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

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Understanding KIPP Model Charter Schools, Part 10

In the Part 9 from Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys through "No Excuses" Teaching, Barbara Veltri provided some details on the role that Teach for America plays in sustaining the paternalistic "no excuses" corporate reform schools. Part 10 picks up where that chapter left off.  

For previous posts in this series, google "Understanding KIPP Model Charter Schools."

Chapter 10
“KIPP is grad school for TFA gluttons for punishment”
If you were in TFA and it wasn’t punishing enough for you, then KIPP is right up your alley. (KIPP teacher, 1166)

You cannot teach someone to be a great teacher in twenty days.  (KIPP teacher and TFA trainer, 1178)
         Teach for America and KIPP Model schools maintain a mutually-supportive ideological bond and business relationship. Without the 30-40 percent of KIPP teachers who are presently or formerly TFA corps members, KIPP and its total compliance charter emulators would be hard-pressed to find enough teachers to maintain their operations.  At the same time, TFA alums with aspirations for leadership benefit greatly from schools No Excuses charters.  For without KIPP and the other No Excuses charter chains, TFA alumni, with their two years of teaching experience, would have few opportunities to move into school leader positions and without the requisite administrative and leadership training that is typically required of public school administrators. 
Some KIPP Model schools prefer teachers who have matriculated from TFA, while others like to recruit first-year TFA teachers so that they “they don’t have to unlearn ‘bad’ teaching habits.”  Another KIPP teacher noted that TFA alumni do particularly well at KIPP because they are naïve and have “the mindset of a missionary” who “believes that kids need to be broken before we can build them up.”
         Seven of the former No Excuses interviewed were former TFA corps members, and all of them had received repeated solicitous emails about KIPP through their TFA email accounts.  One teacher formed specific expectations regarding what KIPP would be like from the emails that she received while working as a TFA teacher in a public school in the Bronx.  Not surprisingly, the emails focused on expectations, order, outcomes, team, and leadership:
I think my expectations going in were that there was going to be some real consistency at a school level regarding expectations for academic achievement and discipline.  I was excited to feel part of a larger community. . . . . I was excited to be part of a team.  From an expectation standpoint, I figured I would be working very hard and that I would be part of a team and that by deploying the KIPP approach, that we would be able to generate some significant outcomes.  I also felt like the principal at my school was a really dynamic leader…
         Another former TFA member who found out about KIPP during her TFA service was more explicit about the ongoing mythologizing of KIPP that happens during the TFA teaching stint, as well as KIPP’s “harvesting” of TFA alumni as they transition out of their TFA-assigned schools.  She indicated that TFA, too, engaged in efforts to “funnel” or “channel” those leaving their assigned schools into the KIPP organization or into “TFA staff positions.”  She said that there was a “constant barrage” of communications urging alumni to “stay affiliated in some way:” 
. . . from the very beginning of my experience, from the five week training program that Teach for America employs, all the way through my two year commitment, KIPP was really sort of mythologized as the end-all, be-all, the ideal model for a classroom of high achieving students, from day one of joining Teach for America and seeing videos of KIPP classrooms, up until towards the end of my two year commitment when I was considering next steps, KIPP really actively coming in and harvesting new employees from core members who were finishing up their two year commitment.  It was always something that was before me over the course of my two years with Teach for America.  I really started to feel like I was being recruited into almost the next phase of my TFA experience towards the end of my second year as I was preparing to transition into being an alumni.
TFA encouraged her to submit a resume to the KIPP database, and soon after she did, she began receiving emails and phone calls from KIPP administrators “trying to gauge my interest in coming on board with a KIPP school.”  This teacher talked about how she was conditioned at TFA “to believe that if there’s any slacking of will at any point—if there’s any departure from these philosophies and precepts [of total commitment], which I think are held in common with KIPP (they just look different), then that’s a sign of someone giving up.” 
She talked of regularly feeling tired and of feeling guilty for being tired, as admitting tiredness could be a sign of flagging commitment:  “It’s almost this idea of a fundamentalist cult.  Someone’s not allowed to question, someone’s not allowed to doubt.  If they do, that means that they’re fallen; that means that they’re out.  There’s no room for conversation.  There’s no room for nuance.” 
         When asked how this conditioning was reinforced, she said that because she had “a very positive relationship” with her closest supervisors at TFA, they shared their disappointments with her in regards to her peers who were members of the same TFA cohort:
I know that the way that they would talk to me about certain peers of mine, who were the same year in the program, the way that they would talk about some of those peers who were less committed, or some of those peers who were starting to balk under some of the expectations, or thinking about doing something after the two year experience that had nothing to do with education, had nothing to do with Teach For America, there was always a tone, an undercurrent. 
This teacher said she found a similar insistence on staying connected to KIPP in the plaque she was given when she left: “the only reason I have it on my wall is because all my students signed it and I appreciate looking at what they had to say.  But the centerpiece of it [says] ‘once a KIPPster, always a KIPPster’.”
          Another former KIPP teacher referred to how a “self-sacrifice ideology” was common among successful TFA and KIPP teachers.  To her this represented the “scariest type” of successful KIPP teacher:  “Those that just stay in it and feel that there is nothing else left better to do.  They do not have a life.  I have some teammates; they don’t talk to their family regularly.  They don’t eat healthy….They are at work until 9-10 o’clock at night.  KIPP is their life.  Anything KIPP, they’re there, even on Saturdays and Sundays.” 
One teacher talked of a type of TFA-KIPP synergism that had devastating effects on one of her colleagues at KIPP, who was also an active TFA enlistee at the time:
We have a Teach for America corps member, who is an outstanding English I teacher from the region.  She was denied leave after having several anxiety attacks.  The ambulance actually came to our school to pick her up.  She has been neglected by our instructional coach in the school.  She has been told that she has to model our instructional coach and the other powers that be.  She has had bronchitis on many different days.  She has been yelled at and told, ‘Oh you look fine,’ even though she was about to pass out and eventually collapsed that same day, from not taking off.  She is going to quit Teach for America.  She is going to quit KIPP and between the two, they have run her ragged.

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