Whatever Happened To KIPP?

The KIPP network, founded by two 1992 TFA alumni, was once considered the ‘gold star’ of charter chains.  For a while their growth seemed inevitable, almost exponential.  They were all over the press, on Oprah, in Waiting For Superman, even present at the 2000 Republican National Convention.  But over the past two or three years, we haven’t been hearing that much about them.  Their growth seems to have flattened out and there has not been much press coverage of note.

In a recent blog post by Alexander Russo at ‘The Grade’, he wrote:

But KIPP charter schools seem like they don’t get as much media attention these days, do they?  That’s the impression I and some others have.  The thought made me wonder whether KIPP coeverage was down as steeply as it seemed, and if so, why?

He then speculates:

One obvious reason for the relative lack of attention in recent times is that the network isn’t shiny and new any longer (like Altschool) or headed by a hard-charging leader (like Eva Moscowitz).

The article then goes on to say that there is actually more coverage, but a different kind of coverage, and that they have lessened their ‘no excuses’ philosophy and have shortened their extended days so they’re not so controversial anymore.

It is funny that Russo doesn’t ever speculate that maybe a chain like Success Academies is getting so much more attention is not just because they have a ‘hard-charging leader,’ but because KIPP is not getting the ‘outcomes’ that reformers require.

Many KIPP schools are 5th through 8th grade, so it is hard to do an ‘apples to apples’ comparison with the Success Academy schools which begin in kindergarten.  So what I did was download the recent state test data for all the New York City Charter schools and examined just the ones that had kindergarteners in 2011-2012.  Those students, now in 4th grade, took the 3rd grade tests last spring.  In theory, at least, since all the schools have the same type of lottery, the incoming kindergarten classes should not be that different.  Then after having those students for four years, their 3rd grade test results should be comparable to the ‘growth’ those students made over the four years.   So comparing KIPP to the other 100 or so charter schools that had 3rd graders last year presented an illuminating graphic which could help Russo and others understand why we are not hearing so much about KIPP nowadays.

In the bar graph below, the 110 schools are sorted from highest percent getting a 3 or 4 on the ELA test to the lowest.  The Success Academies are almost all at the far left.  The 3 KIPP schools are marked with red bars.  The top performing KIPP school was 37th out of 110 with 41.9% getting a 3 or 4.  The second best KIPP was 66th with 27.3% getting a 3 or a 4, and the lowest was 90th with 17.2% getting a 3 or a 4.  On average, KIPP has lower test scores than 2/3 of the charter schools in New York City.

 

charters ela

For Russo to ignore the uneven outcomes of KIPP schools as a possible reason for their recent lack of attention is odd, but not surprising as reform cheerleaders are often blind to any objective evidence that does not support their narrative.

In New York City, all the KIPP schools funnel into one high school.  I actually visited that school a few years ago and witnessed for myself that mediocrity.  About two years ago that school moved into a brand new state of the art building.  Yet, we hear nothing from KIPP about the amazing things that are going on in that building.  Do they have a debate team, a chess team, a math team, some Intel semi-finalists?  Sometimes I’ll see a Tweet about how out of all their schools in the country there are five KIPPsters attending Columbia or something like that.  It’s never clear if this is a high number or the number you’d expect.  I guess the implication is that without KIPP none of those five students would have accomplished anything in life.

 

So for now, Russo will have to continue to wonder about, and KIPP will have to continue denying, their recent lack of luster.  Perhaps they are laying low for now, and then will suddenly announce that they received another couple of hundred million to expand.  I guess time will tell.

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TFA 25 Year Reform Fest — And I’m Going

Five years ago I attended the TFA 20 alumni summit, as I had the 15, the 10, and even the 5.  I suppose I’m one of only a handful of people, at most, who attended all four of these events.  Being around the organization for so long, and being involved for a lot of years in presenting workshops at the various institutes, I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who attend these things.

People who read this blog may not know that until the 20 year thing, five years ago, I was blissfully unaware of the the ‘reform’ movement and the havoc it was wreaking on America’s public schools.  I was horrified and, I suppose, a bit traumatized when I realized that an organization that I identified with for twenty years had become a part of the problem.  Before that conference, this blog was about tips for new teachers, mainly.  Since that conference, I’ve focused on exposing the various lies that the ‘reformers,’ many of them TFA alumni, have been telling.

I wrote an open letter to Wendy Kopp about 3 years ago in which I said I wasn’t sure I felt welcome at a TFA event like the 25th anniversary summit.  She wrote back and said that TFA needed to work on balancing things out like this and that there was some balance at the 20th which I wasn’t aware of and that there would be more in the future.

When I got the invitation, I thought about it for a while.  Why should I go somewhere where I’ll likely be frustrated by what I’m seeing, where there will surely be some people there who really don’t like me and have even written complete blog posts about what a terrible person I am?  But then I thought that I certainly have at least as much a right to be there as someone like Whitney Tilson who never taught a day in his life.  I also thought about how I could have some opportunity to ‘engage’ with some people who I disagree with on Twitter and maybe come to some kind of common understanding.  It’s pretty easy to have a fight on Twitter and say some pointed things that you would never say to someone else face to face.

An added bonus, since I’m a teacher, TFA waived the $100 registration fee and also sent me a nice extra $250 check to help offset the cost of a hotel room.  So I RSVPed and now, barring some kind of emergency, I’m planning to go.

At the 20 year, I did not like the focus on charter schools and how most of the invited speakers were excited about shutting down schools and firing teachers.  They even had a Waiting For Superman panel discussion with Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Dave Levin, Geoffrey Canada, and John Deasey.  The keynote speaker was Arne Duncan and it was in his keynote that he lied about how he shut down a school and had it reopened as a charter with the ‘same kids’ and how the school was thriving.  Based on that anecdote I wrote my first ‘school debunking’ nearly five years ago.

I reached out to the summit planning team for this upcoming summit and volunteered to participate by being on some kind of panel.  They said that there were so many people volunteering that there wasn’t a spot for everyone so I would have to be just an audience member though they were working hard to have the kind of balance I suggested and that I would have lots of sessions I would like.

Well, the preliminary list of sessions and speakers is out and based on what I’m seeing, I’ve been duped.

Of the 200 speakers listed so far, there is only one ‘reform critic’ I see, Los Angeles Board President Steve Zimmer.  Then there are about 150 people I’ve never heard of, but who are mostly from different ed companies or charter schools, and then there are about 50 A and B list ‘reformers’ and charter leaders.  These include Jeremy Beard (YES Prep), Karolyn Belcher (President of TNTP), RiShawn Biddle (Dropout Nation), Tim Daly (Former President of TNTP), Mike Feinberg (KIPP), Heather Harding (former VP of research at TFA, now with Gates), Kevin Huffman (former Tennessee Education commissioner and former husband of Michelle Rhee), Michael Johnston (State senator in Colorado who got a teacher evaluation law passed where 50% of the evaluation is based on value-added), John King (current acting Secretary of Education), Dave Levin (KIPP), Kira Orange Jones (New Orleans Board Member), Paymon Rouhanifard (Camden Schools Superintendent), Alexander Russo (Writer and reform cheerleader), Hannah Skandera (secretary of education for New Mexico), Preston Smith (CEO Rocketship Charter schools), John White (State Superintendent of Louisiana), Joe Williams (DFER and now Walton).  Not yet on the speakers page, but listed on some of the panels are Joel Klein (Amplify and former chancellor in NYC), John Deasy (Former head of Los Angeles Schools), Jon Schnur (Architect of Race To The Top), Chris ‘Citizen’ Stewart (blogger who I’ve sparred with on Twitter), and, of course, Michelle Rhee (StudentsFirst and star of Waiting For Superman).

Many of the sessions also have a ‘reform’ slant.  There’s a session called ‘Becoming an Education Influencer on Twitter’ that I think I’d be an ideal candidate to be on.  But instead of me there’s ‘Dropout Nation’s’ RiShawn Biddle and Alexander Russo.

There’s one called “Alumni Trailblazers’ Perspectives on the Path to One Day in Our Lifetime.”  The panelists are the queen reformer Michelle Rhee, the prince, Louisiana Education Commissioner (for now) John White, and KIPP founders Mike Feinberg, and Dave Levin.

Joel Klein is moderating a panel called ‘What Will It Take To Reach One Day?’ and on the panel are Kevin Huffman and Kira Orange Jones.

One with an intriguing title is “What should we do when the whole school fails?”  It is moderated by the husband of TFA CEO Elisa Villanueva-Beard, Jeremy Beard, who has apparently left his post at Houston Independent School District leading their failed turnaround program ‘Apollo 20’ and is now the head of YES Prep Charter Schools in Houston.  On this panel is Chris ‘Citizen’ Stewart, who has been known to accuse me of being a racist from time to time.  This panel also has the one and only ‘reform critic’ that I know of, Steve Zimmer, who is the head of the school board in Los Angeles.

Michael Johnston is on a bunch of panels.  One is called ‘What Works and What Doesn’t in Education Policy”  I think he is an expert on the latter as his horrific ‘accountability’ plan in Colorado where 50% of teacher evaluation is based on value-added scores has accomplished absolutely nothing in terms of test score increases.  On that panel is ‘Chief For Change’ Hannah Skandera, New Mexico Secretary of Education , and Jon Schnur, ‘architect’ of Race To The Top.

Perhaps the craziest session is called ‘Exploring the Role of Joel Klein as Mentor and Role Model:  A Case Study.’  The CEO of TFA, Elisa Villanueva-Beard is actually the moderator on this one.  Most of the people who Klein mentored are no longer in power, the most recent to be forced out was Cami Anderson in Newark.  I’m hoping that John White in Louisiana will be out by then and then there will be a full turnover of the Klein mentees.

There’s even one called “Leadership, Partnership, and Politics:  A Chicago Case Study” with the president of Illinois Network of Charter School participating.

Eva Moskowitz has her own session “Success Academy Charter Schools in New York:  A Case Study.”  I wonder if anyone will ask her about the “Got to go list”.  Or why she doesn’t allow first year TFAers to be lead teachers at her schools.

I suppose the funniest panel there, and one that I must attend, is one called “Tennessee:  A Story of Change at the State Level.”  The panelists — this is TOO much — are Kevin Huffman who resigned in disgrace as commissioner of education three years into the job before he got fired, Chris Barbic, who resigned in disgrace as superintendent of the Tennessee Achievement School District three years into the job after realizing that district had made almost no progress, and, get this, Matt Kramer, who resigned in disgrace as co-CEO of TFA after about two years into the job, before he got fired.  I think I’m going to go to that one and sit in the front row with the biggest tub of popcorn you’ve ever seen.

There are many other workshops that are on more neutral topics, but I don’t think there are any that really can balance out the ‘reform’ heaviness of the panels described above.

Saturday evening there are various happy hours, nearly all of them sponsored by different charter school networks including KIPP, Rocketship, and Success Academies.

I searched and searched for something that I could feel welcome at and then, at the end of the list of programs I found something.  This conference begins on Friday and ends Sunday.  There’s a big party Saturday night and on Sunday morning at 9:00 AM there are various ‘interest groups’ brunches including one for ‘Critics of TFA’.  The description is “Critics Not Haters:  A community for “TFA People” who engage in thoughtful criticism and seek change in TFA.”  While I appreciate that there is at least one planned thing for people like me, I think it is a bit too little, and definitely too late.

I’m not sure how many critical alumni will be at this event.  Many people I know who were disgusted by what occurred at the 20 year thing have decided not to go to this one.  Perhaps I will be the only one.  But if, by chance, there is a group of people who are TFA critics, it would be useful for us to meet up earlier in the weekend so we could maybe coordinate how we are going to make our voices heard at this thing.

As for me, I’m going to have to decide if I’m going to go to panels where the panelists will be lying so much and I’ll be sitting there trying to keep myself from heckling.  I’m sure that I’ll want to ask them some questions in the Q and A time, but I suspect that TFA will be very controlling about what questions get asked and who gets to ask them.

It I’m on my own as a lone TFA critic, I suppose I’ll use the experience to blend into the woodwork, converse with people who have no idea who I am, get information, and write a series of blog posts about the conference afterwards.

If I’m feeling a bit more ambitious, maybe I can coordinate with some fellow bloggers and create some kind of ‘Subversive TFA 25th’ website in which my team of bloggers can track tweets from the conference and do fact checking, the hashtag #TFActcheck25 could be used.

Another possibility is that I could, with the help again, of fellow bloggers, create something with ‘fact sheets’ for each of the panel discussions — what sorts of things we expect the panelists to say, what the real story is, and maybe even a list of questions that people attending these panels could ask at the end of them.  In the best case scenario, word would get around, especially as some of the participants who are ‘on the fence’ get the sense that they are getting a very one-sided picture of what’s going on.

I suppose there is a chance that I’m recognized by some TFAers who really don’t like me and maybe they will confront me.  I don’t think this is likely, but there’s one guy, Citizen Ed, who seems a bit obsessed with me to the degree that he wrote an entire blog post about how evil I am called ‘The Misanthropy of Gary Rubinstein’ and even took the time to create a photoshopped Andy Warhol piece of art using my likeness.  And the thing he was so upset about was that I used public data to show that Louisiana AP scores are, despite all their supposed improvements, still among the worst in the country.  There are a few other TFA people who really don’t like me and have taunted me on Twitter from time to time.  This guy Ned Stanley is one and then he and some other guy were teaming up on me a few months back.

If you are reading this now and you are a reform critic who is a TFA alumni who is going to the summit, let me know and if there are enough of us, maybe we can figure out a way to coordinate, at least by attending different panel discussions and sharing our notes about them.  If you are a disgruntled TFA alum who was not planning on going to the summit, maybe reading this will inspire you to register and help increase the representation of reform critics at this event.  Reach out to me on Twitter if you want to try to find a way, at least, to have a meet-and-greet sometime before that brunch Sunday morning.

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The New More ‘Transparent’ ASD

TFA leaders have been dropping like flies.  First there was Michelle Rhee ‘resigning’ as chancellor in DC and then, more recently, ‘stepping down’ as CEO of StudentsFirst.  Wendy Kopp resigned her post as CEO of TFA to lead the international Teach For All.  Then there was Kevin Huffman in Tennessee, Cami Anderson in Newark.  Now that there is a new Governor in Louisiana I am certain that John White will soon be ‘opting to spend more time with his family’ and then that will be it for the first generation TFA system leaders.

Of all the fallen TFA leaders, however, the one who I have spent the most time covering is the Tennessee Achievement School District’s (ASD) superintendent Chris Barbic.  I suppose this is partly because I was, at one time, fairly good friends with him and still have a cordial relationship with him.  Of all the reformer leaders, I’ve felt that I could ‘crack’ Barbic since I think he has some morals and just needs to snapped out of his reform trance with some extreme ‘Deer Hunter’ therapy.

I don’t know if the reformers had planned out this strategy in advance, but it seems that what happens is that one of them gets the reins of a big school system and shakes things up, shutting down schools, opening charters and, ultimately, alienating the community.  Then, once they’ve gotten the wrecking ball rolling, they ‘voluntarily’ step down and get replaced by some kinder, less threatening, version of themselves.  So Arne Duncan was replaced by John King.  Michelle Rhee was replaced by Kaya Henderson.  Wendy Kopp was replaced by two people, Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva-Beard.  And it was recently announced that Chris Barbic will be replaced by Malika Anderson.

The ASD is one of the biggest disasters in ed reform.  They started about four years ago with the goal of taking over schools in the bottom 5% in terms of test scores and getting them, in five years, into the top 25% of schools in Tennessee.  In my analysis I found that of the six schools that have been in the ASD since the beginning, four remain in the bottom 5% while the other two are still in the bottom 6%.

In her letter introducing herself, Anderson shows that she has been briefed about how to spin their data.  She writes:

After only three years, we’re excited to say that half of all Priority Schools in the state are now receiving some form of significant intervention. The bar for the bottom 5% has increased nearly 10 points—over a 50% increase—and students in Priority Schools are growing 4 times faster than their statewide peers

Since they cannot deny that their schools are still in the bottom 5%, they say that ‘the bar for the bottom 5% has increased by nearly 10 points — over a 50% increase.’  So what this means is that there is some metric, I think it is called the School Success Rate or SSR.  It is calculated every year for every school, but only released every four years or so.  So the bottom 5% school evidently used to score only 20 ‘points’ on this metric and now they’ve gone up by 10 ‘points’ to 30, which is a 50% increase.  But apparently the other schools that were not in the bottom 5% have also increased by 10 points so that the bottom 5% schools have not overtaken anyone as they were supposed to.  Also there’s this stat that students in priority schools are ‘growing 4 times faster than their statewide peers.’  Basically this means that there is some metric on which the statewide peers got a very low growth number, something very close to zero.  And when you multiply something very close to zero by four you still get something very close to zero.  It’s like if I go on a diet and lose one pound, I lost four times as much as a person who lost just a quarter of a pound.  It is meaningless to talk about comparing growth rates this way when both numbers are so low.

In the future, Anderson promises some improvements:

Going forward, we will continue to hold ourselves and our school operators accountable to the highest levels of student achievement and growth. We will continue to go where need is concentrated, ensuring every Priority School in Tennessee is improving because we believe that families and students in these schools deserve nothing but the best. And we will continue to ensure that the power in our district is placed in the hands of local parents, educators and leaders in the neighborhoods and communities we serve because they are the ones who best know how to serve our students. We will do so with even greater transparency and deeper levels of partnership than during the ASD’s initial years.

Now the ASD has been known for alienating communities, taking over schools, holding meetings at times that interested community members are unable to attend.  So to say they will ‘continue to ensure that the power in our district is placed in the hands of local parents, educators, and leaders in the neighborhoods’ is something I find puzzling.  And in reading this letter, she’s not off to a good start with doing so ‘with even greater transparency’ as she parrots the typical misleading, albeit creative, statistics that try to paint the ASD as some sort of success.

I’ll admit I was hoping that Chris Barbic would have held on for five years so he would have had to hold some kind of press conference after the five years to say “We failed.”  Having a different leader in place at the end of the five years will definitely change that dynamic.  No, by the time that it becomes clear that all these reform leaders were a type of grifters, they will all have safely disappeared leaving their marks trying to figure out how they fell for such a clear long con.

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For TFA is it worse to be a charter critic or a Tea Party member?

In my last post ‘Tea F A?’, I speculated that the former executive director of TFA Nashville was fired after a video surfaced of him saying some pretty disgusting things at a Tea Party Rally.  This was just speculation based on a tip I received.

Now after putting this theory out to the public, much more information about this story has surfaced.  If this information is accurate, it suggests something a lot more disturbing about TFA than that they hired someone who has disdain for students who get free lunch or whose parent are illegal immigrants.  If this new information is accurate, it means that to TFA it is more of a sin to be a skeptic of the ‘no excuses’ charter model than it is to be a member of the Tea party.

First there was this comment left on Diane Ravitch’s blog post about this:

There’s actually more to this story. Adnan Barqawi cancelled the TFA Nashville contract with RePublic (no excuses) charter schools because of abusive treatment of teachers. Without TFA, RePublic can’t function. So, because RePublic and its leader, Ravi Gupta, are so well-connected and powerful in the charter movement, Mr. Barqawi was removed from his post and the TFA contract reinstated. Caution is advised here – attacking Mr. Barqawi will likely give TFA and RePublic cover to say that the abuse of teachers wasn’t real and allow them to conceal the real reason he was let go.

Then, I received an email from someone who wished to remain anonymous saying something similar:

Adnan came in in January 2015.  Saw how many charter school teachers were responding to the high pressures of their schools.  Working 80-90 hour weeks, even hospitalized bc of stress.  He decided it wasn’t healthy and wanted to let corps members transfer to a different school if they wanted to.  Some corps members immediately put in for a transfer.  Supposedly, Wendy Kopp heard about this and called Adnan immediately from India and put him on administrative leave.

Well, if all this is true, I suppose I owe Barqawi a partial apology by suggesting he got fired from TFA for something he deserved to get fired from TFA for, but perhaps really got fired from TFA for actually trying to do something good.

This new theory about the short lived tenure at TFA of Adnan Barqawi is definitely interesting and maybe even more information about the situation will come from people responding to this second post about it.

Teach For America has never been flexible about teachers requesting transfers.  They are very controlling so even letting one person transfer, they seem to fear, will lead to everyone wanting to transfer so they rarely approve of one.  An extreme example happened last year when a corps member named Spencer Smith got into a life threatening car accident.  Doctors thought he may never recover from traumatic brain injury, but somehow he did.  He wanted to return to teaching but needed a transfer to be closer to his doctors, and they denied him this request.  He wrote about the ordeal here.

So I’m not surprised if an executive director would get fired for being too permissive with transfers, particularly ones from ‘no excuses’ charter schools.  It is just ironic that the Tea Party stuff may have had nothing to do with the decision.

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Tea F A?

Adnan Barqawi was a TFA 2009 corps member who was warmly received at a TFA event in Nashville in July of 2014.

Screen shot 2015-11-12 at 11.14.41 PM

TFA hired him to be the executive director of TFA Nashville in January of 2015.  He is still listed on the TFA website as a staff member.  He left four months later.

Perhaps the mystery of his sudden disappearance four months after taking the TFA job was the discovery of this YouTube video recorded in July of 2009 during his TFA summer training.  It turns out that Barqawi is a proud member of the Tea Party.

Here is a quote from the video about his feelings about the free lunch program in schools:

“I discovered that, um, I worked so hard earning close to minimum wage so that I can provide for the free lunches and breakfasts of others who don’t necessarily want to work as hard or have just used the system in such a way that to me is not America.”

And here is is on his students who were illegal immigrants:

“The majority of the students I taught were illegal immigrants.  Who’s paying for that?  The taxpayer.  Who’s paying for their breakfasts and lunches?  The taxpayer.  And, you know, when I asked those children, because I was so curious, I never heard of the notion of free breakfasts and free lunches and I’ve lived all around the world.  And they have no idea why they get free lunches and free breakfast.  It’s just an expectation.  It’s almost like “Well, the governments gonna take care of me”, you know, and so it’s so sad no wonder, you know, I thought to myself, that the poor keep getting poorer because there’s no one to show them empowerment and independence and self-reliance rather than depending on a failing welfare system.”

OK, so TFA hired a Tea Partier and fired him four months later.  Didn’t they correct their error?  Well, yes, it was wise to fire him, but I think that the fact that someone with these views could rise so high in the organization is symptomatic of something that has plagued TFA for a while.  Hiring this guy is yet another example of what sloppy decision making this organization continues to make on a daily basis.

Watching this guy speak his opinions, there is no way that he was able to fake his way through an interview saying just the things that he would think that TFA wanted him to hear.  He does not seem capable of keeping these thoughts to himself.  I think this also shows that they are being forced to hire people like this since people who have a clue are now staying far away from the organization.  If you think this guy is scary, think about the five people that he beat out for that job.

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Louisiana Makes Big Gains* On AP Tests

To education ‘reformers,’ test scores are the ultimate measure of success.  Test scores are the evidence that the country’s education system is broken.  Test scores of certain charter schools prove that most teachers in this country have low expectations and don’t try very hard.  Schools have been shut down over test scores.  Teachers have been fired over test scores.

Contrary to the narrative of common core proponents, there are currently many national tests that can be used to compare test scores of different states.  There’s the NAEP, the ACT, the SAT, and, probably the highest quality of all of them, the Advanced Placement exams.  Though I’m not a huge fan of a lot that The College Board does, I find the tests that I’m knowledgeable about, AB Calculus, BC Calculus, and Computer Science, to be good tests.

Education ‘reform’ leaders use low test scores as a way to justify their radical policy changes.  “Kids can’t wait,” they say.  They promise that they know what works and that they just need some time for their changes to take effect.

As someone who has been tracking the ed ‘reform’ movement for nearly 5 years now, I notice that they have not delivered on their promises to raise test scores.  A prime example is in Louisiana where state superintendent and two-year Teach For America veteran, John White, has been celebrating Louisiana’s progress on the Advanced Placement tests for the past three years.  Even though their percent passing continues to be near the bottom of the nation, they celebrate the fact that their ‘participation’ has increased.  And with that increased participation, this is not surprising, their percent passing has dropped from 43% down to about 30%.

In September 2012, I first blogged about this.  Then in August 2013, it came up again, this time with a Twitter exchange between White and me.  And then last year, October 2014, I found all kinds of reports from The College Board demonstrating the Louisiana continues to be second to last in the country in AP achievement.  And here were are again, my fourth annual post about the stagnant AP scores in Louisiana.

In the August 5th, 2015 Times-Picayune, there was an article called ‘In AP test participation, Louisiana records big gains’.  But making kids take the test, and getting tax payers to pay for kids to take those tests, is meaningless.  Looking at the newly released data from The College Board, I see that Louisiana has the third lowest percent of passing scores in the country.

ap15graph2

So the ‘reformers’ answer to this is that they’ve increased participation so it is possible for percent passing to go down while the number of passing scores can still go up, which is true.  But the thing I looked into was how their amazing increased participation compares to the participation in other states.  I suppose if Louisiana had some of the highest participation in the country, it would be unfair to compare their very low pass rates with the pass rates of other states that have very low participation.  Fortunately the College Board keeps track of this too.  It seems that even with this increased participation, Louisiana has the twelfth lowest participation in the country so it is actually more than fair to compare their very low percent passing to the percent passing in other states.

ap15graph1

I even tried to make a metric that combined these two numbers by multiplying the percent participation by the percent passing for each state and this resulted in Louisiana still being very close to the bottom of the country.

ap15graph3

The College Board will soon release slick summary reports with even more useful information.  I’ll surely write about that when it comes our.

In addition to the state-by-state data released by the College Board, the state of Louisiana, a few months ago, released AP data for their districts and their schools.  These numbers are shockingly low and certainly seem to be something that ‘outcome driven reformers’ want to ignore.  Sci Academy, which is one of those New Schools For New Orleans schools touted on Oprah, for example, had over 110 students take an AP exam while less than 10 of them passed one.  Out of about 500 students who took an AP in the entire Recovery School District, only 27 students, or 5.5% passed one.

‘Reformers’ like to say that they get increased freedom in exchange for increased test score accountability.  They are truly running out of time to deliver on their promises.

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When You “Got To Go”, You Got To Go

The New York Times recently published a blockbuster report about a leaked sixteen student “got to go” list created at a Success Academy school in New York City.  The school, Success Academy, Fort Greene opened in September 2013.  In a press conference, Eva Moskowitz apologized for the “got to go list’ scandal, said it was an anomaly, and the principal who created it, Candido Brown, offered a teary eyed ‘mea culpa.’  What caught my attention was this paragraph from the New York Times follow up article published a day after the initial report where Moskowitz, the ultimate ‘No Excuses’ proponent, offered this bizarre excuse for the principal’s decision:

Ms. Moskowitz said the school, which then went through second grade, had severe disciplinary problems.  Mr. Brown previously said in an email that he believed he could not turn the school around if the 16 students remained.

When I think of a school in need of ‘turnaround therapy,’ I picture a school of veteran unionized teachers that has supposedly been ‘failing’ for decades.  This school was in its second year when it was in need of being turned around.  And the total number of students in the school was about 200, with about 70 kindergarteners, 80 first graders, and 50 second graders.  All of these students have been at the school for their entire schooling and all had Success Academy teachers.  I have trouble believing that this school needed a radical turnaround plan and if it really did, what does that say about the reform mantra that ‘great teachers’ overcome all if the great teachers at Success Academy were not able to maintain control of 200 5, 6, and 7 year olds?

The reaction to this story by reformers varied.  You had Michael Petrilli writing in The Daily News about how if a school needs the flexibility of harsh discipline, then that’s one of the benefits of charters.  The initial title that The Daily News gave to his piece was “Charters Are Not For Everyone.”  Though this is exactly what the piece was about, Petrilli complained about this title and it was changed to the infinitely less snappy “The real moral duty of charter schools:  The goal should be to create orderly and challenging environments where strivers from poor families can learn.”  On Dropout Nation, though, they are not supportive of the harsh discipline and exclusionary policies at Success Academies.  Most reformers refrained from commenting on the “Got To Go” list, however.  Campbell Brown was one exception, tweeting that she was “So proud” of Success Academy admitting it made a mistake and learning from it.  I could not resist responding to it.

I think that Success Academy would have been smarter to stay small and ‘under the radar.’  With their ambitious growth plan, there are too many teachers and former teachers who will be that much less likely to keep the secrets of their techniques of purifying their gene pool.  I expect there will be more whistle-blowers in the coming month.

Though it is just a small sample, all five reviews of this school on Inside Schools were negative (click on the comments button).  Here is a recent review on Inside Schools from a parent who nearly sent her child there for kindergarten, but changed her mind when the school would not excuse their absence from an orientation so the child could see her grandfather for the last time before he died:

We were accepted into this school for Kindergarten. I was a little wary of the hard sell they present to prospective parents. They boast about test scores, test scores, and test scores. Then they emphasize how your child will not have to interact with the other kids that Success has commandeered the building from as if they are lowly untouchables, and I couldn’t believe I was being reassured that my kid would never have contact with them. It was very elitist, but I wasn’t quite sure what they had to be so pretentious about. Maybe the TEST SCORES?

We were put on a waiting list, and then notified shortly after that we were fortunate to have been accepted. There were forms to bring back, and so forth. Then–they tell you about the uniform fittings. The uniform fitting is a big deal, and unlike other uniforms in the city, the uniform is rather costly-running you about $350 when all is said and done. That’s a chunk of change for a charity school looking outfit, with orange and brown being the predominant colors. We went to this mandatory “fitting” in the beginning of June. At the same time we were presented with a packet of summer reading materials, and we were supposed to log in the reading hours every week. I love that they emphasize reading, but this was a little much for an entering Kindergarten child. Of course we read to her, but now I was going to have to mark it all summer too, following specific guidelines for each book. Okay. But I was beginning to sense that this place was going to demand a lot more than just reading logs, and this was evident before we had even finished our fitting.

There was going to be an orientation for everyone directly after the first week of August (the school year begins mid-August-they seem to think that this makes them BETTER than other schools too). You were required to attend this (at Success you are REQUIRED to do a lot of things that you are not REQUIRED to do in other schools). In order to be enrolled that school year, parents had to bring their children, in their full uniforms. God forbid anybody should come to the first day orientation without a uniform because we were told they would be sent home.

The problem was we were planning to be out of town for that date. My dad was dying of cancer, and it was his last summer to be with family. We had scheduled to spend the first three weeks of August at our lake house in Michigan for this final precious visit with him. But when I told the coordinators this, they said “You can’t miss this. We told every prospective parent to take their vacations in July.” Now-we were wait-listed for one thing, and the other thing was that we weren’t about to plan our vacation around a school we weren’t sure of getting into. Coupled with that, my daughter’s pre-school went through July, so this would essentially leave her with barely a week of summer vacation, before Kindergarten. But finally, my father wad dying, and they were going to make me attend some perfunctory assembly over spending his last days with him? So–I let the next set of adminstrators know of our circumstances, but they were still completely intractable. No excused absences, even for a child’s dying grandfather? Someone told me if I wrote up a request to submit, they would have the main person in charge go over it, and decide if they deemed it appropriate enough to excuse her absence, but by this point, you couldn’t have paid me to have forced my five year old go to this militaristic place.

Everything about Success Academy (Fort Greene) was a complete and total turn off. I feel like the fact that they treated me like a hapless, ignorant, out of step parent before we were fully enrolled was actually a boon, because I would never want to participate in a school this rigid, with so little going for it. I mean really–the only thing that seemed okay was the lip service they were paying to it, and even that sounded suspect, and required one to drink the Kool-Aid, so to speak. I feel we dodged a real bullet that they were so unfriendly and prohibitive, and it was apparent before the first day that we never would have been happy there.

Here is a review from a parent who pulled her child from the school after five months:

I took my son out of this school after 5 months. They were obsessed with discipline and spent much of the day correcting behavior and creating an atmosphere where kids always felt like they were doing something wrong. Meanwhile, they were being NORMAL kids. Kindergarteners should not be expected to sit up straight with their hands locked in front of them for long stretches and be constantly keeping their eyes on the person speaking. They need more chances to move their bodies and have a chance to process their thoughts. They are constantly being told where to stand, sit, and what to do and say. My son is very bright and very well behaved and he was made to feel like he had a problem because he didn’t like to sit still for so long. When I tried to bring it up with the teachers and the Principal, they made it clear that they had their specific ways of doing things and if I didn’t like it, I would have to leave. They kept kids after school for not keeping their hands locked properly and for not getting 100% on a spelling quiz. Kids and parents alike always felt like they were in trouble at this school.

They also focus way too strongly on test prep – specifically math and spelling when young kids should be learning through varied activities, projects, and exploration. There were no parent teacher conferences – the only feedback from teachers was a daily behavior chart (either color coded or with the number of times your child had to be corrected) and a trimester report with a few numbers (result of math and spelling assessments, absences, number of homework assignments missed). Absolutely nothing that shows the teachers know anything about your child.

The Principal showed no understanding of the learning differences of children and that one size does not fit all. He just kept saying over and over, “this is how we do things here, and we make sure all kids succeed”. As if there was one way to succeed in school or life!

This place is not good for children and is not following a curriculum or philosophy that is based on appropriate child development. Parents beware.

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