Archives for category: KIPP Charter Schools

The media loves the story of miracle schools. Imagine that! A school where 90% or more pass the state tests! Where 100% graduate. Where 100% are accepted into four-year colleges. Michael Klonsky once said to me, miracles happen only in the Bible. When the subject is schools, miracle claims should be carefully investigated.

With that caution and skepticism in mind, we turn again to a post by a researcher who works for the New York City Department of Education and must remain anonymous. This is the same researcher who chastised the media for ignoring attrition rates at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy schools. In posting that article, I failed to capture the links to documentation (a terrible oversight, I admit). I include his/her links at the bottom of this article.

Ed Reformers Are Most Like (a) Pinocchio (b) Beavis:
Getting to the Bottom of the Reformer Distaste for Honest Analysis

My short essay examining some of the dishonest claims about Success Academy’s data led to interesting debate on this blog.[1] Some of that discussion illuminated the dishonesty with which education reformers approach data and facts. I’ll limit this essay to the dishonesty reformers display in the charter school debate.

Reformers tend to make two very different arguments about charter schools. Argument #1 is that charter schools serve the same students as public schools and manage to put public schools to shame by producing amazingly better results on standardized exams. Therefore, reformers claim, if only public schools did what charter schools do (or better yet, if all public schools were closed and charter schools took over), student learning would dramatically increase and America might even beat South Korea or Finland on international standardized tests. When it is pointed out that, as a whole, charters do no better than public schools on standardized tests [2], reformers will quickly turn their attention to specific charter chains that, they claim, do indeed produce much better standardized test results. So what’s the deal with these chains? Well, in every case that has been subjected to scrutiny their results are extremely suspicious. Here is a short list of examples:

1. Achievement First in New Haven had a freshman class of 64 students (2 students enrolled later), and only 25 graduated- a 38% graduation rate- yet the school claimed a 100% graduation rate by ignoring the 62% attrition rate. [3]

2. Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) had a freshman class of 144 students and only 89 12th graders- a 62% graduation rate- yet the school (and Arne Duncan) claimed a 100% graduation rate by ignoring the 38% attrition rate. [4] As a 6-12 charter chain, DSST also manages to attrite vast numbers of their middle school students before they even enter the high school.

3. Uncommon Schools in Newark disappears 38% of its general test takers from 6th to 8th grade.[5] Another analysis found that through high school the attrition rate was, alarmingly, much higher “Uncommon loses 62 to 69% of all males and up to 74% of Black males.”[6]

4. BASIS in Arizona- “At…BASIS charter school in Tucson, the class of 2012 had 97 students when they were 6th graders. By the time those students were seniors, their numbers had dwindled to 33, a drop of 66%. At BASIS Scottsdale…its class of 2012 fell from 53 in the 6th grade to 19 in its senior year, a drop of 64%.” [7]

5. The Noble Network in Chicago- “Every year, the graduating class of Noble Charter schools matriculates with around 30 percent fewer students than they started with in their freshman year.” [8]

6. Harmony Charters in Texas- “Strikingly, Harmony lost more than 40% of 6th grade students over a two-year time.” [9]

7. KIPP in San Francisco- “A 2008 study of the (then-existing) Bay Area KIPP schools by SRI International showed a 60% attrition rate…the students who left were overwhelmingly the lower achievers.” [10]

8. KIPP in Tennessee had 18% attrition in a single year! “In fact, the only schools that have net losses of 10 to 33 percent are charter schools.” [11]

In every case these charter chains accepted students that were significantly more advantaged than the typical student in the district, and then the charters attrited a significant chunk of those students.

Success Academy in New York City plays the same game. It accepts many fewer high needs special education students, English Language Learners, and poor students. [12] It attrites up to 1/3 of its students before they even get to testing grades and then loses students at an even faster pace. It selectively attrites those students most likely to get low scores on standardized tests. [13] It is legally permitted to mark its own exams (as are all New York City charter schools) while public schools cannot. It loses 74% of its teachers in a single year at some of its schools. [14] The author of the Daily News editorial that sparked the initial blog commented “even in the aggregate that wouldn’t seem to account for” the results. It is entirely unclear what he means by “in the aggregate.” But it is clear that he has his arithmetic wrong. A charter chain that starts with an entering class that is likely to score well on standardized tests, then selectively prunes 50% or more of the students who don’t score well on standardized tests and refuses to replace the disappeared students with others, can easily show good standardized test results with the remaining students. Any school could do this. It’s really not rocket science.

Charter advocates usually first give argument #1 a try. When called on the data that clearly show high-flying charters engage in creaming and in pruning, which can account for most of their “success,” they quickly switch to argument #2. Argument #2 claims that charter schools play a different role than public schools. What exactly their role is can vary from “serving high-potential low-income students [14]” to serving as laboratories of innovation. The problem with argument #2 is that we don’t need charters to cream students (public schools could do that too…if it were legal), and charters as a sector are not doing anything innovative. Kicking out half of your class is no innovation, nor is it hard to create an environment that will encourage the half least likely to succeed to quit. The Navy SEALs have been doing that for years.

At the policy level these two different arguments have led to much confusion. It is often unclear what charter advocates are defending as they switch back and forth between the two arguments. This makes it difficult to have sensible public discussion about charters and leads many to accuse charter advocates of hiding their true motivations (from privatizing education for profit to breaking unions).

It is time that education policy makers demanded an honest accounting of charter practices. Metrics must be produced by every district clearly showing the demographics of charter school students, the attrition rate, and general data on which students are attrited. It is critical that the demographic data be as detailed as possible (e.g. specifying level of special education need, distinguishing between free and reduced price lunch, specifying level of English Language Learner status) since the charter sector and its advocates have in the past used broad categories to cover up important differences (e.g. claiming to serve the same numbers of English Language Learners as public schools while only serving advanced ELLs, claiming to serve the same number of poor students as public schools while serving much higher proportions of reduced as opposed to free lunch students, claiming to serve the same number of special needs students as public schools while serving only students with minimal needs).[15] With honest data in hand, the more important conversation about good teaching practices, engaging curricula, and effective students support services can begin. It is this conversation that will truly improve education for students. It is also the conversation that professional educators want to have.[16]

[1] https://dianeravitch.net/2014/08/22/is-eva-moskowitz-the-lance-armstrong-of-education/
[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/09/24/the-bottom-line-on-charter-school-studies/
[3] http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/05/30/another-big-lie-from-achievement-first-100-percent-college-acceptance-rate/
[4] http://garyrubinstein.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/arne-debunkin/
[5] http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/truly-uncommon-in-newark /
[6] http://danley.rutgers.edu/2014/08/11/guest-post-where-will-all-the-boys-go/
[7] http://blogforarizona.net/basis-charters-education-model-success-by-attrition/
[8] http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2012/04/no-bull-in-chicago.html
[9] http://fullerlook.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/tx_ms_charter_study/
[10] http://parentsacrossamerica.org/high-kipp-attrition-must-be-part-of-san-francisco-discussion/
[11] http://www.wsmv.com/story/22277105/charter-schools-losing-struggling-students-to-zoned-schools
[12] https://dianeravitch.net/2014/03/12/fact-checking-evas-claims-on-national-television/
[13] https://dianeravitch.net/2014/02/28/a-note-about-success-academys-data/. The high attrition rate before testing in 3rd grade may explain the data pattern noted in this http://shankerblog.org/?p=10346#more-10346 analysis.
[14] http://www.citylimits.org/news/articles/5156/why-charter-schools-have-high-teacher-turnover#.U_gqR__wtMv
[15] http://edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-daily/flypaper/2013/the-charter-expulsion-flap-who-speaks-for-the-strivers.html
[16] http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/when-dummy-variables-arent-smart-enough-more-comments-on-the-nj-credo-study/ I leave it as an open challenge to Ms. Moskowitz to voluntarily share this date (scrubbed of identifying student information of course) so that independent researchers can examine the Success Academy results. If she declines to do so we can only wonder what she is hiding.
[17] I wanted to end on a positive note so I add this comment as a footnote. We can expect that reformers will resist allowing the national conversation to go in this direction since they have so little to contribute to it. So many have so little classroom experience and so little time in schools that they will do all they can to make sure the conversation does not turn in this direction. If it did, they’d be out of a job. So we can expect that, as long as reformers maintain their power base, the national conversation about education will be limited to accountability, choice, standards, VAMs… anything but discussion of actual classroom and school-level practices.

Gary Rubinstein was one of the earliest members of Teach for America. He is today its most incisive critical friend or friendly critic. In this post, he remembers the days that Dave Levin and Michael Feinberg presented their KIPP plan to a TFA audience and were boed off the stage. Now, however, they are superstars.

Gary reviews KIPP’s current record. Currently, he says, KIPP has an attrition rate of 40%. Their college graduation rate is higher for low-income students than other schools.

However, he writes:

“Another thing I noticed in the annual report is that the SAT scores from their juniors are horrific. Now I’m not the one who says that test scores are everything, but reformers do, so when I see KIPP Newark, which has gotten a lot of attention lately, and KIPP Washington DC with SAT scores in the 1200s, that’s about 400 per section which you could get by answering about five questions per section and leaving the rest blank, I have to wonder how well those students will succeed in college.

“Funded, in part by the Waltons, KIPP is a bit like the Walmart of charter schools. And just like Walmart may have some good things about it — maybe prices there are low, I don’t know — KIPP might be good for the kids who are a ‘good fit’ for it. But also like Walmart, the negatives of KIPP seem to outweigh the positives. This is why the gut instinct of those 1996 corps members back in the day was correct.”

Other writers have criticized the concept of “grit” on grounds that it seems to suggest that poor kids are poor because they don’t try hard enough, and that this shifts the responsibility for poverty for the economic system to the individuals. So many privileged kids seem to float through life on a soft pillow that it is hard to credit their success in school or life to grit, since their families smooth their paths for them as much as possible.

Jeffrey Aaron Snyder has other objections to grit. He signed up for an online course on grit education taught by David Levin of KIPP and the more he learned, the less impressed he was.

What is grit? He explains:

“Inspired by the field of positive psychology, character education at KIPP focuses on seven character strengths—grit, zest, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity. These seven strengths are presented as positive predictors of success in “college and life.” Grit, for example—a term Angela Duckworth used to mean “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”—has been shown to correlate with grade point averages and graduation rates. Levin envisions that character education will be woven into “the DNA” of KIPP’s classrooms and schools, especially via “dual purpose” instruction that is intended to explicitly teach both academic and character aims.”

But Snyder found three reasons to doubt what he was taught.

“There are three major problems with the new character education. The first is that we do not know how to teach character. The second is that character-based education is untethered from any conception of morality. And lastly, this mode of education drastically constricts the overall purpose of education.

“There may be an increasingly cogent “science of character,” as Levin says in the introductory video to his online class, but there is no science of teaching character. “Do we even know for sure that you can teach it?” Duckworth asks about grit in the same online video. Her answer: “No, we don’t.” We may discover that the most “desirable” character traits are largely inherited; stubbornly resistant to educational interventions; or both. We already know that grit is strongly correlated with “conscientiousness,” one of the Big Five personality traits that psychologists view as stable and hereditary. A recent report emphasizes that simply “knowing that noncognitive factors matter is not the same as knowing how to develop them in students.” The report concludes that “clear, actionable strategies for classroom practice” are few and far between. Consider the fact that the world’s “grittiest” students, including Chinese students who log some of the longest hours on their homework, have never been exposed to a formal curriculum that teaches perseverance.”

Snyder finds grit detached from any moral values. He writes:

“The second problem with the new character education is that it unwittingly promotes an amoral and careerist “looking out for number one” point-of-view. Never before has character education been so completely untethered from morals, values, and ethics. From the inception of our public school system in the 1840s and 1850s, character education has revolved around religious and civic virtues. Steeped in Protestantism and republicanism, the key virtues taught during the nineteenth-century were piety, industry, kindness, honesty, thrift, and patriotism. During the Progressive era, character education concentrated on the twin ideas of citizenship and the “common good.” As an influential 1918 report on “moral values” put it, character education “makes for a better America by helping its pupils to make themselves better persons.” In the 1960s and 1970s, meanwhile, character education focused on justice and working through thorny moral dilemmas.

“Today’s grit and self-control are basically industry and temperance in the guise of psychological constructs rather than moral imperatives. Why is this distinction important? While it takes grit and self-control to be a successful heart surgeon, the same could be said about a suicide bomber. When your character education scheme fails to distinguish between doctors and terrorists, heroes and villains, it would appear to have a basic flaw. Following the KIPP growth card protocol, Bernie Madoff’s character point average, for instance, would be stellar. He was, by most accounts, an extremely hard working, charming, wildly optimistic man.”

It could be that grit is the same thing as character, in which case it is nothing new.

Funny, when I was in elementary school in the 1940s, we had one long row of grades for academics and another long row for behavior. Today it would be called grit.

Bob Braun has written one of the most moving, powerful critiques I have ever read of the heartless destruction of neighborhood public schools. What is it all about? To quote Braun: “money and power and greed.”

He writes:

“Sad. There’s a word rarely heard in the context of the state’s war on Newark’s neighborhood public schools. Sad. Yet the story of how a cruelly tone-deaf state bureaucrat named Cami Anderson is singlehandedly destroying a community’s neighborhood schools is just that. Sad. And nothing more illustrates that sadness than the brave but probably futile effort of one successful neighborhood school to remain alive despite Anderson’s promise to give it to privatized educational entrepreneurs who include former business partners of the recently resigned state education commissioner.”

Hawthorne Avenue School is not a failing school. It ranks well in the city and state. It has string parent involvement. But Cami has promised it to her friends at KIPP.

To get ready for the transfer, she has devastated the school:

“Anderson’s treatment of Hawthorne—and similar schools throughout the state’s largest district—has been a nightmare. A sad nightmare. She stripped the school of its librarians, its counselors, its attendance personnel. She has ignored constant pleas to repair crumbling walls and leaking ceilings—promising repair money only after she gave the building to TEAM Academy, the local name for KIPP charters, and the Brick schools. The head of TEAM Academy, Tim Cardin, is a former business partner of Christopher Cerf, the recently-resigned education commissioner. All three–Cardin, Cerf, and Anderson–worked for the New York City schools.”

Cami Anderson has no sense of shame.

The Walton Family Foundation released its list of grantees in the education world, and once again, the foundation put its huge resources into privatizing American public education.

The billions that hard-working families spend at Walmart are used to support privately managed charters and vouchers and to undermine democratic local control and traditional public schools.

Some of the biggest recipients of the Walton family’s largesse are Teach for America (nearly $20 million), which staffs non-union charters; KIPP charter schools ($8.8 million); the Charter Fund, Inc. ($14.5 million); The Children’s Scholarship Fund (which gives our school vouchers) $8.56 million; and the California Charter School Association, $5 million. Parent Revolution got almost $2 million, the Black Alliance for Educational Options got $1.3 million.

Read the list and see who favors the privatization of public schools. Aside from a few dollars tossed to the Bentonville, Arkansas, public schools, it is a rogues’ gallery of privatization and teacher-bashing.

The Walton Family Foundation helped to underwrite the attack ads against New York City’s progressive mayor, Bill de Blasio, because he dared to turn down three charter school proposals. Two of the three schools did not exist, so no child was evicted. The third rejection was meant to stop the expansion of Eva Moskowitz’s charter school inside PS 149 in Harlem, which required the eviction of severely disabled students to make room for her desired new middle school. Apparently the theory of the billionaires is that students with high test scores deserve public space more than profoundly disabled students, who have lesser rights.

As a result of pressure by the billionaires, the legislature passed a budget that gutted mayoral control by saying that the mayor was not allowed to reject any charter approved by Bloomberg’s school board; that the mayor was not allowed to charge rent to charters, even though they had just won a lawsuit declaring that they could not be audited by the State Comptroller because they are not “a unit of the state”; giving charters the right to expand in any public school where they are now co-located, without regard to the needs of the children already enrolled in that school; and requiring that the city pay the rent of any charter that rents private space. So, with the help of the Walton Family Foundation, the charter schools, which are not public schools and are not subject to public audit, get free space and may kick public school students out of their buildings.

This was a shameful law, purchased by people of vast wealth. They are intent on busting unions, crushing the teaching profession, and harming one of our democratic institutions. Their maleficent influence is unchecked. The money they spend each year is meant to transfer public funds to private hands. They use their power to hurt the very people who have made them wealthy, destroying their communities at the same time.

The age of the robber barons is back.

In this post, Rebecca Radding explains why she was asked to leave at the end of her third year as a Teach for America teacher in a KIPP school in Néw Orleans.

She could not teach like a champion.

She writes:

“I was never much of a champion, to be honest. KIPP defines a successful teacher as someone who keeps children quiet, teaches children how to answer each question on a test composed of arbitrary questions, and then produces high scores on this test. Mind you, I was teaching Pre-K and then kindergarten at a KIPP school in New Orleans—and these were still the metrics by which I was being evaluated. Since my definition of a successful early childhood classroom looked very different from silence and test prep, I had to figure out how to survive. I lasted three years.”

“By year three it had become very, very difficult for me to hide my disdain for the way the school was managed. In the previous two years, I’d fought hard for the adoption of a play-based early childhood curriculum, only to see it systematically dismantled by our 25-year old assistant principal. When this administrator told us that our student test scores would be higher if we used direct instruction, worksheets and exit tickets to check for their understanding, I lost my shit. I’m sorry, but five year olds don’t learn that way.

“I was fired a week later. Well, to be fair, I was told that I *wasn’t a good fit*—most likely because I talked about things like poverty and trauma and brain development, and also because at that point I knew significantly more about early childhood education and what young children actually needed to grow and develop than the administrators who ran the school. And that made me a threat.”

She goes on to explain what it means to “teach like a champion” and why she found it increasingly impossible to comply.

Schools in Texas have been forced to absorb huge budget cuts in recent years.

One casualty was the two KIPP schools in Galveston, Texas, which could not afford to continue. They will close.

“Galveston ISD paid KIPP $5.5 million this year – about $1.5 million more than it would have spent on those students in district-run schools….

KIPP, which operates 141 campuses that serve 50,000 students nationally, has closed or returned schools to local districts eight times nationally, but this is the first time it is to happen in Texas, where KIPP started 20 years ago….

“The Costal Village elementary and middle schools opened in the months following Hurricane Ike in 2008 to help draw families back to the island. After the contract was negotiated, the 6,800-student Galveston ISD lost $7.4 million in state funding for the biennium in 2011. About $1.7 million was restored by the Legislature last year, Nichols said.

“The original agreement was no longer workable after GISD had to live with quite a bit less money,” the superintendent said.

“KIPP leaders said they couldn’t maintain their model, which includes a longer school day and year, for less money. The charter chain spends about $6,200 per student in Galveston, compared to Galveson ISD’s $4,623. And KIPP’s costs were higher earlier in the contract, officials said.”

John Savage, a freelance journalist and former teacher, reviewed “Reign of Error” in the “Texas Observer.”

I liked the review for many reasons.

First, because Savage liked the book. That pleases every author.

Second, because the first article I ever published appeared in the “Texas Observer,” a gritty liberal journal that covers Texas politics. The article was called “My Ghetto and Yours,” and it was about growing up Jewish in Houston. It appeared, I think, in 1961. I think I was lamenting how little I knew of the big world outside Houston. I haven’t read it since 1961, so I can’t be certain what I wrote but I feel pretty sure I launched my writing career by stepping on toes. I think that it would be called “juvenalia” if it ever appeared in a collection.

EduShyster notes the convergence of three happenings:

1. The New York Daily News breaks the story of KIPP’s “padded cell” for disruptive children. KIPP officials declare they will continue using the padded cell–actually, a closet with a window–as a “calming” space.

2. Simultaneously, the New York Times writes an editorial praising KIPP for its successful methods in educating black and Hispanic children.

3. A new study from researchers at MIT and other universities concludes that higher scores on standardized tests do not predict the development of “fluid” intelligence, the higher-order thinking needed for the thinkers and innovators of the future.

This is one of EduShyster’s most powerful posts. Humorous, of course, but containing valuable information.

Moi Naturale is a new blogger. She is Evan Seymour, who worked for KIPP in New Orleans until she learned that had a disability and was unceremoniously abandoned, including losing her health insurance. This is her report on her disenchantment with charter schools.

I will be perfectly frank here. I have seldom criticized KIPP. In part, it is because I like Mike Feinberg, one of the founders. I was very impressed when Mike invited me to speak in Houston a few years ago, knowing that I was a critic of charters. That is the kind of open-mindedness that I admire. And I feel I don’t know enough about how KIPP schools operate, so I have hesitated to make any generalizations.

For those who credit KIPP with having cracked the code of urban education, I have issued what I called the KIPP Challenge: Take over an entire district, no exceptions, no excuses, including the children with disabilities, the ones who don’t speak English, the ones who don’t want to go to school. All of them. I hit a hornet’s nest when I suggested it, and received many vituperative responses.

Evan Seymour knows more about KIPP than I do. She has a personal issue with KIPP, because of the shabby treatment she received, but she has other issues.

She writes:

This is the truth when it comes to charter schools — they aren’t working like society has been led to believe they are.  There are a variety of problems with the country’s charter schools, including these:

  • a lack of oversight
  • exploitation of teachers
  • non-compliance with Federal Law as it pertains to students with disabilities
  • fiscal irresponsibility
  • hiring practices (see: inexperienced teachers, teachers who aren’t interested in remaining in the classroom, teachers who do not at all represent the demographic make-up of the student population they serve)

Evan Seymour was born in Pasadena, California, earned her BA at Spelman College, and studied journalism at the University of Southern California. She currently lives in New Orleans.

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