, and I had never seen that before. . . .things like that. And so, you know, that whole process is demoralizing.”
         Screaming at KIPP may erupt for major or minor offenses.  One teacher witnessed screaming for “back talking, dishonesty, talking in the middle of class, not staying in line.”  Having since found a teaching job in a public school, this teacher remembered the yelling as an element of the humiliation that students at KIPP endured:
…in terms of the humiliation, I know that I’ve seen it, I’ve slipped over, I’ve crossed that line, that’s part of why I don’t yell anymore. I’ve watched other teachers do it….There’s a bit of a mob mentality when you work for KIPP, and it’s different at different schools….But when it crosses that line to [where] you’re just angry and a kid has gotten on your last nerve, I’ve seen teachers just yell at a kid in their face—full blown yell—the kind of thing that I would not want done to my daughter.  I think KIPP long term will have to deal with that issue of short-term discipline that works with 5th and 6th graders for longer term.
When asked about specific books or classroom management techniques, another teacher responded, “Yelling….It [discipline] was just kind of paying attention to the culture of the school, which was very in-your-face yelling, “everything is everything” sort of model.  Instead of deescalate, escalate. But it’s not an approach that’s effective, like spanking….”
         One former KIPP teacher first encountered teachers yelling even before she was hired.  During her interview day at a KIPP school, she was taken to the cafeteria, where she saw “…children sitting at the lunch tables, and they were just being yelled at and berated by a number of different teachers in the room who were taking turns….The kids had nothing in their hands, no books, nothing….I think that the reason that they were getting yelled at, as I remember, was that they had had very low homework completion that week.”
Other teachers reported they, too, had encountered yelling and berating students at KIPP, which was sometimes accompanied by confrontations: “There was a lot of yelling, a lot of berating students, a lot of physically confronting students.”  One teacher saw the berating begin on the “first day students were on campus.”  During his time at KIPP, there was never a day, he said, that he “did not hear an adult raise their voice to a student, and not just in the stern command issuing tone kind of way, but just loudly berating students.”  When this teacher was asked to be more specific, he said “the content was never anything like cursing, name-calling, anything like that.” 
During an assembly on the first day students were present, “there was one student that was, I think, fidgeting or talking to his neighbor, something like that.  A staff member just came out of nowhere and interrupted the principal in the middle of her presentation, interrupted the whole thing and started shouting at the student.  I expected the principal to appear taken aback or disoriented, but the principal jumped right on board.”
As with some other teachers who talked about official sanctioning for screaming, this teacher, too, felt “pressure from the administration, in my observation, to yell more”:
I felt like that was the subtext to a lot of the feedback I got in terms of, ‘you need to be more strict, you need to be more heavy handed.’ I felt the subtext was ‘raise your voice, scream more,’ that kind of thing.  It was a school with an open door policy, but we always said if we saw a closed door that meant that the teacher was screaming.  And that was something that was part of the culture.  Teachers would go, they’d close the door to their classroom and they would just erupt. 
He noted, too, that “screaming,” as it was referred to, was the “number one reflection that most kids had when asked ‘if you could change one thing about your school,’ what would it be.”
         When I asked one teacher how his new teaching position since leaving KIPP differed from his KIPP experience, it was the yelling that was most figural to him:
The first thing would be there wasn’t the sense of dread hanging over the place at all times, of someone’s going to yell at any minute. It could be at any time.  I could be in the middle of a lesson; someone could come in and start yelling.  Kids could be walking from class to class; someone could start yelling.  There was this sense of an iron curtain over everything [at KIPP] at all times. 
         Not surprisingly, the teachers who talked about participating in yelling felt badly about it, and engaging in tantrums or screaming fits provided the impetus for a number of these teachers to decide to leave KIPP.    The following teacher decided just that, when she found that her yelling became a barrier to communication with her students:
I just felt like I was constantly yelling at them all the time and I felt like that was a barrier between me and my students and because I was always yelling at them for talking or for not being in a straight line, that I could never really get to know who there were and that for me was so unnatural. That was something that was never brought up in my interview [for a teaching position at KIPP], and I had no idea what I was getting into, and once I realized what it was, I was like I got to get out. This is not for me.
         While some of the KIPP teachers had uncomfortable memories of their own screaming, others could recall screaming by their colleagues at KIPP.  One teacher, however, could recall screaming in her own classroom by another teacher from down the hall, a teacher she described as “downright mean:”
The teacher down the hall, the same one with the ___________ chant, came over.  The kids—getting them to settle down wasn’t working despite all the things that I had in my toolbox from ten years of teaching. And the guy from across the hall would just come in and just scream at the kids. And they would instantly be silent because they were terrified of him. It wasn’t out of respect for him. Some of the other teachers, they had their respect. But this guy, they just feared him. And they would instantly be quiet.
Near the end of every interview, former KIPP teachers were asked if they had anything they would like to discuss that they had not been asked about.  One teacher who was subsequently hired by a public school, came back to the subject of yelling as a mode of character remediation and control, and this time she suggested what many critics of KIPP have pointed out: If KIPP schools were not poor, black, or brown, our society would not allow KIPP’s disciplinary methods to be used:
There are things I really liked about my time at KIPP; there are things that I wish I had changed.  I think KIPP—I’m Caucasian … KIPP ________ is mostly Hispanic, KIPP in _________ was mostly African American.  I think there’s a broader question when you look at the heavy discipline of KIPP.  Would we let this happen if the students were white middle class?  Would we be okay with the yelling? ….I think that’s a pretty valid question: is part of the reason that KIPP is allowed to get away with things that couldn’t be done in a traditional school.  I mean the things I did at KIPP would get me fired at my school now.   The yelling—I’ve watched a teacher slam a door and the glass broke—I think that’s a question worth analyzing, how much is race…I don’t know if I’m saying that right. 
         Another teacher with previous experience in public schools expressed his dismay at the encouragement from school leaders to be more punitive:  “…definitely the school culture at KIPP was, I mean, militant and I was expected to be much more punitive as a teacher than I was at my previous position…. KIPP took over my life in a way that the previous experience did not.  I at least had a few hours to myself working in the public school system to relax or to reflect.”  When asked to be more specific, he said,  “Much more of a disciplinarian—more actively engaged in delivering the consequences that we had as part of the discipline plan.  And that was a very strict code of conduct.” 
         Later in the interview, this same high school teacher pointed to the “militant” culture of his No Excuses KIPP school as the thing he would change first about KIPP if he could.  He also noted the bitter irony he found in KIPP’s desire to change student behavior, while remaining entirely silent about changing the conditions of the students’ impoverished community:
I would change the culture of the school.  It’s way too militant.  I think the whole no excuses thing kind of drives this idea of every individual being accountable for his or her own circumstances in life…. I guess I wish that poverty was addressed and that the KIPP organization took up more genuine concern with the current state of education and inequality, because they always talk about closing the achievement gap.  But it’s just like, again, there’s no mention of doing things in the community or improving circumstances for people in ____________.  Nothing about some of the reasons things are so bad in the first place for people.  There’s no real engagement of those topics, and so the students just sometimes feel, I think, like they’re carrying a huge burden because they’re told that there’s this certain strict set of behaviors, that if you don’t meet expectation, it’s all your fault—it’s up to you sort of thing.
         The milder form of teacher “militancy” takes the form of what KIPP calls  “preaching.” One teacher from a New York KIPP school described a “preach” that came about after a visit from the Executive Director, who had begun screaming at a student when he saw a pushing incident during his walkthrough.  This embarrassing breach in the rules (no one was embarrassed by the screaming) during the Director’s visit led later to a “preach” by the school leader that had students “taken down,” quite literally, as desks were pushed to the back of the room before students were brought in silently and lined up in their assigned seating arrangement, but on the floor. 
The floor treatment was part of being “taken down.”  His description offers this look inside KIPP Model culture:
. . . there was this issue around pushing, and the reason it came to a head is because this Executive Director was in our school, kind of doing a walk through, and he saw this boy push this other boy, and they were best friends, and he got really mad at them, screamed at them. 
         They both got suspended, and then we had to have a whole class meeting where the principal came to preach, and that meant that the kids – my classroom was taken down, like the desks and chairs were all moved to the back; the kids would come in and sit down in their rows, and they have their independent reading book with them, so they had to be silent, read their independent reading book until it was time for the principal to preach.  Then they put the books down, everything out of their hands, hands in their lap. 
         And then the principal did this kind of like—created a narrative, and it was usually around a single theme.  She would say something like, “Okay, I want you to think of the number seven; keep the number seven in your mind,” and then the whole speech would be around this concept, and for her the concept . . . was the seven spots—that there were seven openings in our incoming fifth-grade class left, and that there were 350 families or something that wanted those spots—she was telling them that there are 350 people trying to get seven spots.  Well, what does that tell you about our school—how many people want to be here, and how fortunate you are to have your spot here, and when you do things like push in line you’re really jeopardizing—you’re not playing your part in the KIPP community. 
         She didn’t threaten them like they were going to get kicked out.  It wasn’t like that, but it was reminding them of how privileged and special they were to be there, and that this kind of behavior isn’t what KIPP is about.  So, it was like a lecture….And different teachers did it differently.  I mean, I saw other teachers do more of a class conversation.  But the way we were instructed during professional development was to just preach at the kids, and lecture them about character.  Yeah, the preaching was always about character. 


They have to be KIPPnotized early on . . . --Mike Feinberg (Smith, 2005b)

The initial phase of KIPP performance character building and enculturation is known as “KIPP-notizing” (Brancaccio, 2007), and it is a central socialization component of the program that has received much less attention from the media than the test scores of KIPPsters who survive at KIPP long enough to take the state tests.  The first dose of KIPP-notizing occurs during three-week summer sessions leading up to initial enrollment. 
In 2005, The Washington Post published these details the initial KIPP-nosis for new fifth graders:
Mornings at the summer program at one of the District's newest public charter schools typically began with the principal, Khala Johnson, striding down the aisles between tables in the cafeteria/auditorium/gym commanding the students to get funky. "Give me a beat!" she shouted, her shoulder-length dreadlocks shaking.
The 80 or so fifth-graders obliged, stomping their feet and pounding on the tables. On the fourth beat, the chanting began: "You got to read, baby, read! You got to read, baby, read! 'Cause reading is knowledge and knowledge is power, the power for college and I want it!"
It's called "KIPPnotizing" -- what officials at KIPP DC: AIM Academy say is their way of indoctrinating students into a culture of high expectations (Haynes, 2005, para 1-3).
New students must learn the SLANT rules, which mean to “sit up straight, look and listen, ask and answer questions, nod to show understanding, [and] track the speaker” (Browne, 2009, p. 58). Students learn that any rule infraction will bring an instant corrective response, and they learn that the smallest misdeed will be no more tolerated than the most egregious offense.  They learn that teachers or principals may, without warning, begin “preaching,” which means to loudly castigate rule breakers and to provide long-winded explanations for why rules are as they are. 
New KIPP enrollees practice walking in a silent straight line, getting off the bus the KIPP way, sitting silently in the cafeteria, flawlessly following directions, and going to the bathroom only at times that are appointed for that.  Learning to be silent starts early during KIPP-notizing.  New fifth graders are gathered together to comprehend “important aspects of KIPP” and how KIPP is different from the schools they have known in the past. 
Students learn “how to walk silently in line, to never shout out and distract the speaker, use hand signals for asking to go to the bathroom or asking to get a drink of water or asking to sharpen a pencil without having to interrupt the class.”  At one KIPP school, a teacher said,…there were lines painted on the concrete walkways and they would line up when it was time to switch for their next class, and they would walk in a single file line to their next class, not talking.

“Scowling teachers and silent kids”
         New KIPP students learn that silence is the rule of the realm for students.  While screaming, yelling, preaching, and ranting are common practices for teachers and school leaders at KIPP schools, much of it springs from the inability to keep children entirely silent for most of the school day.  Those students who comply with the expectations for silence and submission are rewarded with dollars added to paychecks that travel with them from room to room. 
This system allows teachers to see how students behave in other classes, without using academic time to ask what kind of day the students might be having.  Those students who don’t submit to the enforced silence are punished with isolation, labeling, public humiliation, repetitious writing chores, written apologies, subtracted paycheck dollars, or a scream event.  One teacher told me that at his school, which used the “bench” to isolate troublemakers, “the ones that were on bench for a long time, they weren’t meeting the expectation of being silent.” 
As for teachers, those who have difficulty maintaining the enforced silence find themselves under the supervisory microscope much of the time.  The emphasis on silence certainly provides an unadvertised counterweight to the emphasis that KIPP puts on the “joy factor.”  Specific protocols for maintaining silence vary from school to school, but all former KIPP teachers recounted experiences where enforced silence provided a school climate that one teacher called the “iron curtain.”
The KIPP Model requires silence for most of the school day, and for some schools, silence is required even on the bus to and from school.  One former KIPP teacher said  “there were very little opportunities for any kind of social interaction at school that I recognized from my own experience in school as healthy social school interactions between students.”  Breakfasts, which begin around 7:10 AM, are expected be silent work time. 
One teacher’s first memory of KIPP was the beginning of her interview day, when just after 7 AM “I went in to the cafeteria where all teachers were and the kids were all eating a silent breakfast.”  Homerooms, or “advisory,” are expected to be entirely silent, with teachers poring over homework assignments to make sure they are complete while students do “morning work,” which could be a crossword puzzle or a worksheet or some other task to distract them from the desire to interact. 
If work is missing or sloppy, a note must be made for each child, which will have explicit consequences.  Silence is maintained at all times, except during chanting or singing, or when students raise their hands to answer or ask a question.  Lunches at some KIPP schools offer a few moments to interact with others, but the privilege can easily be lost by talking too loudly.  Transitions between classes are silent, too, with students walking in straight lines near the wall. 
One teacher saw the long hours of sitting in silence as contributing to hostility and tension within the classroom:  “If you never saw [the] outside until 5:00, I think anybody would be hostile, and we saw constantly those four walls and those children. . .it was prison for them—the desks were their prison.  They would sit at those desks all day, at that same desk all day, so they were definitely hostile.”
         The student privilege of talking at lunch has to be earned by remaining silent during lunch for the first two weeks of school.  When students demonstrated they were unworthy of this privilege, silent lunches were demanded:  “so for the first two weeks, everybody is silent in lunch. And following that, if your grade level earns the right, you can earn the right to talk at lunch, or lose it again.”  Another teacher noted “lunches were often silent, depending on the mood of the administrator looking over lunch that day. 
         One teacher who had worked at two different KIPP schools found lunch very different at the two schools.  At one school, students who weren’t on the “bench” having a segregated lunch were allowed to go into the courtyard during lunch.  At the other school, however, lunch had much more in common with descriptions from other teachers:
All of the kids would file into the cafeteria silently, take their seats, take out a book and start reading, and eat their lunch silently. After all of the kids were seated and reading, then they would be allowed to talk at a level-two volume to the people that were in their vicinity, but they weren’t allowed to get up and leave the tables, to go to the bathroom unless they had permission from a teacher. They weren’t allowed to get up and throw something away or to get napkins unless they had permission from a teacher.
         One of the teachers who “was eating with the kids…to keep them quiet” offered what she understood to be the rationale for silent lunches:  “Rather than having them be loud and rowdy and then trying to go to class next period, you know, they were silent and they were focused. And on one hand I can kind of get where she is coming from…but on the other hand you have to remember that you are dealing with middle schoolers, and they need to get that energy out.”
         Except for the two teachers from states with duty free lunch mandated by law, the KIPP teachers were with their students during lunch.  During lunch, they were “expected to sort of regulate the students….You don’t have any time to eat during lunch, which is a 30-minute time period.  You are responsible for your children.  You have to be inside the lunchroom.  If you were to eat lunch, you would have to walk around and eat a sandwich real quick that you made at home in the morning or the night before.” 
         Some KIPP schools have what is termed “academic lunch,” where students who come to school with unfinished homework must complete their work as they eat.  Sometimes it is held in the lunchroom, and at other schools, students on “academic lunch” must eat at their desks.  Others have “lunch detention,” whereby students are assigned to a teacher who maintains silence among offenders during that time. 
         KIPP lunch is commonly a half-hour, but because students must line up silently and walk silently to the cafeteria in single file, both teachers and students usually have 15-20 minutes to eat.  When students were allowed to talk during lunch, one teacher noted that “many lunches were turned into silent lunches simply because the volume got too loud in the cafeteria.”
         It is not uncommon for KIPP schools to locate in office buildings without kitchens, cafeterias, libraries, art rooms, or other physical elements we normally associate with school.  One such teacher I talked with taught in a 20x20 basement room with no windows, where she was in charge of thirty children.  Lunches were delivered, and it was her job, as well as her colleagues’, to assemble the lunches, pass them out, maintain 100 percent silence, and keep children from eating until all children received every part of the meal:
So one thing that the teachers had to do, every teacher, was to assemble lunches for the 30-something kids in your class. So I’m here with my 30 kids in this 20 by 20 room, and I’m assembling their lunches. And they sit down. And again, this is just telling. They sit down and they’re not allowed to talk during lunch. And they’re not allowed to eat until everyone has received every part of the meal.
         The pressure cooker created by enforced silence is compounded at some KIPP schools on interim assessments (IA) days, which are monthly tests to determine if the school is on course to pass the next state test.  On IA days, one teacher told me that children are not even allowed any interaction the entire day:  “the days that they take these tests, the entire day they are not allowed to talk at all, or they automatically get detention even if they whisper.”
         The enforced silence takes a toll normal child development, and it also curtails KIPP teachers’ ability to get to know and, therefore, understand their students.   One teacher said, “Keeping the kids silent during most of the day was just something I found extremely hard, especially in the morning when I want to greet a child or say hello or catch up on the weekend.  We weren’t allowed to do that.” 
Another teacher said that it was the “silent lunches and the silent lines” that he remembered most as a low point at KIPP:  “for me that just sucks the life out of it [teaching], and I think I had really amazing kids there who I never got to know until right towards the end.”  Just before leaving KIPP, this teacher, in defiance of the administration, asked students to write personal narratives, which he then discussed with them.  This last assignment turned out to be his high point at KIPP. 
         Although most of the teachers who shared their stories were middle school teachers, silence reigns, it seems, in the high schools and elementary levels as well.  One high school teacher who left in mid-year to take a job with a big pay cut, said, “Most lunches were supposed to be silent.  And we were supposed to walk around and make sure the kids were being absolutely quiet, as though we were in a prison.” 
All teachers had lunch duty at this high school, and most of the teachers were very young.  This teacher who left mid-year was not:  “They [administrators and teachers] were so worried about keeping kids quiet during the lunchroom, which, to be honest, never made any sense to me. It makes sense to a 23 year-old. But it’s not prison. A 15 or 16 year-old isn’t just a student. They’re still a kid. And they want to talk to their friends.”
         As noted already, minimizing distraction from academic purposes appears to be a primary purpose of maintaining silence, and no one would argue against the need for classrooms to be orderly for learning to be optimized.  The fixation on a totalizing silence, however, disallows the kinds in interactions that can optimize learning levels that require understanding, analysis, synthesis, and application.  Since these are surely academic skills that are highly valued by society and that are placed at the top of most learning taxonomies, we have to accept that there are other reasons that KIPP classrooms are kept silent, except for the group chanting and singing.
New KIPP students must learn that rules apply inside and outside of school.  “Miscreants” must learn, for instance, that isolation and ostracism from the KIPP “team and family” is total as long as administered punishments last, and children who talk to “miscreants” at or away from school risk the same punishment if apprehended.   In fact, it becomes the duty of other students to report offenders who are associating in any way with “miscreants” who become temporary untouchables. If they do not, they, too, risk the same punishment.  New recruits, then, learn compliance through both coercion and constant surveillance.

Learning Compliance to Earn a Desk
         An element of KIPP-notizing that the mainstream media has largely ignored is the common practice of requiring new or returning students to sit on the floor until they earn their desks and classrooms.   Evidence of children forced to sit on the floor as a form of punishment first surfaced in 2009, when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Vogell, 2009) published a story about angry parents who had removed their children from the school as a result of excessive punishment:
The parents said a group of children were mistreated by teachers who separated them from their peers in class and at lunch. The students, parents said, reported sitting on the floor and said one girl urinated on herself after not being allowed to use the restroom immediately.
         School administrators said they erred in not calling parents as soon as their children got in trouble. First-year principal Jondré Pryor said he also should have done more to warn parents about the high expectations for conduct, as well as academics.
         “I’m really saddened that the kids are gone,” Pryor said.
         David Jernigan, executive director of KIPP Metro Atlanta, said the group has no plans to remove the administrators or teachers involved, adding, “We sincerely have learned from this mistake” (para 3-6).
One Atlanta student was removed after he told his parent, India Wood, “I can’t take them yelling at me 10 hours today” (para 13).  Parent Cordelia Johnson said, “I just feel like these kids have been mistreated.  They shouldn’t have to sacrifice the emotional for the academic” (para 14).
         Two years later another Journal-Constitution reporter (Dodd, 2011) found that, at the same KIPP school in Fulton County, eighth graders obtain “classrooms and desks when they demonstrate they have earned them by meeting their student goals.” This quote is from the photo caption (Dodd, 2011), which shows 8th grade KIPP students sitting on the floor in neat rows doing their school work.
This reality was confirmed by one of the former middle school teachers interviewed for this book, who reported that during KIPP-notizing, students “wouldn’t have desks at first, so they would sit on the floor and that’s how they would have class at first and then they were teaching how to SLANT, how to track the teacher and making sure that they keep their eyes on the teacher. . . . they had to earn their desks and they had to earn that chair.” 
Another KIPP middle school teacher recounted a most harrowing part of her KIPP-notizing experiences, when I asked her near the end of our interview if she had anything else she would like share about KIPP.  This teacher witnessed one hundred fifth graders, in a room designed for 30 children, who were forced to sit on the floor during the first week of KIPP-notizing (Horn, 2013).  She seemed relieved to finally have the opportunity to share her story:
TEACHER: One thing I did want to tell you was, we started school the middle of July. And they did something totally illegal. And I knew then that I didn’t want to work there anymore. For the fifth-graders coming into the school for the first time, they sat 100 fifth-graders on the floor of one class in rows for a week, 100 fifth-graders in one classroom for a week until they could follow directions. And at that point, I said, why am I here? . . . .
INTERVIEWER:  . . . .This was during the, what is sometimes referred to as the KIPP-notizing. . . ?
INTERVIEWER: And what do these children do all day if they were sitting on the floor?
TEACHER: They would sit there and do homework on the floor. They would fill in forms and pass them. And they had to all do it correctly, otherwise, they’d do it again and again and again. And so what we would do, by Thursday, all the teachers would vote . . . , should we let them go into desks? In front of them, we had to vote. You know? And I voted yes, put them in desks. You know? It’s like treating like animals. They weren’t animals. They were children. And so by Friday, I think they figured, well, a week is long enough. You know? And so we all voted, yeah, let them go in the desks. And that’s how they decided to go in the desks.
INTERVIEWER: Did all the teachers have to vote yes before they were given desks?
TEACHER: Yeah. Yeah. But we were encouraged to vote yes. Is that a KIPP thing to do? I don't know. But you wouldn’t do that ever in a public school.
INTERVIEWER: I’m sure you wouldn’t. I’ve heard of children sitting on the floor, but I haven’t heard of 100 in a single room.
TEACHER: It was 100. It was all the fifth-graders in a classroom.
INTERVIEWER: And this is like a classroom designed for 30 desks?
TEACHER: Yes. They were stuffed in. They were stuffed in.
INTERVIEWER:  How many teachers were in this room during this time?
TEACHER: Five. I think five teachers were there. And the principal would walk in every once in a while.
. . . .
INTERVIEWER: So when all these children were sitting there, they were sitting there at all times unless they were going to recess or going to lunch?
TEACHER: Right. And those were only, I think those were only minimum days also. So it wasn’t like eight hours. It was, like, four hours.
INTERVIEWER: OK. So they were there for half day.
TEACHER: Yeah, they were there for half day. You know? I don't think they had PE, but they did have lunch and they did have recess.
INTERVIEWER: OK. So they were just on the floor for four hours. So when the children got their desks, were they sent into different classrooms?
TEACHER: Yes, they were, three different classrooms, yes.
INTERVIEWER: And what was the reaction among students and among teachers?
TEACHER: Once they went to classroom?
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, once they got their desks.
TEACHER: They were a lot happier, because they had their own place to put their backpack. They had their own places to put books. They had their own place to put stuff. You know? They had their own space. And they needed that. They needed their own space. They needed to feel comfortable being an individual, not just being a classmate (Horn, 2013).
         While some KIPP schools require children to earn a desk, it is not uncommon for children to lose their desks for rule infractions.  One teacher offered a sampling of offenses that could lead to losing desk privileges for minutes, hours, or days:
If they were to talk to somebody when they were in line, if they didn’t have their homework done, if their homework was messy, if their shirt wasn’t tucked in, you know those are the minor ones all the way to if they were being disrespectful or bullying to a fellow student, they could get on it for rolling their eyes at a teacher, for talking back to a teacher, for talking during lunch, for talking during breakfast.
At the completion of weeks of intense KIPP-notizing, students become KIPPsters with the ritual of receiving the KIPP shirt (Browne, 2009, p. 58).  This symbolic reward and acknowledgement of new students becoming part of the KIPP “team and family” marks the conclusion of the initial indoctrination phase.  Some uniform shirts will carry the message, “Work Hard, Be Nice;” others will read, “No Shortcuts, No Excuses.”  Shirts are subject to being taken away for failure to comply with expectations, or sometimes students are forced to wear them inside out as a form of punishment.
KIPP was the creator and remains the exemplar of standardized No Excuses schooling.  Its extreme form of educational paternalism serves as a model for others focused, above all else, on improving achievement test scores and raising levels of “performance character.”  KIPP preaches the gospel of working hard and being nice as the ticket to some day escaping the ravages of social and economic deprivation, which remain off the radar screens and beyond the actionable concerns of KIPP’s elite supporters, whether venture philanthropists, bond investors, hedge funds, or corporate foundations that invest heavily in KIPP as the solution to the “poverty problem.”
For the children, as well as teachers, who have been indoctrinated to believe that they are captains of their own educational fates, they must wonder what character deficiencies prevent them from persisting and succeeding, as the majority of them will fall short of KIPP’s expectations. To avoid the attrition epidemic, themselves, the well-intentioned teachers, many of whom are neophytes from the best colleges, often attach themselves with unerring loyalty to the KIPP Model and the “attentive malevolence” that it engenders (Foucault, 1977, p. 137). 
In doing so, these teachers come to insist that they and their students make any sacrifice, pay any price, to overcome the social and economic obstacles that politicians and philanthropists find too risky to try to change.  In bearing the inhumane expectation of changing themselves in order to change their sociological realities, children are forced to give up being children.  They are forced to put KIPP’s demands above all else, as they are pried away from their community and family connections and forced to undergo a form of cultural neutering aimed to produce a ghettoized version of the white middle class child. 
Something similar happens to teachers at KIPP, as their family and friends move to the background and KIPP takes over the foreground.   Personal health needs become sacrificed to the grinding acceptance that “anything less than total exhaustion indicates a falling short of the mark of complete professionalism” (Brookfield, 2004, p. 101).  As we know, many students and teachers fall by the wayside as a result.  This book offers some of the stories of former teachers who could no longer accept or enforce the KIPP Model’s form of educational “enslavement with pride” (p. 101). 
The insistence on “complete professionalism” masks a paternalistic No Excuses rationale that results in an authoritarian organizational model that easily breeds a “dark moral nihilism” (Hedges, 2009). This nihilism infects teachers and school leaders and suffuses the KIPP school climate with an irrational hardness, where vulnerable and high needs children are subjected to control measures and psychological interventions that are carried out without public oversight. 
The consideration of any shortcoming as another excuse for not performing as expected encourages a hardness and single-minded focus by school leaders and teachers that is often abusive and unsympathetic to reality.  The result is a psychological machismo celebrated among KIPP school leaders, which mimics the heedless “let the stallions run” mentality (Mathews, 2009a) that began when David Levin and Mike Feinberg were Teach for America recruits.  
The KIPP Model embodies a predominating expectation of exceptionalism and even superhuman feats from inexperienced and vulnerable teachers, most of whom lack the teaching background or training to understand that what is expected of them is imbued with a sadistic quality. Chris Hedges (2009) describes this phenomenon and quotes from Theodore Adorno:
He [Adorno] knew that radical evil was possible only with the collaboration of a timid, cowed and confused population….He feared a culture that banished the anxieties and complexities of moral choice and embraced a childish hyper-masculinity….[Hedges quoting Adorno:] “This educational ideal of hardness, in which many may believe without reflecting about it, is utterly wrong. . . .The idea that virility consists in the maximum degree of endurance long ago became a screen-image for masochism that, as psychology has demonstrated, aligns itself all too easily with sadism” (pp. 91-92).
         One teacher that I interviewed recounted an incident of unhealthy “masochism” at her school, which had become a subject of lore and that carried with it a moral: no sacrifice for KIPP is too much:
. . .this one teacher I am talking about had been in the hospital for a major operation of some kind. He was in for awhile. And he had gotten out in a wheelchair with an IV drip—and he came back to his classroom. I think it was before a test. And they joked about it, like, ha, remember when that happened? And it was just, like, no, that’s terrible. You know, people coming in sick, them [school leaders] telling us, ‘we don’t care if you're sick.’ You come in anyway—we can’t be absent for the kids.
         Another teacher I talked with found it necessary to take off for a year following her KIPP experience, which left her with “a PTSD thing.”  She said that year was spent on the Web trying to find others who could help her understand the trauma she felt:
I do go on the Internet and try to find stuff about KIPP. What’s going on, what are people saying, what are people writing . . . . Because it is healing in a way to be able to know, yeah that’s right, it wasn’t just me, even though I know that I am still looking for outside validation because it was such a horrendous time. As I am talking to you about this, my hands are sweaty, my feet are clammy, so I mean it brings up a lot. It was a really hard time.
It is not uncommon for KIPP teachers to feel pressure to push themselves to the breaking point.   One said, “There’s just this assumption that you're on [duty] all the time, and any hour that you're awake is one that you're doing things for the kids.  And if you don’t, you don’t care about them. And that’s pretty much it.  It’s like you give your life.”  This same teacher, too, noted a kind of contagious masochism that ensued among teachers who competed with one another to take on even more duties than required, such as covering the classes for teachers who had to be absent from school. 
         To understand how the intense and, sometimes, disturbing accounts by former KIPP teachers fit the broader social and political contexts for education policy and No Excuses schooling practices, we must first understand the background from which current economic motives, corporate steering aims, test-based accountability practices, and productivity measures for K-12 education have emerged and gained ascendancy. How other education purposes and aims generally associated with humanistic and communitarian ends have been supplanted by corporate education reforms is the subject taken up next by Scott Ellison.

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