Archives for category: KIPP Charter Schools

Kevin Ward, a leader at the KIPP network of charter schools in D.C. killed himself after it was revealed that he stole $2.2 million from the schools’ account, allegedly to buy technology. He was also mayor of Hyattsville, Maryland. ,

A Maryland mayor who died by suicide this year had been accused of embezzling millions of dollars from one of the largest charter networks in the District, according to a complaint filed by federal prosecutors.

During his tenure as senior director of technology for KIPP DC, Kevin Ward used $2.2 million of school funds to purchase cars, a camper, sports memorabilia and property in West Virginia, prosecutors alleged in a civil forfeiture complaint filed Monday. Ward worked for the charter network from 2017 until at least July 2021, according to court records, two months after he was elected mayor of Hyattsville.

The payments, approved and arranged by Ward, were supposed to go toward laptops, tablets and other technology for children, prosecutors say. However, none of the products or services for which the school system paid were ever delivered, according to court records.

Officials at KIPP DC, which enrolls about 7,000 students across eight campuses in the District, said they found irregularities with certain technology purchases during a routine internal review in December. Leaders suspected fraud and contacted the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia, which launched an investigation, the school said in a statement.

The school system also conducted its own review, led by outside counsel and a team of forensics accountants, which found “this was an isolated incident conducted by a single individual who took advantage of extraordinary circumstances during the pandemic and the individual’s role as head of technology.”

The lack of transparency and oversight in charter schools enables crimes.

Gary Rubinstein began his career as a Teach for America recruit in 1991 and got to know many of the key figures in the corporate reform movement. He is currently a career high school teacher of mathematics in a New York City public school. Over time, he became disillusioned with the phony promises of TFA and charter schools and became one of the most tenacious critics of their hypocrisy.

KIPP, he notes, is considered the gold standard of charter schools. The organization has about 250 charter schools across the nation. It benefited from being featured in the nefarious film “Waiting for ‘Superman'” as a school that was able to “save” kids who were allegedly trapped in failing public schools. The implication of the film was that charter schools had some magic knowledge that enabled them to transform children who had been faring poorly in school. Mostly, that claim is a hoax, but it is good marketing for recruitment of students.

In this post, he reports on the crisis of KIPP in Tennessee. KIPP had seven schools. But in 2020, two were closed because of low test scores and low growth scores. Now two more are on the chopping block due to poor performance.

He writes:

In the cities of Memphis and Nashville, TN there are a lot of charter schools fueled, in part, by the Race To The Top money they received while Teach For America alumni were in leadership positions at the Tennessee Education Department. By 2019, they had grown to seven KIPP schools in Tennessee. In 2020 the network announced that they were shutting down two of those seven schools. The headline from the Chalkbeat, TN article contains the quote from the network ‘‘We’ve been unable to fulfill our academic promise’. So as of 2020 they were down to five schools in Tennessee.

According to a new article in Chalkbeat, TN, this coming Tuesday, January 25th, the Shelby County school system will vote on whether or not to shut down two of the remaining KIPPs: KIPP Memphis Academy Middle School and KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary.

Rubinstein researched the remaining five KIPP schools [including the two at risk of closure] in Tennessee and discovered that none of them is successful.

The fact that the schools are even at risk of getting shut down for poor performance definitely should convince anyone that the ‘Waiting For Superman’ narrative that if you give charters flexibility in exchange for accountability, they will outperform the ‘failing’ public schools. But there might be some people who say “There’s bound to be a few bad apples in any bunch so maybe these are just some outliers and the ‘average’ KIPP is still very good.’

To see if that was true in Tennessee I went to the state web portal and looked up the test scores and the growth scores for all five of the remaining KIPP schools there. What I found was that not only did those schools have very low test scores, but all of them had the lowest possible ‘growth’ score (a 1 out of 5). Now I know that sometimes this ‘growth’ score is not the most accurate calculation but if reformers are going to use them to label some public schools as failing, then they would have to label all the KIPPs in Tennessee as failing too.

The Chalkbeat article says:

Three-year TN Ready test averages from the 2016-17 to 2018-19 school years show only about 6% of KIPP Memphis Academy Middle students reached or approached mastery in math, according to district records. During the same time period, about 10% of students reached or approached mastery in English. 

At KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary, about 10% of students reached or approached mastery in English and 18% in math, during the same period.

The CEO of KIPP Memphis defends the low test scores and low growth scores by pointing to the students’ disadvantaged backgrounds.

Rubinstein points out the irony of a charter school using this excuse:

The response from KIPP comes from the CEO of KIPP Memphis schools, Antonio Burt. According to the article “Antonio Burt, CEO of KIPP Memphis Schools, said he’s not satisfied with the two schools’ academic performance, but said many KIPP students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and often face greater learning challenges.” This is striking to me. The whole narrative of charter schools was that unionized teachers believe ‘poverty is destiny’ and use the economic status of students as an ‘excuse’ for low expectations and for low performance but that charters are ‘no excuses’ and will certainly not say that the students underperformed because of these ‘greater learning challenges.’ But Antonio Burt is saying what he can since he has to give the school board some reason to vote to not close these two schools.

The article in Chalkbeat noted that some board members were inclined to give Antonio Burt more time because he “received national acclaim for his work turning two low-performing Memphis schools into models of student achievement.”

That line was an invitation to Rubinstein to discover Antonio Burt’s prowess as a turnaround specialist who had received “national acclaim for his work.”

Rubinstein goes to the record and checks the data for the schools that Burt led in Memphis. Both of them were and remain among the lowest performing schools in the state.

Gary traces Burt’s career path and can’t find any schools that have been turned around by Burt.

So I see Antonio Burt as someone who has spent 2 years at one school, 3 years at another, then a year and a half overseeing eight schools. He hasn’t turned around any of those schools in any kind of lasting way yet he is hailed as a turnaround guru who will likely use that inaccurate title as a way to save the two KIPP schools from being shut down because they now finally have an expert to improve them.

On Tuesday, January 25, the Shelby County School board will decide whether to close the two failing KIPP schools or to leave them open.

You may recall that charter schools are supposed to be more accountable than public schools. When public schools post low scores, they are closed. When charters fail, they too are supposed to close. Let’s see whether that happens in Memphis. Or are charter schools–especially KIPP charter schools–held to a different (and lower) standard than public schools?

Frances Scarlen Martinez was one of the first students to attend the first KIPP school in the Bronx. David Levin came knocking on her family’s door, recruiting students. Her family taught her that education was the key to success and she eagerly accepted the invitation, feeling fortunate to have been chosen. In the years since, she has a different view of her experience at KIPP. What she remembers most now was the strict control under which she lived.

She writes:

“I showed up for the first day of summer school feeling chosen and unique. What happened next blindsided me. I’d always loved school and learning. At my Bronx elementary I’d regularly made the honor roll. Suddenly adults were policing my every move, my every word. Suddenly I wasn’t good enough. The way I carried myself was no longer acceptable, the way I spoke was not proper. Still, being the high achiever I was, I took all of this as a challenge. I can be silent, keep my body straight and track speakers with my eyes. I can nod my head to show engagement and I can lose my Dominican accent. After all, this was my golden ticket, and my family was counting on it. I was willing to accept anything said to me in order to prove my worth.

“In my experience as a student, I was told how and when to speak, how to dress, where to look, how to nod, how to sit, and how to think from 7:25 am until 5 pm Monday through Friday and from 8-1 pm on Saturdays. Every aspect of our day was controlled, our compliance was routinely tested. At any given moment, the leader of our school would appear in our classroom, demanding to know, “What room is this?” To which we were expected to chant back in unison: “This is the room, that has the kids, that want to learn to read more books, to build a better tomorrow.” If one student did not comply, everyone else would have to repeat the chant again and again until they joined in or were taken away for an individual redirection. The point of this exercise was to keep us on our toes. Just like random cell checks in a prison keep the prisoners from ever feeling at ease, this power exercise was meant to remind us who was in control.”

On reflection, she realized she was part of a “culture of submission” that obliterated her own identity. For most of us, school is a place to explore who we are, what we believe, and what we hope to be. For Frances, school meant submit and obey.

This article is part of a series called “Public Voices for Public Schools,” posted by the Network for Public Education.

This message came from an educator who studies racial equity:

From: Being Blackatkipp <beingbipocatkipp@gmail.com>

Subject:Being Black at KIPP


To whom it may concern,

BeingblackatKIPP is an Instagram account that was created in the wake of the George Floyd social reckoning. During this time, I was empowered to also seek change in the KIPP network of public charter schools. I had witnessed first hands for many years how white supremacy culture and politics were deeply engrained in this network. I knew from my own experience how policies that aimed to police black and brown bodies and create distrust among the community re-traumatized the very groups of people KIPP claimed to serve.

Once the Instagram page launched the accounts of abuse, racism, and discrimination began to pour in from all corners of the country.

Most recently we have been covering a situation that took place in KIPP NYC. KIPP NYC has a long history of abuse against children that is well known in the alumni community but has received little to no media coverage. Most recently Jesus Concepcion was arrested by the FBI for sexual assault of minors while he was the orchestra teacher under David Levin in the KIPP Academy school in the Bronx. Many previous students alleged that and other leaders knew of Mr. Conceptions’ behavior as he was allowed to have a private bedroom attached to the music room where girls would often be taken to. It has taken 20 years for justice to reach those kids.

Today, in 2021 history is repeating itself in KIPP NYC. This month Cesar Sanchez a decorated science teacher at the KIPP Washington Heights campus was arrested for sexual misconduct towards a minor. What’s most alarming is that Cesar had previously been suspended for misconduct with a student. The principal at his school Danny Swersky had also been suspended for failing to report the misconduct. Both men were allowed to come back to the school where Cesar allegedly continued to groom and abuse middle school girls. On the Instagram page, we have posted voice recordings as well as first-hand written accounts of things Cesar would do to his middle school students. He would notice a child without a bra in a tank top and have the class do jumping jacks as students notice him become visibly “excited”. He would follow students on snap chat, a social platform famous for disappearing messages to further manipulate students in secrecy. He would touch himself in front of students. One student even alleged he asked her if she had her nipples pierced and also showed his nipple tattoo to students. All this was going on, despite other staff allegedly alerting the principal of his behavior. Their concerns fell to deaf ears.

KIPP has a strong clique/mob mentality. Once you are in with leadership you can do no wrong. Cesar was married to another KIPP principal who used to work with his current principal Danny Swersky. The conflict of interest influenced the situation and kept Cesar employed until the police were involved.

Please take time to review the evidence on the beingblackatkipp page on Instagram. This story deserved to be investigated, This community deserves justice and children should not have to be anxious for their return to school. While Cesar has been arrested, the principal who allegedly failed to report him is still set to lead in that school. Our communities deserve better.

I thank you for your time and consideration.

Happy New Year.

Gary Rubenstein has written about the failed promises of charter schools many times. In this post, he reports on the latest sex scandal at KIPP. Maybe there’s something about the power dynamics of a “no excuses” school that encourages adult domination of children in their care.

He writes:

Today the US Attorney’s office for the southern district tweeted this [Open the link to see the tweet!].

The description of the charges gets pretty graphic so I will not quote it all here, but part of it says:

From at least in or about 2002 through at least in or about 2007, CONCEPCION singled out the Minor Victims for personal attention. He gave them money, clothing, jewelry, and other gifts, and he provided them with alcohol. He told several of the Minor Victims that they were in romantic relationships with him and provided each of the Minor Victims with a cellphone so that they could communicate with him without their parents’ knowledge. CONCEPCION used the cellphones he provided and other devices to maintain his “relationships” with the Minor Victims and to arrange sexual encounters.

The press release does not identify the school, but I recognized the name of this teacher since he was featured in the chapter about KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) in the 2008 book published by The Thomas B. Fordham Institute called ‘Sweating The Small Stuff — Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism’ (you can get it on Amazon for $0.99 or you can get the full pdf for free here.) It’s basically a book that glorifies the abusive practices of ‘no-excuses’ schools because they get good standardized test results. The Fordham Institute is one of these think tanks that basically creates ed reform propaganda but makes it look like actual research. Their president Michael Petrilli is a nice enough guy, we have had some friendly exchanges, but he knows absolutely nothing about education. I would feel bad for him if he weren’t making so much money.

In the chapter of ‘Sweating The Small Stuff’ entitled ‘”KIPP-Notizing” through music’ there is this passage that has not aged well:

In two days, the orchestra will give its commencement concert in this auditorium in the South Bronx to honor the eighth-grade graduates of KIPP Academy, housed in a wing on the fourth floor of Lou Gehrig Junior High. But rehearsal in the stifling auditorium is going poorly. Jesus Concepcion, the dapper conductor and benevolent baton-wielding despot on the podium, is not pleased.


“Sit down!” Concepcion tells a seventh grader playing string bass at the back of the orchestra. The bass player had refused to help a fellow cello player pick up his music when it slid off his music stand, kicking the sheet music back to the student instead. “You want to be nasty?” Concepcion asks rhetorically. “I’ll teach you nasty. You don’t deserve to play! You let down your teammates. And that music you kicked, I arranged. Get off the stage!” After the student glumly exits the stage, orchestra members keep their eyes glued to Concepcion during a soaring version of “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway show Rent. But as at many rehearsals of the string and rhythm orchestra, the cycle of disruption and discipline continues. A few minutes later, the graduating eighth graders start chatting animatedly in the hallway as they practice lining up.

“Unbelievable!” Concepcion exclaims. Mitch Brenner, KIPP Academy’s Director of Institutional Solutions and enforcer of all things KIPP, hops up to straighten out the excited eighth graders. “Not a word!” Brenner calls out. “Do not speak! You are our graduates. Do not open your mouth!”

KIPP has had to do a lot of apologizing and self-reflecting over the past few years. First there were the sexual abuse allegations that caused them to fire co-founder Michael Feinberg. Even though Feinberg’s accuser was not able to definitively prove her case in court, he was far from exonerated and has pretty much been shunned by most of the education reform community. Then, about a year ago, the other co-founder Dave Levin wrote an apologyto the KIPP alumni about some of the racist practices that KIPP has employed over the years, things that charter critics have been accusing them of over the years, but KIPP never cared then because they felt it was helping them get the statics they needed to get the donations they needed.

KIPP is the largest charter chain in the nation. It grew thanks to the generosity of the Walton Foundation, the Fisher Family Foundation (the Gap, Old Navy, etc.), other billionaire funders, and huge grants from the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter School Program (thanks, Betsy DeVos).

KIPP’s slogan was “Work Hard, Be Nice.” Jay Mathews wrote a laudatory book about KIPP with that title. It implied submissiveness as the path to success. KIPP was one of the original “no excuses” chains.

The KIPP team brought students to perform at the Republican National Convention in 2000 that nominated George W. Bush. It became clear that KIPP was a darling of the right. What did Republicans like so much about KIPP? Was it implicit in their slogan?

Michael Klonsky reports that KIPP has decided to drop its famous slogan.

In a world turned upside-down and right-side-up by the Black Lives Matter Movement, a new slogan was needed.

KIPP has not yet found a new slogan.

Any suggestions?

David Pettiette is a CPA who volunteered at a KIPP elementary school in Memphis. He was shocked when two KIPP schools suddenly closed their doors and left their families scrambling for a new school.

He wrote:

In April, it was announced that KIPP Memphis Preparatory Elementary and KIPP Memphis Preparatory Middle on Corry Road would be permanently closing without notice. Between the two schools, over 650 students have been displaced without so much as a plan or opportunity to rebut the decision.

The decision to close a school in an underserved community is not uncommon. It is however a decision that is typically given six months to a year’s notice, not April of the current school year. The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) is the largest network of public charter schools in the nation, with several schools in Memphis. With that size apparently comes unprecedented autonomy considering the schools’ primary funding is local and state money.

In an effort to limit bad press, KIPP offered a Q&A conference call to address the school closures so that the community’s voices could be heard. However, this session, which did not provide any A’s or responses from KIPP, was yet another unthoughtful decision made by the organization and proved to be an unsuitable forum.

Many families had trouble accessing the call due to technical difficulties generated from the third-party conferencing system used. The call itself went just about as you’d expect. It opened with two pre-recorded statements from KIPP’s board of directors and regional team, which were both vague and painfully insincere.

The comments from parents and staff were anxious, frustrated and morose –a wide variety of emotions. While listening to the call, I couldn’t help but think that the occasion warranted a more personal approach.

In reality, KIPP gave up. They gave up on their students, families, faculty and staff after only a few years of operation. Make no mistake, this was a financial decision that is inequitable to the historic Alcy Ball community in South Memphis.

KIPP cited a “failure to fulfill academic promise” which resulted in the closures, and the only excuse provided for the late notice was that they did not want to mislead the schools’ key stakeholders regarding their future.

This was a cheap and inaccurate shot at the integrity of the teachers and faculty, who spent money out of their own pockets to make sure that their students were adequately clothed, fed and supplied.

At the end of the day this decision is not what is best for the kids, who should have been KIPP’s only focus throughout this whole process. The situation is awful, but the approach was worse. If there is anyone looking for a textbook example of institutional racism, look no further.

Gary Rubinstein reports that KIPP has taken advantage of the coronavirus shutdown of schools to close two of its charters in the ill-fated “Achievement School District” in Tennessee. Once hailed as a model for other states to copy, the ASD has been a flop.

Rubinstein has followed the ASD from its early days, so filled with promise and boasting, to its collapse.

The Tennessee Achievement School District, or ASD, is the Edsel of school reform. Created with a Race To The Top Grant and developed by TFA alum Kevin Huffman, who was state education commissioner at the time, and TFA alum Chris Barbic, the first ASD superintendent, the ASD completely failed in it’s mission to ‘catapult’ schools from the bottom 5% into the top 25% in five years. It is now eight years into the experiment and hardly any of the 30 ASD schools even made it out of the bottom 5%. Not to worry, both Huffman and Barbic resigned and are doing very well with their new project called The City Fund.

Three of the 30 ASD schools are run by KIPP. Five days ago I read in Chalkbeat TN that two of those KIPP schools are shutting down at the end of this school year. On the KIPP Memphis website they explain to the families “While the community welcomed our network with open arms, we’ve been unable to fulfill our academic promise to our students, teachers and families at KIPP Memphis Preparatory Elementary and KIPP Memphis Preparatory Middle. We understand that these closures will have significant implications on our families. However, we strongly believe this decision is in the best interest of our entire KIPP Memphis community and is a step in the right direction to improve our organization’s ability to build a stronger network of schools.”

Tennessee is where the value-added and growth metrics were developed and these two schools ranked at the bottom of the state. Out of a 4 point scale, one of the schools got a 1 and the other got a 0.1 in growth.

Incidentally, KIPP currently has 13 schools in Tennessee. Of those 13 schools, only 11 have growth scores for 2018-2019, five of those (including the two that are now closing) had growth scores between 0 and 1 and two had growth scores between 1 and 2. So of the 11 schools with this rating, 7 had below to very below average ‘growth.’ Reformers are going to have to make up their minds: Is KIPP a fraud or are growth scores a fraud — they can’t have it both ways.

In other words, Kippsters, we are outta here! Sorry, kids, we just couldn’t help you!

But with tens of millions of federal dollars awarded by Betsy DeVos, there may soon be another KIPP, opening near you.

Gary Rubinstein is the Myth-Buster of the Resistance. He has achieved this eminent position because of his intolerance for hype, propaganda, and lies.

In this post, he bust the myth that low-income charter school graduates have a dramatically higher college graduation rate than low-income public school graduates.

In fact, he shows, charter school graduates have the same college graduation rate as their mothers!

Education Reform propaganda at The74 would try to make you believe that while low income students generally graduate from college at a rate of about 9%, charter school graduates complete college at a rate of 3 to 5 times that.

The main flaw in any comparison between the college graduation rates of charter school graduates to low-income students, in general, is that the charter school students do not represent a random sampling of the general population of low-income students.

In The Alumni, Richard Whitmire says that charter schools that have 5 times the expected college completion rate are ones that only counted their students who persisted until 12th grade in their charter schools.  Since for some charter schools, this only represents about 25% of the students who started in that charter school, this even more of a biased sample.  But, Whitmire explains, the one network that has the most valid way of doing a fair comparison is the famed KIPP network.  Since KIPP counts, in their data, any students who enrolled in KIPP, even if they left soon after starting.  And he says that KIPP students, including ones who didn’t persist at KIPP, graduate college 3 times the expected rate.

Reform supporting billionaire John Arnold commissioned Mathematica, a data analysis company, to study the college enrollment and college persistence of KIPP students.  Instead of comparing KIPP students to the general population, they compared KIPP students to students who had applied to the KIPP lottery but did not get into KIPP through the lottery.  This is a much more valid way of measuring the impact of KIPP.  The big takeaway, as I wrote about in my previous post, was that students who applied to KIPP, whether or not they got into KIPP, had a college persistence rate of about 3 times the general low-income population and that students who applied but didn’t get into KIPP had about the same college persistence as students who applied and did get into KIPP.  So students to apply to the KIPP lottery are the ones who, on average, were much more likely to persist in college — something that Whitmire never mentions in The Alumni.

But this Mathematica report includes some other relevant data that I didn’t pick up on when I wrote the last post.  Fortunately there was a discussion among some readers who commented on the last post which pointed this out.

In 2018 the National Center For Education Statistics published a report called ‘First-Generation Students College Access, Persistence, and Postbachelor’s Outcomes.’  In it they say that about 70% of students who have a parent who completed college also complete college compared to about 35% of students who do not have a parent who completed college.  This confirms what most people would expect for so many reasons and this is why we celebrate when students are the first in their family to graduate college.  It means that the descendants of those students will also be more likely to go to college…

At this point, Gary displays a graph from the Mathematica study.

Notice that last line.  It says that of the students entering the lottery about 27% of them had mothers who finished college.  This makes the fact that about 30% of the students in the study (which includes students who got into KIPP and also students who did not get into KIPP) have persisted in college through four semesters even less surprising.

 

Gary Rubinstein has a deep aversion to hypocrisy, hypes, and propaganda.

He read a widely publicized report saying “research shows” that graduates of KIPP have higher college completion rates than their peers.

But then he discovered that the research shows no significant difference between KIPP students and their peers in college completion rates. 

His post debunks Richard Whitmire’s erroneous claim that KIPP students finish college at a rate three to five times greater than students who went to public schools. It is also a valuable lesson in reading and interpreting research findings or claims that “research shows.”

He begins:

The way reformers misuse data follows a very simple and predictable plan:  First they get some skewed data, then pick a ‘researcher’ to interpret the skewed data.  The ‘researcher’ then writes a report which gets touted in The74, EduPost, and eventually even makes it into more mainstream publications like USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.  Since the report is filled with nonsense and half-truths, within a few weeks the truth comes out and the report is discredited, but not before the damage was done and the spin has made it into folklore.  When this happens, the reformers will then ‘move the goalposts’ and get some more skewed data and start the process over again.

An example of this is the July 2017 report by Richard Whitmire called ‘The Alumni‘.  Whitmire has written books about both KIPP and about Michelle Rhee so I think you get the idea of what his point of view is.  In this poorly researched project he concludes that “Data Show Charter School Students Graduating From College at Three to Five Times National Average“.

This was probably the easiest report I ever debunked.  The biggest flaw was that for most of the charter schools, they were only counting the percent of graduating seniors who persisted in college and then comparing that percent to the overall percent of all low-income students — an apples to oranges comparison.  Whitmire acknowledges this in another post about the methodology in which he says that only KIPP counts students who leave the school before they graduate and that their numbers are much lower, but still at 38% which is at least triple the expected graduation rate for low income students.

A second flaw, and this one is very difficult to compensate for, is that charter school students are not a random sampling of all students since many families choose no to apply to them.  So you get a biased sampling even if you do count all the students who get into the charter school and not just the ones who make it to graduate from the charter school.  And even though I and others have discredited his report, it is something that still gets quoted in the main stream media.

Just recently, however, I learned of a report generated by Mathematica and funded by the John Arnold Foundation.  I think that Mathematica is a very reputable company and even though reformers often hire them to produce reports, sometimes those reports reach conclusions that reformers were not expecting.

In this case, the report called “Long-Term Impacts of KIPP Middle Schools on College Enrollment and Early College Persistence” , reached a result that completely contradicts Whitmire’s claim that “Charter School Students Graduating From College at Three to Five Times National Average”.

Read on to see just how overblown is the KIPP myth about the college success of their students

Here’s the relevant summary of what they found:

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