The time KIPP was booed off the stage at TFA

If the founders of KIPP, Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg — two guys I once considered pretty good acquaintances — were to make an appearance at a TFA institute, nowadays, surrounded by a group of actual KIPP students (known as KIPPsters), the place would go wild.  KIPP, Levin, and Feinberg, are heroes in the TFA folklore by now.  But it wasn’t always that way.

Back in 1996, the corps members were not so different from corps members today.  They were bright and wanted to do good for society.  The difference is that they weren’t indoctrinated by the current ‘no excuses’ solution to education.  I worked as a trainer that year (and Michelle Rhee, though a bit younger than me, was my supervisor’s supervisor) at the only institute at that time, in Houston at the U of H campus.  One of the evenings, the entire corps, which was about 1,000 people was asked to attend an all-corps assembly in the theater.

Up on the stage was a table at which sat Levin and Feinberg.  They explained to the group that they had just started their own school about a year earlier.  They weren’t yet very media savvy so the audience was definitely thrown by Levin’s style.  At one point he said something like “You hear people say ‘All children can learn.’  Well, that’s bullshit.  I say ‘All children can AND WILL learn’.”

They brought up the KIPPsters on the stage and had them demonstrate some of what they’ve learned.  The kids ‘skip counted’ by sevens and other things which I can’t remember now — this was 18 years ago.  The audience was getting antsy though and grumbling.  The thing they sensed was that this style of education lacked heart and soul.  One of the other trainers, I remember, went up to some of the KIPPsters after they had sat down and asked about what sort of literature they read.  “Have you read any Sandra Cisneros?” she asked.

Eventually, the grumbling got so fierce, people were coming up to the microphone and screaming at Levin and Feinberg and ultimately they cut the program short, and that was the end of the KIPP showcase that year.

Amazing what a difference 18 years makes, though the things that upset people back then are still valid.

KIPP released their latest annual report recently and one stat I’ve been tracking for years is their attrition rate.  For the past three years, it has been a steady 12% — per year.  This means that in a typical 5th through 8th KIPP, 100 fifth graders would shrink to 88 6th graders, 77 7th graders, 68 8th graders, and 60 graduating 8th graders for a total attrition of 40%.


Then they show this statistic.


ImageThis suggests that kids have a more than five times chance of graduating college by going to KIPP.  But that 44% is just the 44% of the kids who make it to be KIPP alumni.  So this stat is certainly skewed.  Now you might say that 44% of the 60% who remain is still 26 percent, which is still over triple the 8%.  You know, if they said that I still would have some issues, but definitely one issue less.

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

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


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31 Responses to The time KIPP was booed off the stage at TFA

  1. NJ Teacher says:

    I would take statistics coming out if Newark with a grain of salt.

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  3. Julie Tran says:

    Hi, Gary!

    In a prior report, KIPP reported their college
    completion rate at 30% vs. 70% of those
    accepted dropping out without completion.
    They even commenced some kind of
    White Paper study of why 30% was
    so low.

    Now, apparently, they’re saying it’s
    44% completion vs. 56% dropping out
    after being accepted.

    Well, that still leaves 56% who basically
    gave up their childhood (and adolescence
    … KIPP High School grads) to survive
    KIPP’s rigor… and then STILL fail to gain the
    one thing that’s been drummed into their
    heads they must receive: a college
    diploma. What happened to the 56%?

    Another thing… look at the 29% statistic for
    the average percent of non-KIPP traditional
    school students who make it through
    college—the white bar that is outlined in dots
    for some reason—sounds fishy.

    Does that 29% bar represent…

    1) total students—non-KIPP, traditional
    public schools— who start 5th grade (the
    same starting point as KIPP’-sters) and
    then attain later attain a Bachelor’s Degree?

    2) total students—non-KIPP, traditional
    public schools— who start 9th grade (the
    starting year of high school) and then
    later attain a Bachelor’s Degree?

    3) total students—non-KIPP, traditional
    public schools— who graduate high
    school (and may or may not have
    been accepted to college), and then
    later attain a Bachelor’s Degree?

    4) total students—non-KIPP, traditional
    public schools— who graduate high
    school and were accepted into college
    and then later attain a Bachelor’s Degree?

    Because if KIPP is claiming that it’s
    4)… then that means that 71% (!!!) of
    non-KIPP students accepted to and start
    university drop out without ever attaining
    a Bachelor’s Degree. Really now??!!
    71-out-of-every-100 non-KIPP students
    who get accepted to college
    later quit in failure???!!!

    Keep in mind that 71% figure is an average.
    That means that to balance out the 95%
    who made it (at my alma mater), there
    must be colleges where 0-5% of freshman
    fail to make it all the way to graduation.

    Is that possible?

  4. Pingback: Gary Rubinstein Remembers the Day That TFA Booed KIPP | Diane Ravitch's blog

  5. Joe Nathan says:

    Gary, do you teach at Sty High School in NY City? I have heard you do but want to check my facts before making other comments.

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  7. wordrefinery says:

    Hi Gary,
    I just wanted to thank you for this post! I have had the opportunity to volunteer with some students at a KIPP school, and even had some relatives who attended a KIPP school. It is really interesting to see how schools and statistics manipulate data to seem more educationally solvent, for lack of a better term.

    when it comes to attrition rate, i am very curious as to how this number is calculated. it seems doubtful to me that they are looking at individual students, and more likely that they are just looking at raw numbers of students.

    anyone who has worked in a poor urban school understand the fluidity of the student population…you have kids who are there one year and gone the next. kids who are there in september but are gone by november, or who don’t show up til february and are unexpected late additions to the class rosters.

    the charter school in which i worked had an extremely high turnover rate and accepted new students as late as May. it would be interesting to know if similar things are happening in charter-schools nationwide.

  8. Joe Nathan says:

    Gary, you work at one of the most difficult high schools in the country to get in. The United Federation of Teachers has urged a much broader method of selecting students. Unless I’ve missed it, you have has been not written about this.

    Meanwhile, the people you relentlessly criticize have established schools that don’t have admissions tests, and have helped thousands of students from low income families and students of color.

    Perhaps you could use the opportunities you’ve been given or your considerable energy to challenge questionable policies of the school where you work – or move to a school that serves a much larger % of low income students.
    Or do you really prefer to work in a school that the vast majority of students in NYC are not able to get into?

    • garyrubinstein says:

      Hi Joe, It is funny the way that someone like Michelle Rhee can be revered by reformers after teaching for 3 years or Arne Duncan with 0 years of teaching anywhaere, though my experience teaching five years at very high poverty schools, and 11 and a medium poverty school (about 40% free or reduced lunch) is somehow questioned. Even if I weren’t a teacher anymore at all, my analysis of attrition patterns at charters would still be valid and support my opposition to the corporate style of ed reform that is now popular.

      I’ve written about this a bit a few years ago here

      I would like to see the admissions policy at Stuyvesant revised. One test on one day just isn’t accurate enough information. I have shared some ideas with my higher ups and have even contacted the NYC DOE to give some ideas of how I’d want to see the admissions policy revised.

      Stuyvesant has been a great place for me as it enables me to play to my ‘strengths,’ my strong math background, especially. Elsewhere I’m proud of the work I’ve done but for sure it required me to go out of my comfort zone and be an extreme disciplinarian (see my first book ‘Reluctant Disciplinarian’ for reference,) which I was able to do, but it took so much out of me, I didn’t have much left for doing things for myself like having a family.

      My time in extreme high needs schools made me respect, even more, the teachers who have the skill set to endure for years at so-called ‘failing schools,’ which is why I spend so much time defending them against those who want to shut them down for not living up to the lies that charter schools claim to accomplish.

      • Joe Nathan says:

        Glad to hear you oppose the way your school admits students. Have you written about this? Have you helped organize teachers, parents and students at your school?
        Why don’t you start a school that is more consistent what you say are your ideals? Or why don’t you teach in a school more consistent with your ideals?
        Looks to me like your primary efforts are to criticize the work of other people – rather than to look at the school where you have chosen to teach.
        Incidentally – one of the reasons that the charter movement exists is that many educators, parents and students think Sty is NOT a true public school teacher – it’s a school that actively makes it impossible for students with various forms of disabilities to enter; that keeps out student who don’t do well on standardized tests.
        And yet you stay there and criticize others.

        For what it’s worth, I did spend almost 15 years in urban public schools with no admissions tests. And our 3 children all attended urban district schools with no admissions tests.

        If you disagree with your school’s method of admitting students, why don’t you work in a school that is more consistent with what you say are your ideals?

      • Joe Nathan says:

        We call it democracy, Gary – we call it opportunity. So did Rosa Parks, who tried to help start charters in the last decade of her life. So did Paul Wellstone – who was a strong advocate of district & public school choice that did NOT allow schools to have admissions tests.
        You sit in privilege and criticize others who are spending their lives serving students your school wouldn’t admit.

      • Joe Nathan says:

        In your extensive writing, have publicly commented on your problems with Sty? I see posting after posting tearing down the work of others – but nothing about the school where you work. And since you are so negative about the work others are doing – perhaps you will start a school or go to a district school that does not use the discriminatory admissions process you don’t like.

        Of course that would be a lot more work that denying the achievements of others.

  9. tlmerrie says:

    Surely you know that this suggestion seems a little unreasonable since if you were Gary’s principal you would at the very least consider firing him if he publicly criticized his own school. As we all know, when you work somewhere you aren’t allowed to say whatever you would like to about your employer.
    It would also be a lot harder for Gary to write the blogs he does if he did not work at such a school. It’s easier to pick on and retaliate against teachers who work in the types of schools that you are suggesting, like the one where I work.

    • Joe Nathan says:

      Where do you think Gary’s talents are most needed? In a school that screens out most students, or schools that serve a true variety of students?
      Gary devotes considerable energy to criticizing others. And yet the school the works at is a bastion of privilege.
      Gary – can you honestly say you are more needed at that super selective school? Or is it a more comfortable place from which to criticize others who have chosen the work with students who in most cases couldn’t get into super Sty?

      • tlmerrie says:

        Where do I think Gary’s talents are most needed? On this blog.

      • acharn says:

        He paid his dues. Now he’s looking out for himself. Do you think Michelle Rhee should be required to receive a salary equal to the median teacher’s salary throughout the U.S.? Do you think Arne Duncan should be required to teach for two or three years before being put in charge of giving billions of dollars to schools he decides are worthy? I do. Gary taught for fifteen years in schools where the work was important to him but unsatisfying. Now he’s found a place which he admits has some faults but is a better fit for his personal style. Why should he give that up just because he observes there are people harming teachers and students to enrich themselves?

  10. Dunkie says:

    It appears somewhat pretentious or misguided on your part to assume you know where Mr. Rubinstein’s talents are most needed. It would he appear that he is most suited to chart his career path. As for admissions, I am assuming that your critique would require the dropping of all admission screenings at any academic institution in America. Who is to say that one screening is more valid than another. As such, I do not find Mr. Rubinstein guilty of hypocrisy any more than I do of Lebron James opting out of Cleveland. Yet, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, just not their own facts. As such, Mr. Nathan, do you harbor any hard, fact based evidence to contradict, debunk, or demystify Mr. Rubinstein’s critique’s at large? If so, please post for all to see. Or, is this just your opinion that Mr. Rubinstein should teach at a school more to your liking. The reality is that America’s public education system, flawed as it may be, is under attack by various stakeholders that may or may not harbor America’s students best interests. Moreover, if an entity is allowed to take public money with none or very limited oversight, which is typically not the case with public schools, then it would appear that transparency needs to reign as supreme. This does not appear to be the case. So, how does where Mr. Rubinstein works have anything to do with the validity of his findings? Does this mean he needs to quit and become a freelance investigative journalist in order for the facts he reports to be more accurate or truthful? I think not. The burden falls upon you to properly illuminate the fallacy of his findings. Therefore, do not hesitate to bring forth your cache of evidence or your opinion is just another opinion.

    • Joe Nathan says:

      Gary says he has no problem with schools like his. Earlier he said he opposes relying on one test for admission. Which is it?
      Fortunately millions of youngsters have new options because some of us believe public schools ought to be open to all.
      Gary’s sweeping statements show that he is not very interested in accuracy or precision – just in attacking others who believe that public schools should be open to all kinds of kids.
      I will give Gary credit for having the courage to sign his name.

      • garyrubinstein says:

        Help me Rhonda!
        I have no problem with a school that only admits the top students in the city. I also think that the one test for admissions is not an accurate way to identify the top students in the city. I’d prefer a method that is more holistic, though some test would certainly be some part of the admissions criteria.
        Charter schools are most certainly not open to all. If they were, I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with them. Charters exclude kids so many ways, including booting kids out. Then the charters deny it, of course.
        I’m concerned that these conversations aren’t going anywhere, but do feel free to comment as you need to and I will generally try to respond.

      • Joe Nathan says:

        Gary you write, “Charter schools are most certainly not open to all.” Another sweeping statement. This from a person who says he values precision and accuracy.
        Where this is going is that you showing others who you are, and what you value. Sweeping statements. Lack of precision. Questionable assertions. Dis-interest in serving students who can’t pass admissions tests.

      • garyrubinstein says:

        Joe, There are so many documented cases of charter schools pulling all kinds of stunts to exclude. Things like saying they can’t service different disabilities, to having parents have to attend an open house in order to attend. Yes, there are some honest charters. Those are generally the ones that are in danger of getting shut down for having low test scores. In general, the big name charters, the ones that get national attention and that are driving the ed reform debate are the ones I’m talking about. I could be more precise in my wording, I suppose, but I don’t feel that I’ve said anything in this discussion that I haven’t said elsewhere, so I don’t know that I’ve suddenly been uncovered as a fraud thanks to your clever cross examination.
        I think we’re arguing two totally different things. You are opposed to selective schools, I’m not. I’m opposed to selective schools that claim that they are not selective, but don’t mind ones that admit that they are.

      • Joe Nathan says:

        I’m opposed to all kinds of “public” schools, whether district or charter, that use admissions tests to keep students out. I’ve worked with members of Congress to reduce (we’d prefer to eliminate) federal funding that would help start schools like the one you teach in.
        You prefer to work in and defend and defend one most discriminatory “public” schools in the nation.

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  12. Just My Opinion says:

    Nice try, but although Gary’s school (and those like it) may use certain means to screen out students, this is a transparent process, and one that folks like Gary are working to make more fair and equitable. On the flip side, charter schools, at least the most “successful” ones like KIPP, also use tactics to screen out students, however this process is very secretive and rarely acknowledged by those supporters and media members that use KIPP’s marginal success as a bludgeoning instrument to enact policy changes which attempt to close urban public schools that are “struggling” and to punish educators in these schools. I’m sorry, but I don’t think your criticism of Gary is at all valid here Joe.

  13. Just My Opinion says:

    It wouldn’t be accurate to say that all charter schools use exclusionary tactics to limit enrollment. However I don’t think it’s a stretch to point out that most of what are considered the “best” charter schools, including KIPP, do engage in this practice. Again though, the issue at hand is the fact that this process of exclusion is not at all transparent for many of these charter schools, and many charter school supporters flat out deny that it happens. My guess is that the moment that KIPP and other places become more democratic in who is admitted and who stays, test scores will begin to plummet and the KIPP myth (which carries the flag for the charter movement) will begin to unravel. If you back unabated privatization, you can’t let this happen, so you create these red herrings by attacking schools like Gary’s and public schools in general.

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