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

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Understanding KIPP Model Charter Schools, Part 13: The Reach of the KIPP Model

With the help of the media and national marketing campaigns paid for by white philanthropists and their hedge fund managers, the "no excuses" KIPP Model has had a huge impact on others charter schools, as well as on public schools that serve the poor.  

Below is Chapter 13 from Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys through 'No Excuses' Teaching (2016).  

Chapter 13

The Reach of the KIPP Model

During the early years of charter schools, policymakers who were eager to see various types of charters expand emphasized the philosophy of “let a thousand flowers bloom,” which led to new charter school growth with a variety of pedagogical approaches and organizational options.  By 2009, however, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was looking to discourage the proliferation of models and to replicate and scale up the test score successes among the charter school industry’s “biggest brands” (Toch, 2009, p. 26). 
With most of funded charter research focused on test score successes of KIPP, the influence of the KIPP Model reaches far beyond the KIPP’s 183 schools.  For the 6,700 other charter schools with 2.89 million students (in 2015), the KIPP Model has been and remains the charter school system to emulate. 
With billions of dollars in federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grants available in 2009-2010 to fund new charter schools to replace as many as 5,000 low-scoring public schools nationwide, highly touted charter models like KIPP suddenly became even more prominent.  Even in 2009, the short list of highly regarded charter chains, which included Aspire, Green Dot, Yes Prep, and Uncommon Schools, all sought to emulate the longer hours, high expectation, and No Excuses of KIPP. 
By 2014, there were more than a dozen other highly-touted charter networks emulating the No Excuses and “joyful rigor” of the KIPP Model. These charter chains and those that share their commitment to the No Excuses ideology received the lion’s share of RTTT grant money designated to charter schools in 2010 and 2011, as well as from other federal charter grant programs in those years and since. In October 2014, for instance, the US DOE Charter School Program (CSP) announced $39.7 million in grants to “expand high quality charter schools,” with almost $36 million of that total going to KIPP and the charter networks listed below.  KIPP received more than third of the total ($13,789,074):
Achievement First Public Charter Schools (29 sites NY, CT, RI)
Alliance College-Ready Public Schools
(26 sites CA)
American Quality Schools
(8 sites IL, IN)
Ascend Learning (11 sites NY)
Aspire Public Schools (38 sites CA, TN)
Concept Schools
(32 sites OH, IL)
Gestalt Community Schools (4 sites TN)
Green Dot Public Schools
(22 sites CA, TN)
Harmony Public Schools (43 sites TX)
IDEA Public Schools (18 sites TX)
LEAD Public Schools (5 sites TN)
Lighthouse Academies
(18 sites AK, IL, IN, MI, NY, OK, WI)
Mastery Charter Schools
(17 sites NJ)
Noble Network of Charter Schools
(17 sites IL)
Partnerships to Uplift Communities
(16 sites CA)
St. HOPE Public Schools (4 sites CA)
Success Academy Charter Schools (32 sites NYC)
Uncommon Schools (41 sites NY, NJ, MA)
Uplift Education (13 sites TX)
Yes Prep (14 sites TX, TN)
The federal Charter School Program (CSP) was funded at $253 million in 2014, and President Obama’s 2015 budget requested $375 million.  A powerful charter advocacy group, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, announced its goal, however, of $500 million per year for the CSP. 
Outside the charter movement, the KIPP Model has also had an impact in how school is conducted. With increasing frequency, the public schools in urban areas that are fighting to survive the next round of school closings have taken to emulating KIPP’s unrelenting focus (Dillon, 2011) on test scores, the harsh behavioral codes, the inculcation of performance character traits, and the marginalization of subjects and activities that are not tested.  Even if KIPP were to disappear overnight, its influence would likely continue for some time, as the grammar, syntax, and tone of urban schooling have taken on a number of KIPP’s more antediluvian aspects disinterred from previous generations.
            Along with interviews conducted with former KIPP teachers, three teachers from two other No Excuses charter networks shared their stories for this book.  One was from Ascend Learning, Inc. and the other two were St. Hope Public Schools, Inc.  These teachers the questions asked of former KIPP teachers, and the overlap of their responses was striking.  This should come as no surprise, perhaps, since both charter chains share organizational and pedagogical features derived from the KIPP Model.  At Ascend Learning (2015), for instance, their website states,
At Ascend, teachers assertively shape students’ habits, values, and aspirations. Teachers hold stark convictions: knowledge is the ticket to a better future. Effort, not talent, is the determinant of success, and students are the masters of their own destinies. They can beat the odds, there are no shortcuts, and the goal for every child is college.
At St. HOPE Public Schools, KIPP’s Five Pillars provide the schools’ philosophical and strategic orientation, even though no credit or citation is offered on St. Hope’s website (St. Hope, n.d.):
These basic principles form the five pillars are responsible [sic] for the success of St. HOPE Public Schools.
1. High Expectations
St. HOPE Public Schools has high expectations for academic achievement and conduct that are clearly defined, measurable, and make no excuses based on the background of students. Students, parents, teachers, and staff create and reinforce a culture of achievement and support, through a range of formal and informal rewards and consequences for academic performance and behavior.
2. Choice and Commitment
Students, their parents, and the staff of St. HOPE Public Schools choose to participate in the program. No one is assigned or forced to attend. Everyone must make and uphold a commitment to their school and to each other to put in the time and effort required to achieve success.
3. More Time
St. HOPE Public Schools knows that there are no shortcuts when it comes to success in academics and life. With an extended school day, week, and year, students have more time in the classroom to acquire the academic knowledge and skills that prepare them for competitive colleges, as well as more opportunities to engage in diverse extracurricular experiences.
4. Focus on Results
St. HOPE Public Schools focuses relentlessly on high student performance through standardized tests and other objective measures. Just as there are no shortcuts, there are no exceptions. Students are expected to achieve a level of academic performance that will enable them to succeed in the nation’s best colleges and the world beyond.
5. Power to Lead
St. HOPE Public Schools strongly believes the measure of a person’s success is in what he or she gives to others. Through community service, students develop a strong sense of civic responsibility and establish the foundation for a lifetime of meaningful community involvement. Students also deepen and demonstrate their learning, are empowered to become leaders, and impact the community in which they live.
As at KIPP, St. HOPE depends heavily on Teach for America teachers.  At St. HOPE’s middle school, PS7, 15 of the 18 teachers were active TFA corps members in 2014, and one other teacher was a former corps member.  One of the former St. HOPE teachers noted, “our principal, our deans, our superintendent, our HR people, our teachers that get recognized frequently, are all Teach for America alumni.” She said that with St. HOPE’s embrace of TFA, the  “. . . culture completely shifted. And it turned into a teach-to-the-test type environment. And you know, suddenly all of our administration, there were tons of turnover, and then there were tons of turnovers as far as teachers are concerned—so the St. Hope now is just a completely different place than it was three or four years ago.”
Whether we are examining teaching strategies, curriculum, stress levels, management, discipline, attrition, school environment, parent relations, or intended outcomes, similar issues and problems are encountered by No Excuses charter school teachers, whether at KIPP or one of the many KIPP knockoffs.  The teacher from Brooklyn Ascend, for instance, found that questioning the school leader’s decisions “wasn’t tolerated,” and that “teachers were treated with the same total compliance attitude as the children were.”
After being denied a day off near the end of the school year to help a friend who had injured himself in an accident, the audacity to “question things” earned him a blunt invitation from the school leader to resign:
My friend had fallen down the stairs.  I needed to take the day.  It was the third day that I'd asked to take off the whole year.  The other two times I was sick.  I didn't feel like I was screwing anybody over by taking that day.  My friend needed the help, [but] our school Director, he didn't want to hear it.  He told me that it seems that I had recently stopped being part of their mission, and that it wasn't helpful to have somebody on the team that wasn't part of the mission.  He said that I should resign.
She said the first year teachers from TFA “got the least grief” because they did not ask questions and were good at following directions: “if they had to read a script that says, ‘now watch while I show you how to do this,’ then they’d do it.”  As with many KIPP schools, Ascend Learning’s strict use of Doug Lemov’s Teach like a champion provides justification for total compliance for both students and teachers: “There is one acceptable percentage of students following a direction: 100 percent. Less, and your authority is subject to interpretation, situation, and motivation”  (Lemov, 2010, p. 168).  Translated into practice, Lemov’s “technique #36” became part of an authoritarian mandate that crippled this teacher’s capacity to be an effective teacher:
Lemov's idea is that if you don't have one hundred percent compliance—one hundred percent authority—then others will think they can question.  There's something to that, maybe, but I think that idea just got taken way, way too far at the school I was at.  If a kid even giggles.  The kids weren't even allowed to giggle.  If a student giggled too loud, we had to mark it down that they were being disruptive.  If I'm reading a story aloud, I'm okay with my kids giggling every now and then.  That's what kids do.  That shows that they're listening.  It shows they're interested.  We had to mark it because any little misbehavior was a threat to the one hundred percent authority, and one hundred percent compliance.  It was just so exhausting, and it left no time.  I was there for a year, and I feel like I never got to know the kids.
As at KIPP, much of the school day was silent, even whole class trips to the bathroom followed the HALLS dictum:
Hands by your sides
Attention forward
Lines straight
Lines together
Silent always
When asked if there remained an image of Brooklyn Ascend that stands out to her, she said:
The image that comes to mind is this kid with mouth closed, with hands by his side, and really not looking happy.  There wasn't a lot of happiness there.  The image that comes to mind is kids with either their hands folded, or their hands by their side, with their mouths shut.  Also, really unhappy teachers.  I should have picked up on that, and I wish I had picked up on that before I ever started working there.  The teachers at that school—everybody just seemed annoyed and frustrated all the time.  There was so much scowling.  I got the impression that the kids were pests.   That's what comes to mind.
Another teacher who had worked at both KIPP and at St. HOPE had similar reactions to the total compliance enforcement.  She said she had learned a great deal working in a charter school before quitting to go to work in a public school, and that she was grateful for the experience.  However, she said, “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone who wanted to be a teacher for the long-term.”  When I asked why not, she said, “It’s exhausting. It’s demoralizing. And it’s just, there are parts of it that are kind of a joke, you know, as far as principals being promoted [from] within, after being teachers for two years, and things like that. You know, totally unqualified people running every aspect of the school.”
In comparing the two charter school environments, she found St. HOPE a “step down” from KIPP.  When I asked for specifics, she said:
It’s a step down from KIPP as far as the commitment, because they didn’t require us to host Saturday school, which was a requirement at KIPP. I had to be at school, you know, every Saturday. So PS7 did not require us to do that. PS7 did not require us to host students after school and provide them with dinner. You know, we didn’t have to do that. Whereas, at KIPP, we did.
            The other St. HOPE teacher had previously served as a teacher, teacher coach, and public school administrator at both the building and central office levels before returning to middle school teaching at St. HOPE.  She echoed a number of the concerns that I had heard from former KIPP teachers.  She felt pushed into an unfamiliar “mold” that she felt was “disrespectful to the students.”  As someone with a background in research, she found the school’s student expectations “very contrary to what research says about adolescent kids’ need to be able to grow and mature.” When I asked her to be specific she said,
…all of student movement and activity is controlled—l mean completely controlled by the adults. And by that I mean the expectation is that students aren’t supposed to be talking in the classroom, where my belief system says that children can’t learn if they can’t talk—and that structured opportunities to practice language are critical for all kids. 
            She was visited on a regular basis and told her she was “too nice to the kids” and “too soft on them.”  She found “the behavior that they modeled was, you know, very militaristic screaming at the kids—I mean, shouting.”  She found that all the students in the school “were expected to line up in silence, facing front, and accompanied by an adult for every transition in their day.” She said,
…we’d waste 10 minutes [at every transition] lining kids up to meet these expectations, making them, you know, stand silently for a few minutes, walk in silence. If they didn’t, stop them and, you know, do it again. And it just seems bizarre to me. And I tried to meet the expectations of the school, to behave in the way that I was expected to behave, but it just felt awful. I mean, it felt wrong in every way. And when I found myself shouting at kids I just said, this is not right. This is not who I am, and this is, I can’t do this.
            As at KIPP, St. HOPE uses the student paycheck as a way to control student behavior.  Students start the week with 100 dollars in their paycheck and must end the week with at least 70 dollars.  During the week, teachers must carry the clipboard with them at all times and record additions and deletions to student paycheck totals for any offense.  Students who got to Friday with less than 70 dollars on their checks were subjected to “culture reboot.” The offenders were escorted to lunch, where
. . .they would get their food and go eat lunch in silence in a large room that they had, and some of them would have to turn and actually face the wall, but they weren’t allowed to talk. So they had to eat their lunch in silence and then just sit there and do worksheets for the 90 minutes that was this electives period.
She said that everything about the control of movement and control of thinking left her with the sense that “everything about it was cult-like,” and the emphasis on team and school identity could not disguise a school environment where “kids do not feel connected to their school.”   Her realization that her first year with St. HOPE would be her last came on one of her many late evenings at school, as she tried to finish all the work that had be done the St. HOPE way:
I actually tried to drink the Kool-Aid for a while. And so I think there was really a moment where, you know, one of the many, many, many evenings that I was at the school site at nine o’clock trying to finish up what we were supposed to have done, just thinking, this is insane. This is certainly not good for me, and I really don’t think it’s good for them, and I just, I can’t drink the Kool-Aid anymore.
When asked what she would tell a friend who was thinking about applying at St. HOPE, she said, “I’d say, don’t do it. Don’t do it. Let me help you get a job somewhere else. I’ve helped three teachers leave there since I left. What I would tell them is to expect untenable work expectations that are very discouraging.”
New York Times Magazine reported in 2006 that KIPP, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, Amistad Academy in Connecticut, and North Star Academy in New Jersey consistently shared strategies and methods aimed to produce the high test scores.  That list of KIPP emulators has proliferated since then, and the emulation of KIPP methods with it.  For instance, KIPP’s SLANT model for classroom behavior (sitting up, listening, asking questions, nodding, and tracking the teacher) is a widely shared strategy among No Excuses charters.  New York Times reporter, Paul Tough (2006), noted that David Levin believes that, unlike KIPPsters, “Americans of a certain background learn these methods for taking in information early on and employ them instinctively” (para 39). 
Because KIPP students or the hundreds of thousands of other segregated charter students in No Excuses lockdown schools are not among those “Americans of a certain background,” they “need to be taught the methods explicitly.”  Perhaps more eyebrows would have been raised if No Excuses charter operators like Levin did not have gifted writers like Paul Tough to make the paternalists’ condescension at least vaguely couched.
If Tough had stated explicitly that Levin and Feinberg believe that brown and black children of poor parents must be explicitly programmed to sit up, listen, nod, and track the teacher in order to avoid chaos in the classroom, then the KIPP Model’s ideology of the “Broken Windows” paternalism would have been clear for all to see.  This would surely require the re-framing of the civil rights rhetoric of No Excuses schooling, at least from those elites not entirely sanguine about corporate missionary work aimed to isolate and treat, by behavioral and neurological alteration, the defects of poor children.
Ascend Learning.  (2015).  The Ascend culture.  Retrieved from http://www.ascendlearning.org/design/culture
Dillon, S.  (2011, March 31).  Study says charter network has financial advantages over public schools.  The New York Times.  Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/31/education/31kipp.html?_r=1&
Lemov, D.  (2010).  Teach like a champion:  49 techniques that put students on the path to college (K-12).  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
St. Hope Public Schools.  (n.d).  Five pillars.  Retrieved from http://sthopepublicschools.org/five-pillars/
Toch, T.  (2009).  Charter-management organizations: Expansion, survival, and impact.  Education Week, 29 (9), 26-27, 32.

Tough, P.  (2006, November 26).  What it takes to make a student.  New York Times Magazine.  Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/magazine/26tough.html?pagewanted=print&_r=0

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