My visit to KIPP

On Veteran’s Day I toured the KIPP High School here in New York City.  Public schools were closed but some charters were open (one of those ‘needs of the kids ahead of the needs of the adults’ things, I think).  So on Veteran’s Day I went to visit a school that had few veteran teachers.

I’ll admit that I came to this school with a very critical mindset.  Ever since getting ‘enlightened’ nearly two years ago about the threats to teachers and schools based on the inflated claims of school ‘reformers,’ I’ve gathered so much information about different KIPP schools.  I’ve analyzed attrition patterns and challenged their claims that they get incoming students who are way below grade level.  And even though I’ve known Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg for twenty years, though generally we’d talk at TFA events, KIPP had become, for me, a very abstract impersonal thing.  By visiting an actual KIPP, it was an opportunity to put faces and personalities to this organization to help me understand it better.

KIPP is the ‘gold standard’ of charter schools, and charter schools are the crown jewels of the education reform movement.  It is the charters that ‘prove’ that hard working non-union teachers are able to get incredible results with the same kids and the same resources as the nearby failing school.  When that failing school gets shut down for failing to accomplish what KIPP has, it makes room for another charter, maybe another KIPP.  KIPP continues to grow this way.  They even received $10 million recently from the U.S. Government to continue their expansion.

Before visiting, I had a stereotype image about KIPP schools which I expected to see there:  I thought I’d see a school with extended hours, maybe 7:00 AM to 5:30 PM.  I’d see teachers working relentlessly, enthusiastically high fiving their students all the time.  The teachers would tutor through their lunch.  I expected the kids to be eerily and unnaturally quiet.  If a kid misbehaved, he’d be sent somewhere — on the bench, they used to say, so he wouldn’t interfere with the lesson.  Though I wouldn’t be able to ‘see’ the attrition rate, I expected I’d see a group of kids who were the survivors of the middle school program, which I had studied and knew that up to 40% of students who started in KIPP in 5th grade do not make it to 8th grade graduation in KIPP.  These 9th through 12th graders would be the group that remained and they would be very good behaviorally and academically.  The classes would be equipped with the latest technology and the most modern curricula.  Everything would be top-shelf.  As I’ve tried to get information from KIPP before and they have been very tight-lipped, I assumed that my visit would be somewhat controlled.  I’d have limited access to see what I wanted, I thought.

My first surprise was that this KIPP did not have an extended day.  Students came from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM, with an extra hour and a half on some days for after school activities.  The schedule was the basic 8 period, 50 minutes a period variety.  I had expected some restrictions, but they instead gave me the master schedule and said I could go in and out of whatever rooms I wanted to for as long as I wanted to.  Glancing at the master schedule, I noticed something quite odd.  In most secondary schools, teachers teach five, if not six, classes a day.  All the teachers at this school seemed to teach just four classes.

As I’m a math teacher, I visited mostly math classrooms, though I also spent some time in English, Social Studies, Science, and Music classes.  Throughout the day I was quite surprised when the average class size that I visited was about fifteen students.  They said that some students were absent because of Veteran’s day, but not many as the school attendance rate for that day was about 87%.  So these KIPP teachers, though I did see them hard at work planning when they weren’t teaching, had schedules that seemed impossible:  four classes a day, fewer than twenty students per class.  This gives them about half the number of students that someone with five classes of 34 has to encounter.  Already I could verify that the ‘same resources’ thing was untrue.  If these are two of the things that contribute to the success of this school, it is a good argument for increasing resources to all struggling schools.

Just as the quality of the different KIPP schools throughout the country varies widely, the quality of the KIPP teachers in this school varied widely too.  I did see some great teaching.  A class called ‘engineering’ where the students were designing and building cars that are powered by a mousetrap was something that really impressed me.  I also saw some terrible teaching — classes, despite their small size, accomplishing little but joking around while the teacher weakly tried to get control.  But, in general, what I saw was teaching that I could best describe as ‘adequate.’  (Before anyone from the school gets too defensive about this, they should know that I think it is tough to even be an adequate teacher.  I often judge myself as just adequate, and I’ve been at it for fifteen years.)  The math teaching was good, not great.  Good, not special.  Considering all the hype about how ‘effective’ teachers teach a year and a half to two years of material each year, these teachers were good, though not good enough.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by this.  Many of these teachers were in their first few years of teaching.  It wasn’t that they weren’t trying, but they were struggling to get the students to learn.  The teachers tried to teach beyond the basic level where students just memorize a formula and learn to apply it.  They asked good questions to encourage thinking, but based on the responses, something just wasn’t clicking.  Teaching is hard, and the KIPP teachers reinforced that truth.

I did witness some discipline problems — mostly kids sleeping or zoning out and the teacher trying to get them to be more attentive.  The kids were not carted out of class, as I imagined they would be.  Teachers were generally responsible for handling their discipline problems.

I think one of the reasons these teachers were struggling to get the students motivated to learn the math was that the lessons, which the teachers plan together, were on very un-inspiring topics.  More experienced teachers find a way to include some kind of motivation or fun thinking opportunity into every lesson no matter how dry the required topic is, but these lessons were very dry and extremely teacher centered.  Now, I’m not one of these people who thinks that the teacher needs to be “the guide on the side.”  I can appreciate the need for teacher directed structure, particularly for kids who struggle.  But I needed, and the kids needed, something with a bit more ‘spark.’

I visited one of KIPPs ‘study skills’ classes.  I had read about how KIPP had developed a program for building skills like resilience and ‘grit’ which were even more important than academics.  So I was very surprised to see that a big part of the class I saw was dedicated to explaining a new reward system where the five students in that class would earn a candy bar each day for a week that they completed just one of their required homework assignments.  There is no way that Paul Tough was writing about this when he wrote about how KIPP is developing character in his latest book.

The kids, as I expected, were great kids.  They were very spirited and did not have the energy sucked out of them as I had thought they might.  I was glad to see that.  But I definitely noticed an absence of, for lack of a better word, ‘thugs.’  By this I mean like a 21 year old ninth grader who is only in class because it is a requirement of his parole agreement.  As I suspected, the ‘thugs’ have disappeared long ago, and maybe never were even there to disappear as their parents did not have the skills to know about or even enter the KIPP lottery.  The KIPP staff would probably disagree.  It is an awkward argument:  “Your kids aren’t that bad.”  “How dare you insult me.  Our kids are plenty bad.”  But my sense, which I’ll admit could be wrong, was that these kids were somewhat ‘easier’ to teach than the ‘same kids’ at the neighborhood failing school.

There was a nice sense of ‘team’ in the building, which I appreciated.  Since there weren’t a lot of rooms on their floor (they are getting a new building to themselves next year) teachers would plan in classrooms while their peers taught.  During one of the classes in the independent practice time I actually saw the teacher who was planning at the teacher’s desk get up and start working individually with the students in the other teacher’s class.

But my assessment is that this school is a somewhat better than average, but by no means a place where miracles are happening.  One thing that makes them better is surely the tiny class size and the fact that the teachers only teach four classes, which leaves them a lot of time to help kids individually.  I’ve sometimes thought that as a reward for teaching a high needs population, all teachers in a school with high poverty should teach just four classes.  Maybe this is something we can learn from KIPP.

I did enjoy going to KIPP and meeting all the teachers and administrators who were very nice to me and accommodating.  I understand them a bit better, though I’m going to use this last paragraph to help them get to understand me better, if they’re wondering why I’m taking all this time to scrutinize them.  Though the teachers and the administrators don’t think about this each day when they prepare their lessons and do the best job they can do to help their students, they are also, I think reluctantly, part of a bigger political picture.  Each year in New York City, Washington D.C., and other cities across the country, public schools are getting shut down for being ‘failing’ and their teachers are getting fired.  When politicians have to justify these heavy-handed tactics, they generally point to a charter school, sometimes a KIPP, to ‘prove’ that these teachers deserved to be fired and that these schools deserved to be shut down.  Like it or not, KIPP has been ‘weaponized’ by these people.

I do appreciate the hospitality and, like I said, I certainly did see a lot of good things going on too.  So keep giving it your all and good luck to you.

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90 Responses to My visit to KIPP

  1. Steve M says:

    So, it is not replicable on a gross scale (most problematic kids have been weeded out), and it is unsustainable (uses 50% more resources than a traditional school).

    But…it has young, dedicated kids teaching in it who will figure out what is wrong with the model 5-10 years in.

    Yup, sounds like a charter school.

  2. April says:

    Love how you expected to see thugs and you assume you didn’t. Unless all “thugs” have the word thug or tear drops tatted on their face

    • Gary Rubinstein says:

      Yes, I know that my ‘sense’ wasn’t very scientific. I did bring this up to a teacher there who said that several of the teachers recently had a conversation about this. Are the toughest kids there, but conforming to the culture or are they not there at all. Even this teacher said he was not certain either way. The principal said, when I asked about this, that they have a lot of interventions, but since the school didn’t seem to have the most ‘researched-based’ things going on in other places — like the candy bar homework motivation — I am skeptical that they are experts in getting very difficult kids to conform in that way. It just didn’t seem like they had the expertise. Again, maybe I saw what I wanted to see. I admitted that when I wrote “I could be wrong”.

      • Owen says:

        ‘Thug’ is pretty racially charged. For lack of a better word, I’d simply avoid it.

      • Chris Stewart says:

        The “thug” comment is really poor form and culturally incompetent.

      • Tom Forbes says:

        No need to bring race into. Thugs come in all shapes, sizes, colors, shades. I really go by the human race philosophy.

        Come up with a better term. What culture are you talking about?

      • I agree, Since when was the word “thug” limited to certain races? In fact, it comes from India — derived from a Sanskrit term. Will the previous commenters please a spare us from the ultra-liberal PC nonsense?

  3. Jane G. says:

    I taught in a KIPP school a while back and it was horrible for the staff and students. (The hours at the KIPP school I worked at was 7-5) If you include bussing and after school meetings, the day can be 11 hours. They also go on week long field trips in which the teachers do not get compensated for. They put kids on “bench” and had a massive teacher turnover rate. Sorry to say but many KIPP schools are the sweatshops of the educational world and the sad thing is that these schools are looked upon as model schools for the ed-deformers. However, in the end, If a parent wants to send their child to KIPP or a teacher actually wants to teach in a KIPP school, then I have no problem with that.

    • Mary Valentine says:

      The problem is that the for-profit schools are sucking the neighborhood public schools of their resources. All schools are weaker as a result. If KIPP is so great, let’s use those strategies in all public schools.

  4. M. Zamansky says:

    I’m certain that like any school, there will be a range of teachers from awful to amazing but I would point out that classes where students build mouse trap cars is something that I’ve seen quite frequently over the years. It can be a great project but it’s by no means a KIPP innovation.

  5. Gary: I’d love you to go visit a NYC KIPP middle school to see if the same issues prevailed; I have heard the disciplinary methods are imposed in a very strict manner. also is there a random lottery to get into the HS, or do the MS kids get a preference? Finally, did you talk about the class size? Part of the KIPP theology is that class size doesn’t matter much; and that they get better results w/ large classes — though the stats show that as MS kids move upwards through the grades, the high attrition leads to much smaller classes by the time they get to 8th grade.

    • Meg says:

      My understanding is that most KIPP schools do not enroll new 9th graders but rather draw entirely from existing KIPP middle schools. In areas with multiple KIPP schools multiple KIPP middles may feed into one high school. As you say, attrition can be a big problem so having a feasible 12th grade is tough without multiple schools coming in.

  6. Dan McGuire says:

    So, all we need to do is put class size at 15 and teachers teaching only 4 of those a day (60 students a day.) Sounds like a jobs plan to me, and it’s surely good for students, too.

  7. Caroline Grannan says:

    Correction: It’s up to SIXTY PERCENT of students who enter KIPP schools and don’t make it through 8th grade.

    Regarding the parents who don’t have the wherewithal to enter the KIPP application process: There are also various admissions hurdles. Some KIPP schools are known to require a test during the process, which — since we’re talking about students grade 5 and up — self-selects for kids compliant enough to do that. (I started the KIPP application process for my own daughter at KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy to find out whether a test would be required, which it was.) There’s also a counseling session during the process to ensure that the family is onboard with the KIPP philosophy and practices.

  8. Tom Forbes says:

    On my ATR rounds the last year plus, you see the smaller classes and reduced schedules in some of the small high schools in Manhattan who do not screen or audition their students to get in. There are even two teachers in the room at times. The schools which screen, have much more of a traditional approach, and because the students cooperate, it works. Then you have unscreened schools, with 30-34 students in 5 classes a day, and most often teaching in multiple rooms. Send in weak administrators and you are guaranteed failure and will ultimately be targeted for closure. Seeing it from the inside, it sure looks like a set up to me.

  9. skepticnotcynic says:

    Most KIPP schools are mediocre. Very few are really good. Usually the more established KIPP schools with more experienced faculty and stability are much better. These tend to be your regional flagship schools/campuses. A place that tends to attract the more savvy parents and, hence, you tend to get students who are somewhat easier to teach. Moreover, you tend to get better applicants, since some teachers actually want to work there besides TFA corps members.

    The newly established schools are usually pretty bad initially, but tend to get better as the years pass (hopefully). The only thing that saves them is the build out of one grade level at a time, which is easier to manage.

    If they want to get better and build a more sustainable system, they need to reform the length of the day at most KIPP schools and hire no one with less than 2-3 years of teaching experience. I am quite surprised that this school in NYC releases at 3. NYC appears to be doing something right, in that they have shortened the high school day. Quantity of time does not equate to quality time or even more learning. With extended day, a lot of the day is a waste, and you end up creating a culture of dependency and learned helplessness coupled with burnout. The opposite of what you want to do when you are preparing kids for college.

    School leaders can make the argument for their own campuses and do have a say over how their school is run. I would say they have a lot more say in regions where there is a small cluster, or 1 or 2 schools. The more established areas like Houston, NYC, and DC have more oversight and central office presence in schools.

    From my observation, charters in these high-performing networks tend to get mediocre quite fast as more and more schools are built out in the regions due to the problem of scarcity. You get fewer and fewer experienced teachers and even the students tend to get more challenging as you begin to serve the masses. You end up recreating a small district that needs to be managed more traditionally. Bureaucracy starts all over again.

    It’s not the model folks, it’s the people you have in the building. You can hype schools all you want with sexy brand names, but if you don’t have competent, mostly experienced, and hard working adults, you will never have a great school let alone a good school. And I don’t just mean schools labeled good or excellent because they have decent state exam scores. I mean schools where I would actually send my kids.

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  11. Meg says:

    Just a quick thought on your first sentence Gary – I know a lot of charter schools are open on some non-essential holidays to make up instructional days. Many of the schools’ charters require a certain number of instructional days over the standard 180. A lot of charter schools schedule in data days throughout the year when kids are not in school, and then need to make up the instructional time by eliminating certain holidays or Saturday school.

  12. Tim says:

    Quick thought on the post. I think it will be helpful for new CM’s who have always been shown selected clips from KIPP/Uncommon schools that showcase outstanding teaching and have been led to believe that that is what is occurring at every single moment in these schools. I think an impossible/unrealistic standard has been set and it is at times demoralizing.

  13. Tim says:

    Quick thought on the post. I think it will be helpful for new CM’s who have always been shown selected clips from KIPP/Uncommon schools that showcase outstanding teaching and have been led to believe that that is what is occurring at every single moment in these schools. I think an impossible/unrealistic standard has been set and it is at times demoralizing.

  14. nycteach says:

    How do you know what a “thug” looks like, Gary? That term is often used to describe young black males that are in tune with hip hop culture even if they have not exhibited any “thuggish” behavior whatsoever. That is pretty irresponsible to suggest that you can determine what a “thug” looks like solely based upon their age and appearance. Words matter.

    • Mr. K says:

      Seconded. I have many students who might be superficially described as “thugs” but are ambitious, respectful, and academically successful. If, on the other hand, Gary means that he observed no blatant misbehavior, this is still a shaky argument, since the arrow of causality isn’t clear–does the KIPP system eliminate such behaviors, or does it work because such behaviors never existed in the first place?

      Gary’s arguments (and even most of this entry) are normally fairly objective and convincing. I was a little disappointed with that paragraph.

      • Tom Forbes says:

        NYC teach, what schools have you worked? You choose the word to describe uncooperative students who consistently cross the line with in appropriate behavior. And Mr. K, some is probably more accurate than many. I dealt with “thuggish” behavior during much of my teaching career. In the end, they mostly come back and eventually start working with you and many years later may even come back and thank you for standing up to them. It has happened more than once in my career. It is not a fun job sometimes, but someone has to do it.

      • nycteach says:

        I used to teach at Boys and Girls High School and now teach in District 79. Thug is most often thrown around as a euphemism to describe young black and Hispanic males who have decided to maintain their own personal styles without conforming to the dominant culture regardless of whether or not they have demonstrated poor behavior. I have heard my colleagues use this term when it was unwarranted and have experienced it first hand as young black male growing up who was referred to as such. It didn’t matter that I was an honors student that ultimately attended Columbia. I would simply refer to students with behavioral problems as “unruly students”. This is an all encompassing term that is both race and gender neutral. The term “thug”, however, conjures up an image of a young male of color, at least in the contemporary context. To suggest anything otherwise would be disingenuous or at the very least, terribly naive.

      • Tom Forbes says:

        I respectfully disagree that using the term thug has racial overtones. I would lean toward being naive, because I always mean well. Race and gender neutrality has its limits.

      • E. Rat says:

        I’m surprised that there’s any argument about the connotation of the word “thug”. It’s inappropriate, and I think its use here is a good reminder to white educators (me included) that we need to be active in challenging our own racial attitudes and privilege.

        That said, one of the issues I have with KIPP is that their expectations for behavior are based entirely on white, upper-middle class ones. Certainly students whose conversational norms and communicative styles are not those of the dominant culture need to be able to codeswitch if they’re going to be successful within the dominant culture. But KIPP isn’t teaching codeswitching from one norm to another; KIPP’s framing and language suggest that they are teaching behavioral expectations to children who don’t have any. (And as someone who has provided professional development to KIPP teachers – most of whom were young white educators – I can say KIPP is doing very little itself to challenge its teachers on issue of race and privilege.)

        So while I agree the term is not okay, I don’t want to erase the ways in which KIPP’s expectations for students’ dress, behavior, and participation and the deficit model from which they come is problematic.

  15. juggleandhope says:

    I noticed similar patterns when I visited last year in NYC – but I recall the class sizes being closer to 25. They had an open door policy with us too. And of course you’re correct to point out the lack of seriously disaffected macho students. The other aspect that particularly struck me about both KIPP and Democracy Prep – the completely uninspiring test prep. But of course that’s the Regents fault, mainly.

    Thanks for this nuanced report.

  16. Owen says:

    Tom, search “thug” on google images and get back to me on whether it’s racialized in our contemporary culture.

    Gary, sorry to derail the thread, but colorblind racism is the most insidious form of modern prejudice, and one that any critical race thinker will find pervasive in urban schools.

    • Del says:

      Great suggestion, Owen. I did the google image search, so the case is closed. Some others posting here are unaware that, through gangster rap (e.g., Tupac and “thug life”) especially, the image and connotations of “thug” — which was not racial when I was a kid — have thoroughly changed.

  17. AThug says:

    Tom, what gives you the privilege of “disagreeing” that thug has racial overtones? How many times have people assumed you were a thug because of the color of your skin?…… Thought so. What’s the predominant ethnicity in KiPP schools across the country? Gary has good intentions but needs to check his inner prejudices. And anyone else that doesn’t see a problem with linking marginalized youth with thugs.

    • Tom Forbes says:

      The privilege? What gives you the right to be the all knowing? I really think this conversation is ridiculous. I was going to leave it at the last comment.

  18. AThug says:

    Yes it’s ridiculous because no one has ever looked at you and thought “thug”. It’s called white privilege.

    • Tom Forbes says:

      How do you have any idea you know what you are talking about? I know some white thugs and who knows, I may be one myself.

      • Michelle says:

        This is about as good of an argument as saying one is not racist because one has a black friend.

        If I have learned anything as a white person, it is that I am certainly not always aware of the ways in which my privilege plays out. One of the best ways to figure out when privileged assumptions are rearing their ugly head is when a bunch of people of color are brave enough to call me out on one of my assumptions, something that I didn’t even notice until they explained it to me.

        How do they know what they are talking about you ask? Because they have suffered at the hands of said assumption many times before when I did not even realize it existed. If a bunch of people of color are telling you that term offends them and is frequently used in a racialized way, then it probably is. Apparently a quick google search will confirm their experience. Why is it so important to continue to insist that their experience is wrong? Just because there might be a few white “thugs” does not preclude the fact generally people are using this term in a way that dehumanizes and devalues non-coforming young men of color.

        It is ok to respectfully call the author out on this and ask that in the future he use better language or more clearly state what he meant. This is how we all learn and move forward. From one white person to another, I find I learn a lot more about privilege and how to respectfully and humbly move about in the community if I listen when people of color talk about race.

        On a separate note, as a former KIPP teacher, there were a lot of us who thought about privilege often and how to speak about it with our youth. But there were also quite a few who did not understand about privilege and how it was playing out in their teaching.

  19. AnnieS says:

    Am I missing something? I teach in Texas, and we don’t have teacher unions here, therefore we’re not guaranteed a job even if we are a crappy teacher. So according to the whole “non-union teachers are so much better than union teachers” (my words) that the charter school people and “ed-reformers” spout, doesn’t that mean that Texas should be leading the way in education? And yet, we aren’t. Can someone explain that to me? Call me confused.

    • Jeff says:

      Non-Unionization is necessary but not sufficient to create success. It’s evil twin is incompetent admin. If one or both are prevalent you find failure. Remove both and you’ll most likely find high performance.

      • Non unionization is necessary? Evidence?

      • Jeff says:

        Evidence? Look around you. You can even start with the AFTs own charter schools in East New York.

      • David Eckstrom says:

        Good point. Places (like Massachusetts and Finland) which have 100% unionized teaching staffs all have really sucky school systems. . . er . . . wait . . .

      • Jeff says:

        Are you comparing the quality of the teacher pool in Finland with that in the U.S.? They take from the top 10% of undergrads. We take from the bottom 3rd. Their teacher unions are more of a professional guild always pushing to raise the standards in their profession. Ours? Focused on fighting for “Due process” for teachers who harm children by being in the classroom, and of course railing against any accountability for student learning.

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  21. Dave says:

    Charter school “magic success” is usually due to smaller, selective classes, test prep, and data massaging.

    As for “thug” – it has been used for decades and referenced white people to. A current Google search does not equate to the history of a word.

    • E. Rat says:

      And the history of a word may have historical interest, but has limited impact on its current meaning and connotation. A Google search is also a limited tool, but it provides modern context that points to current use patterns.

      Using a word’s origin tells us very little, not only because much etymology is folk tradition as opposed to historical linguistics, but also because speakers are not relying on the history of a word to understand its meaning. Few if any of the people using the word “thug” are aware of its (presumed) origins. Pretending those origins tell us anything about the word’s use and meaning now is silly.

      • The point of retorting the automatic “fire in the theater” racist accusation was not simply a matter of etymology. A thug is a thug is a thug — black, Irish, Italian, Puerto Rican… whatever.

  22. Joe says:

    The term thug is usually reserved for teachers’ unions, unionized teachers and teacher union leaders. People like Chris Christie freely lubricate their anti-union, anti-traditional public schools’ screeds with the term thug. In fact, all union people are described as thugs (lazy, incompetent, greedy thugs) not just teachers.

  23. Bill Betzen says:

    The KIPP truth attrition rate you mention affirms what is happening here in Dallas with KIPP. I did a study this past April using their data from the Texas Education Agency web site. See The KIPP student attrition rate is higher than Dallas ISD.

  24. Rebecca Muller says:

    One of my teaching cohorts refers to certain types of children in her class as the “Big Players”! So whatever you call it, if you’ve had experience teaching – you know what it means. The “Big Players” don’t get into charter schools for many different reasons.

  25. Very interesting inside reporting, thank you. I would like to hear about any arts programs in KIPP schools. Do they exist? Are they considered important by the administrators? For an interesting pov on this, please see “Master Race To The Top” – from guest blogger Don Castellow, at

    • Jeff says:

      KIPP is devoid of any and all activities that are unrelated to Regents test prep. This video for instance is a craftily made optical illusion. Insidious.

    • Michelle says:

      I used to work at a KIPP school. All the students had Art several times a week. We also had a drum line and orchestra for 7th and 8th grade students. All 5th graders also participated in a holiday play and choral performance. I believe the KIPP school in the Bronx has a fantastic orchestra.

      It will vary greatly depending on which KIPP school you are at. They are able to do lots of things as a result of private donations because as we all know the funding for public schools is abysmal. An argument for more funding for all schools of course, not that there is something sustainable about private funding of public education.

  26. Carol burris says:

    Thank you Gary. I think your observation on class size and periods taught are key. If you read John Kings dissertation on charters, you will see the same….low student / teachers ratios, which he said, were key. Now he says class size is “nuanced”.
    I see no reason for anyone to take offense at the word”thug”. It is not associated with race. It was your attempt to describe kids who come to school for “buiness purposes” such as drug dealing and gang recruitment (and I assure you that goes across all lines of race and ethnic groups), or because the parole officer mandates it, or who come to school to ‘hang out’ while taking pleasure in disrupting learning.
    Do we have an obligation to teach all kids…yes we do and we hope that we can change that path. But the reality is, kids who engage in thug like behavior, and kids who have severe emotional or conduct issues are not in charters or privates. Not only do the affect scores, they affect building culture and administrative time.

    • Jeff says:

      And you believe the behaviorally challenged kids in government run district schools are not segregated in special classes or even out placed to special schools?

      • David Eckstrom says:

        In the public HS where I teach, all students except the profoundly physically handicapped are mainstreamed into regular ed. classrooms, and this includes the behaviorally challenged. Occasionally, a kid will get “out placed” to jail, but that isn’t a decision that’s made by school policy.

      • Lori Jablonski says:

        Thanks for asking, Jeff. I teach in the largest comprehensive high school in my city. The “behaviorally challenged” students in my school are indeed integrated, with some very, very few exceptions–and even for students in self-contained classes are integrated for several periods of day.

  27. Jim Horn says:

    If I were wanting to find out if KIPP lives up to its reputation as the segregated final solution to character deficiencies among poor people, I would go to where the indoctrination and de-culturing is being done in the 5-8 schools, rather than to a high school on a holiday. The middle schools are where you will find teachers putting in 70-90 hours a week and where you will find Levin and Seligman-inspired school “leaders” playing amateur clinicians by urging teachers to apply alternating jolts of learned helplessness and learned optimism in order to behaviorally neuter children, while culturally sterilizing them. This is where you will regularly find well-meaning TFAers and former TFAers engaged in a minstrel version of social justice education, whereby poor brown and black children are transformed to reflect the short list of “performance character” values of corporate America, which conspicuously lacks the term “integrity” and where the moral compass has been tossed out the window for a GPS map to Wall Street.

    • Chi Res says:

      Exactly, by high school, they already have the skimmed, indoctrinated, compliant population they social engineered in their middle schools. So, it makes sense that their high schools would differ from their middle schools.

      KIPP has expanded in some areas into the lower grades and preschool. As an Early Childhood Educator, this really concerns me, because I have seen videos of how their preprimary aged children are expected to sit down, sit still and be quiet for extended periods of time, rather than being encouraged to learn through play. If you think boot camp is inappropriate in middle school, it really looks like child abuse for younger children. I’d suggest observing there, too.

      I’d love to know their attrition rates for primary and preprimary age kids, especially for preschoolers, because, since PreK is not compulsory, it’s easier to kick those kids out than children of other ages.

      • E. Rat says:

        All this, and I don’t get the sense that KIPP’s pedagogical model accepts that very young learners ARE DIFFERENT and have DIFFERENT NEEDS than older children (I don’t like their model for any learners, but I think it’s particularly damaging for young children).

        I’m also curious about whether or not KIPP follows state requirements for Kindergarten entry cutoffs. I know that other charter schools have been found strongly encouraging that children born close to the cutoff not be enrolled, and in California a number of charter schools are refusing to offer the mandated Transitional Kindergarten program.

      • Chi Res says:

        Red shirting Kindergartners, holding kids back a year before they start formal schooling, might be how they try to obtain higher test scores. Once they start school, that population would be one year older than the kids in neighborhood public schools in similar grades that they are being compared to on standardized tests. Those folks really know how to game the system.

        Transitional Kindergarten is to help children who are not yet ready for first grade and it costs more money. It’s cheaper to red shirt Kindergartners.

      • Jeff says:

        Child abuse is graduating a kid in 12th grade who can only read at an 8th grade level. Decades of child abuse courtesy of government delivered k-12 education.

      • Cosmictinkerer says:

        Another non-educator troll who thinks he’s an expert in education. 8th grade is not a very low reading level. The popular press is typically written at a 6th grade level.

        Child abuse occurs when politicians ignore poverty and expect teachers alone to eradicate it.

      • Jeff says:

        Attending a violent, low performing urban high school qualifies me as an “expert”. Too many of my teachers had checked out long ago. And now being a taxpayer gives me the unmitigated right to speak loudly about anything that i help pay for. But you’re right I didn’t attend one of our nations fine “schools” of education and study whole child drivel.

      • TeacherEd says:

        If attendance is the only crition for determining expertise, then we can assume you consider yourself an expert at virtually everything you have been involved in throughout your life experience. You must think yourself a criminal justice expert, tell the police how to do their jobs and blame their unions, too, since they undoubtedly “checked out” when there was violence at your school.

        Labor unions assure a living wage and due process, not a job for life. If we had more unions in this country, we would not have so many working poor with the need to protest for a living wage today, at places like Wal-mart, Macy’s, etc. Anyone againast unions serves as a tool of big business. (No, I do not belong to a union, but I sure wish I could join one, so that I would be paid an equitable income for all of my college degrees and experience.)

        That “whole child drivel” is about providing a rich, broad curriculum, so that students can learn things like scientific concepts and vocabulary, which will in turn contribute to raising their cognitive and reading levels. It’s half-child drivel that should be the concern, since that’s what is promoted by high-stakes testing mandates and has resulted in a narrowed curriculum that has turned students into test-takers focused on just reading and math.

      • TeacherEd says:

        Sorry for typo, “crition” should be “criterion”.

      • Jeff says:

        TeacherEd – As a consumer of a service, I am the only expert opinion that matters. Imagine if you went to a restaurant, hated the food, but were told by the chef that you have no idea what good food is. He might be right but if enough consumers agree with you then its a moot point because his restaurant will fail. Public ed in this country is like a crappy restaurant except the government forces us to keep eating there.

        As for your view on labor unions, lets just say I disagree. But your point about your degrees is telling. You don’t have professional value because of your degrees. You have value to the extent that you are effective at your job. Do degrees indicate competence and effectiveness? In most professions, yes. But it seems that In education there is very little correlation between number of degrees and effectiveness in a classroom. If you don’t believe me just ask an old educator named Arthur Levine.

      • TeacherEd says:

        When you pour heaps of pepper on the food, after the kitchen sends it out, and then don’t like the taste, is that the chef’s fault? The business model is not a paradigm reflective of the complex processes involved in learning, where there are many variables not under the control of schools. That differs greatly from companies that select all ingredients that go into producing their end product, as well as how they create it.

        I have been told many times that my work is highly valued by my employers, but all teachers are exploited at my school. None of us are paid livable wages or given any benefits. That is what can happen when teachers work at schools that are not unionized.

      • Jeff says:

        If all of the teachers at your school are exploited including you, why don’t they and you leave? Why stay in such an environment? Surely you must have some have some control over your own life! It sounds like you’re talented – so take your show on the road and find an organization that WILL value you.

        As for a “livable wage”‘, that’s for you to be concerned about. Your employer only needs to be concerned about wage levels to the extent that they have trouble finding the requisite talent for the level of $ they offer.

        Its a gross generalization I realize but i find that public sector professionals never quite seem to grasp how markets work. And because of that they are perpetually aghast at how the world sees them. We need people who understand how capital and labor markets work to educate our children.

      • TeacherEd says:

        Don’t make assumptions. I have taught in the private sector for most of my career and nowhere have I been exploited more than by free market capitalists, since they value profits over people.

        I have been teaching adults in college for the past 17 years and 75% of college faculty across America are in the same boat as I am, at both public and private schools, so there is nowhere else to go but a different country that values its teachers.

        I have watched this happen at school after school in higher education and the same thing is just around the corner for lower education, if no one takes heed. No doubt, that would be schadenfreude for you.

      • Jeff says:

        No doubt you will not want to hear this but the world does not owe you a wage that is based on some arbitrary standard of “livability”. In fact you’re not even entitled to a professional life free of what you call “exploitation” but what is in reality market economics. And I as a taxpayer am not reponsible to make sure that you are provided with a wage that is livable by your standards. It is YOU and you alone who is responsible for maximizing your own economic value and creating your own chosen standard of living.

        “Profits over people”? Corporations are a creation of human beings set up TO maximize profits so that we, PEOPLE, may deliver and receive the best outcomes for the most people.

        And I apologize to go back to the restaurant analogy but I have to correct some assumptions. What the restaurant produces (food, ambience, service etc) is equivalent to teaching. The patrons are the students, their families, and taxpayers. And, yes if they pour too much pepper on what you serve, they can ruin the dining experience for themselves. But as the restauranteur you do select all the ingredients that go into making your culinary creations.

      • David Eckstrom says:

        Jeff, your sample size of one makes your research into public school education really suspect. I have noticed that in all your posts you are failing to cite anything that looks objective or thorough. You spout silly free-market truisms and make broad assumptions about education based on nothing really but your own perceptions.

      • David Eckstrom says:

        Jeff, here is where your restaurant analogy breaks down big-time. In a restaurant, customers come in, order what they have already determined they want to eat and they pay the bill for the food and service they’ve consumed themselves. It’s a very private experience and it’s engaged in by actors with definite criteria for what they expect and a very clear relationship between what they are willing to pay and the experience they expect. The ultimate expression of that is seen in the practice of tipping. My niece waits tables at a restaurant that caters primarily to men. She has a nice body and a sweet smile and she makes more in ten hours over Friday and Saturday nights than I make teaching all week. Good for her–I’m not complaining, but she is not being paid in proportion to how nutritious and healthy the food and drinks are that she is giving these men, she is taking advantage of their stupidity and their state of inebriation.
        Public school teaching is very different from that. It’s much more like working at a soup kitchen or even serving a family meal.

        The people consuming the food are not directly the ones paying for it.

        The menu is often restricted to items that are selected by parties outside the dining experience.

        McDonald’s doesn’t have to worry about what’s best for its customers, it only has to worry about what its customers are willing to pay for. What my “customers” often want is unethical or even illegal for me to provide. The teaching equivalent of a Big Mac would be a good grade for partying all day–fun and delicious, but if you do it every day, you will kill yourself.

        Here’s the big one: everyone who comes into a restaurant wants to eat. Most of the kids who come into my classroom aren’t so sure they want to be there. Convincing them that it is in their best interest to do what I am asking them to do in my classroom is enormously difficult work. Ensuring that work will result in genuine learning is even more difficult. Nothing that I did in my previous career as an engineer comes anywhere close to that difficulty level, and I get paid roughly half as much now as I did as an engineer. So why am I here? The free market logic explains the 46% of teachers who leave teaching within the first 5 years, but it doesn’t explain me. I have been a teacher for 19 years because I don’t just view what I do as a job. I see it as a profession, almost the old-fashioned idea of a “calling.” I am going to do this until it is physically impossible for me to live on what I am paid. I believe most of my colleagues feel the same way. That doesn’t mean that I am not going to do what I can to preserve the living wage and benefit I currently enjoy. This is apparently a problem for you because I happen to be a public employee, but wouldn’t be a problem for you if I could just wear a lower-cut top and schlep wings with a little more hip swing to increase my income.

      • Chi Res says:

        It’s evident that you take great pleasure in blaming people for being in poverty, so I’m not going to pursue this converstation any further with you, except to say this:

        Virtually everyone in power, from the POTUS on down, including KIPP, expects teachers like me me to lead students to believe that a college education is the solution to poverty. Considering that I often have first year students who are working as untrained novices in my field and they are already earning the same or more than I am, it has not been easy to play along with this sham, while watching my earnings power steadily decline over the years. Since I believe very strongly that education is intrisically valuable, I still think college is worthwhile, so I don’t bring up financial issues with students and leave that to the financial aid department. However, if they ask me about job prospects and potential earnings, I won’t lie to my students.

        I feel fortunate to still have work in my field, despite being poor and unable to retire when I should, but others are not so blessed, as millions of college educated people today cannot find work in their fields and have had to settle for low paying, low-skill jobs, which contrary to your beliefs, is not their fault:

        May you, the 1% and your prized market forces ultimately pay the consequences for abandoning humanity.

      • TeacherEd says:

        Sorry, that last post was from me and I accidentally got signed in as my roommate because we use the same computer.

      • TeacherEd says:

        P.S. This is consistent with The Fake Skills Shortage noted by Paul Krugman in the NY Times today:

      • Jeff says:

        David, who says your niece’s patrons are there for nutrition? And you call them stupid. What do you have against personal choice?

        Why should we have to live by David’s priorities? I think a good teacher is a lot more important to society than Kim Kardashian. But that doesn’t mean I think we should intrude on the legitimate market forces which result in Kim making more in a year than you and I will in 20.

        Granted public education is different and more difficult in many ways (although have you tried short-order cooking on a busy Friday night?)

        Also you’re getting mixed up with the analogous products. McDonalds sells satisfying meals – not nutritious meals. They only introduce health into their menus when they absolutely have to. So what? Who are we to say that people can’t eat purely for enjoyment despite clogging their arteries?

        And sure lots of our kids think that school is a drag. It’s difficult to reach them if they are tuned out. But like it or not that simply is a particular challenge of the job. It’s up to you to assess the teaching market and to determine your level of utility weighing your own desire with degree of difficulty and compensation. If you guessed wrong when you initially became a teacher you can always change your career path.

        I do agree with you however that we can make the educational experience cleaner if we introduce the dynamics of people paying for it directly. Vouchers anyone?

      • David Eckstrom says:


        I am about done here, because you seem much more interested in sticking to your ideology than you are in listening to a different voice.

        My niece’s patrons are not stupid because they aren’t interested in nutrition. They are stupid because they think overtipping her might result in her cheating on her husband, which ain’t going to happen.

        I’m not at all saying anyone has to live by my priorities. That comment completely misses my point and actually helps me make it. The school, students, and myself are all bound to comply with boring, often irrelevant standards that someone else (the public, presumably or their elected representatives) has set. If I were king, I could throw out the uninterested and difficult students and teach a fascinating real-world curriculum that I thought was best. But I don’t get to. It would be like the government requiring McDonalds to serve only meals that met the strict nutritional guidelines for health. McDonalds would fail at that, if they played the same game they do now. Get it?

        Yep. I have been a short-order cook. Also worked for UPS for 3 years in college. Ever sort 1200 packages an hour to thousands of zip codes until 4 AM when you have an exam in Advanced Analysis of Mechanism Systems the next morning? I have. I’ve also worked in a feedmill, sawmill, foundry, chicken processing plant, farm, construction site, produce warehouse, laser manufacturing facility, laser processing applications lab, sheet metal fabrication plant, private school, university and a high-security defense contracting firm. Don’t assume I don’t have a basis for comparison when I say this job is incredibly difficult.

        You’re still not getting that I don’t fit your economic model. I had several econ classes when I was studying for my MBA, so you can dispense with the economics lessons. I get the theory. I don’t do what I do because I’ve weighed all my options and think this is the best way to maximize my personal potential as an economic actor. I do it because I’m committed to this calling. Given that I am committed, I am going to collectively bargain for the best conditions I can, whether you like it or not.

        Do you understand what vouchers are? That is where INDIVIDUAL parents choose how to spend the money paid by ALL the taxpayers. I can’t for the life of me figure out how that fits with your free-market model. Individual parents already have all the choice they need. Private schools have been around since before public schools ever existed. Vouchers are simply welfare.

        And you might feel differently about the ability of vouchers to clean up the education system if you knew some of the parents I know. To bring my analogy full-circle, many of the same parent who feed their kids at McDonalds every day will be the same ones that choose the McSchool that gives them empty educational experiences that feel good at the time and are cheap enough to skim a profit off the top and still “educate” the child.

        Good luck to you. I don’t know how you ended up on this blog, but you seem like a reasonably sharp guy. If you comment here in the future, maybe you could try offering some concrete solutions instead of nebulous free-market platitudes. Rather than just denigrating the hard-working, specially-trained professionals who have actually spent significant portions of their lives trying to solve some of our educational problems, you could join in a productive conversation with us and perhaps do some good. You might meet some very good people and learn how we can use your help as a citizen to make our educational system better.

  28. Jeff says:

    One of the reasons why charters can create smaller class sizes while not spending more is because they try to keep to a low OH rate (10% or thereabouts). Admin burden in many urban districts can exceed 15 to 25%.

    • Querculus says:

      Jeff, you’re not figuring in the $900/day consultants and the PR firms, and the no-bid contracts and other gleeful abuses I’m seeing in a mostly black, mostly poor urban school system that is still withstanding the howitzers of privatization: Bridgeport Connecticut, one of the most corrupt cities in the country. (read about the parade of mayors who go to jail or resign in disgrace.) It’s now a playground of lobbyists, politicians, and crony capitalists. I assure you that there will be no 5 or 15% savings if you factor this in.

      • Chi Res says:

        Don’t forget the six figure salaries of charter school executives.

        Charters often have additional funding sources, such as foundations. Many are able to keep overhead low because some school districts give free space to co-locate schools, or they charge only $1 rent for their own building, such as in Chicago.

        Also, one of the claims of corporate sponsored education “reformers” who promote charter schools is that class size doesn’t matter, so many don’t aim to have smaller classes.

      • Jeff says:

        If taxpayers are willing to pay for those amenities – without results, then you’ve got a problem in Bridgeport. It sounds like the OH rate is significantly higher there after those extras. No?Why wouldn’t people choose those charters which can deliver better results or less?

    • David Eckstrom says:

      Jeff, when you “counsel out” the kids who require extra services, you can eliminate a lot of OH. We don’t get to do that in the traditional public school setting. So we need cops and a whole staff of assistant principals and social workers and psychologists and behavior management aides etc., etc., etc. to create anything close to a decent learning environment for the rest of the students.
      And let’s not make the blanket assumption that charters keep their costs lots lower and have smaller class sizes. I sit on the board of a charter that has higher than average per pupil costs and similar class sizes. It hasn’t been around long enough to gather any significant data, but there is no trend indicating that it is getting better results, either. This is typical.

      • Jeff says:

        You’re absolutely right that we can’t and shouldn’t make blanket generalizations about charters. Some charters are inefficient and/or ineffective. They need to lose their funding.

        But at the same time there are charters that actually are in business to serve the most difficult children. The very point of chartering is to produce an experience for children which IS different from the traditional district experience.

      • David Eckstrom says:

        In the ideal world, charters should be in business to serve the most difficult students. In the real world, however, charters seem to mostly end up being about providing a sort of private school experience for some kids, using public funds. Public funds are for public education. If I want a private school education for my kid, I am free to choose it, but you shouldn’t have to pay for it with your tax dollars.

        If you wish to take away the funding from charters that are ineffective, then the charters need to be subjected to the same standards and conditions as the traditional schools they originally took the funding from in the first place. This is often not done.

  29. Carol burris says:

    Are you certain they do not spend more?. Highest costs in my school are special Ed and ELL. How many special Ed and ELL students did that school have?
    Regarding admin costs…john King was a co-director of a school with about140 kids. Director of Harlem Children’s Zone who manages a handful of schools makes nearly 500k.

  30. Kipp came to Gary, Indiana with promises and glitz. They stayed for nine years before leaving families and children. My understanding was that they were in Gary to stay in Gary. I would like to know where else they have started, stayed for years and then left towns or cities with promises unfulfilled?

    • Chi Res says:

      They left schools in Denver CO and Camden, NJ, too, after just a couple years. They provided basically the same excuse for leaving both, that they could not find properly trained school leaders. Sounded rather suspicious, since they want people trained in their specific approach and provide their own training. What reason did they give for leaving Gary?

  31. Pingback: Former TFA member blasts group «

  32. Anderson says:

    I go to a KIPP school and trust me, our school hours are a lot longer compared to a public school’s schedule. KIPP schools do vary: my middle school was TERRIBLE and yet my current KIPP high school is adequate.

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