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

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Students Remember KIPP: Preface

Lots of policy people, educators, parents, and even union leaders were initially attracted to the concept of charter schools by happy talk of parent and educator autonomy and freedom to experiment, innovate, and to, otherwise, find relief from the bureaucratic oversight and regulatory constraints that public schools must abide. Even the brilliant Albert Shanker, who served as AFT President for 23 years, was an avid promoter of charter schools in the early 1990s

By the mid 1990s, however, Shanker realized the charter concept had been quickly hijacked by corporate education reformers "whose real aim is to smash the public schools" and to leave in their wake a rigid, segregated type of chain-gang charter school in urban America that practiced a brutal form of white paternalism aimed to behaviorally subdue and culturally sterilize the children of black and brown communities. (See more on paternalism and cultural sterilization.)

And the much-lauded autonomy and freedom from constraints in charter schools quickly triggered the emergence of closely-guarded charter fiefdoms with unparalleled latitude to do curriculum, instruction, budgeting, hiring, and firing most any way desired by poorly prepared white school leaders fresh from 2 year stints with Teach for America.  That is, just as long as the charter schools could grind out student test scores that were at least in the same ballpark as the public schools that were being replaced by charters. (See recent statistics on regular public school enrollment and charter school enrollment.)

The substitution of accountability for student test scores in charter schools (and other schools, too) has had some damn awful effects on teachers, taxpayers, and parents. Cascading waves of corruption in the form of fraud, waste, or old-fashioned thievery have flourished over the past 30 years of charter history. Cheating scandals have become commonplace.  The goals of racial and socioeconomic school integration are forgotten dreams.

But without doubt, the most devastating and unforgivable outcome that has accompanied the near total capitulation of public accountability and oversight for the publicly-funded and privately-managed charter schools has come in the form of heart-rending accounts of student abuse: physical abuse, psychological abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse. And these crimes against our most vulnerable children have been going since the beginning of even the most vaunted of charter school chains, the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP). 

Part 2 of this series will feature an interview with the first former KIPP student to share her story of emotional and sexual abuse during the early days of KIPP New York.

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