Thursday, December 01, 2005


This blogger,, posted a sort of meta-analysis of KIPP, which consisted of exerpts of many postings and comments that discuss those schools.

Some of my writing is included, accurately quoted and linked, but presented in such a way as to -- intentionally I believe -- undermine the validity of what I wrote, as well as to present an inacurate cross-section of my experience. She quotes two punch-line sentences of all my KIPP/charter analysis, and then writes: "He also loathes charter schools in general. Yet he is really hurt by his students' attitudes." This is followed by a paragaph-length exercept about my disappointment surrounding the attitudes of many of my students, particularly some basketball players. She fails to include the conclusion of that particular post, the one about how those disappointments were redeemed by my Saturday Academy kids and the dedication and commitment they have shown to furthering their education, closing gaps, and achieving success.

After that out-of-context citation, there is this snide remark: "The KIPP "robots" are all about changing those attitudes."

I don't think this was just sloppy work; I think it was deliberate. I think it was another increasingly common attempt to paint charter school employees as the only teachers truly committed to, and capable of effecting change with their students and within their communities. Because I do not choose to work against public education, am I somehow not as effective, committed, or interested in promoting excellence in the student populations I work with? Is our entire school similarily under-committed?

Worse still, I think it was a back-handed comdemnation of my students. They aren't in a KIPP environment, therefore they come up short. They aren't in an elite boutique school, therefore they have poor attitudes and don't care about success. If only I made them walk in straight lines and scream chants each morning about how cool their teachers are...

UPDATE: I've exchanged some email with this blogger, and feel better about things.


Blogger Caroline said...

I had not heard of that blogger, but since the link went to her bio, I read it. She touts her and her kids' high-end, exclusive schools and her work with the Cato Institute, which advocates full privatization of education (meaning no public funding of schools, at all). Supporters like that reveal KIPP's true role as one of the weapons in the arsenal aimed at destroying public education.

10:44 AM  
Blogger leyla said...

the fact is that your school is an exception to most under resourced "low-performing" schools. example: if i want to understand the predicament of black males in the US, i look at where the majority of them are, i look at the penal system, i look at jobs and joblessness, i look at the historical trends related to these things. i don't look at colin powell and say "golly gee, he did it, so it must be doable!"

get what i mean? the fact that most public schools in these districts CAN'T do what mathson did is a fact about human life, about teachers who are fallible human beings with external lives outside of their classrooms, with many pressures and non-superhuman energy levels, with their own kids at home, etc. . . in short, the mathson-commitment (if i may coin it as such) is not everywhere represented. but this is a fact about human life, about reality. you guys have done amazing things without humiliating kids. i'd bet that your students from last year will forever look on their experience fondly once they are able and willing to honestly reflect, whereas KIPP kids may not because the heart and soul might have been missing. but when a ship is sinking, you're just interested in saving it -- not necessarily saving it in the best way possible. the militaristic KIPP strategies are OF COURSE lame. of course they are second best. of course they will just work to churn out more middle class consumers instead of revolutionaries. but the point is that it "works" in the lowercase "w" sense of working.

it may not sound like it, but this really is a post congratulating the mathson achievements.. truly. . .

and can i just say that i think public education in the poorest communities is essentially a lost cause? i really do. i love my students to death. this isn't about hating my job or any bullshit like that. i am just looking at the big picture. poverty, machisimo and media, bitches and hos gangsta rap, the breakdown of the family, the occasional lack of respect for women, migrant families and relocation, gangs, the hypersexualization of youth, typical predictable peer pressures, some parents who don't know what the hell they're doing, underqualified teachers, teachers who don't understand the communities in which they teach, lack of father figures, lack of resources, the difficulties surrounding language acqusition and the impatience of teachers and administrators who ignore second lang. acq. and just refer the kid to SPED, etc.

OF course some kids will graduate from these schools as exceptionally intelligent beings with an abundance of potential, but the fact is that the majority will not. and we need to look at the majority in order to truly UNDERSTAND what happens at the intersection of race, class, sex, poverty, culture, and education.

the republicans know that it is a lost cause and they are just waiting, foaming at the mouth, for the privatization of academic schools and trade schools for the youth.

7:57 PM  
Anonymous Ms. J said...

Hey 408 Teach, Bravo. Once again, you’ve nailed how KIPP and KIPP-like models undermine true public education. I'm becoming quite the fan of your blog.

Leyla, perhaps it’s because I waited until my late 30s to enter the high school classroom, but I've never considered the six years I've been teaching in my big high poverty high school a choice between hopeless despair and martyrdom. (I do understand what happens at the intersection of race, class, sex, poverty, culture and education.... I’ve chosen to spend the rest of my working life right in the middle of it.) While I have no illusions, I do see my classes as small miracles. The time I have with my kids is time when they are safe, welcomed and respected, and treated like intelligent, interesting people (who often happen to be funny as hell). Most of them actually end up learning something. Yes, there are days that I want to use my prep period to do nothing but scream in frustration (today was one of them with my second period...and scream I did....really loud...right at them), but I can't imagine a better gig. A lost cause? Well, perhaps you’re right…but good god, what is the alternative?

9:20 PM  
Blogger leyla said...

a lost cause doesn't necessarily mean that you abandon it just because you don't have the perfect solution at this exact second. i love my kids and have enjoyed teaching this year more than the past two years and more than the private high school i taught at before san jose. but that's not the point, it's not about our small classrooms and the miracles within. across the board, systematically, something profound and revolutionary needs to happen. the republicans think it's privatization. others think it's KIPP (but of course KIPP-like schools don't educate all students. as killian accurately says - they aren't public in the truest sense...)

there is just SO much pressure, so much machinery, from poverty to mass media to other problems, that are pressuring the kids in these communities in other directions. the distractions so seductive and the hills to success so steep.

i'm not even a pessimist by nature. at all. i can go to work smiling in the morning because in the back of my mind i know that the solution has to come from people WITHIN these communities. not from TFA, not from KIPP. . .

i don't want to downplay the victories in our classrooms... it's just that the poets aren't right about this: small victories don't actually amount to widespread, systematic social and political change. getting 10 or 15 percent of the kids isn't enough.

10 or 15 percent of the kids in palo alto or beverly hills would NEVER be enough for those folks, right?

12:18 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Leyla, I hear you. Loud and clear. I've been struggling with the what-comes-next thing with our kids, carrying it around, for the past few weeks. I don't know what to do about the meat-grinder world out there. It kills me.

Let me say this though: The argument you made about our school being the exception is one I've been hearing alot around our District. Although I know that's not what you're doing, I've been surprised how much we've been put down, rather than celebrated. Yes, we are the exception, but we are NOT the exception because success like this is impossible. We are NOT the exception because other teachers have kids at home. We are NOT the exception because somehow teachers here are infallible.

We are the exception because we have systematically studied the problem of student success in a manner unique to this District (as far as I know). We have implemented structural reform -- ditching corrective reading, scheduling kids extraordinarily, adding to the school day, bringing more extra-curriculars than anybody, spending school funds on instructional materials that work like portable laptops carts and LCS projectors, creating a collaborative model that allows teachers to talk and plan, underwriting Saturday Academys. Anyone can do these things -- if they choose to. I don't accept that they can't. I think it is more of a won't. Won't push themselves. Won't think outside the box. Won't critically reflect. Won't fight the destructive, self-satisified awful teachers.

The things we've done can be done again, elsewhere, and probably done better.

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liz here from I Speak of Dreams. I'm not a fan or detractor of the KIPP program --my interest is in finding effective education programs, both for low-income children and for children with learning disabilities or challenges. The purpose of the post was to round up what was available about KIPP on the internet. As I said, "What follows is a grab-bag -- what I find as I go. It's not closely reasoned, and I'm comparing apples to artichokes."

I'm not sure what I've written lead you to believe "They aren't in a KIPP environment, therefore they come up short. They aren't in an elite boutique school, therefore they have poor attitudes and don't care about success."

I think I have a somewhat more nuanced view of education, and the role of charter schools, than you have percieved.

I believe that the basis of a healthy, robust nation is a robust public school system. The schools must be funded by tax dollars, to allow all access to education. In my view, "robust" means many different approaches to education, from the very structured models (such as KIPP and those at Faria, to take two examples) to models such as Ohlone (project-based education) or Summit Prep. (Ohlone is not a charter; Summit is.)

I've been critical of charter schools:
Waste and Fraud in Charter Schools an article about Edison Schools (as part of a critique of a for-profit, therapeutic school chain). I've written about the mess in Florida's charter program and how one charter operator manipulated the system.

I've been critical of the Southern Baptist/dominion theology attack on public schools.

Yes, I am very critical of some aspects of public educational, such as the whole-language approach to reading , and the constructivist approach to math. In my view, both those approaches represent an disproportionate barrier to achievement for low-income kids. Parents with more economic resources can provide their children with remediation or effective teaching. I've also been critical of school boards that are ineffective or downright bad. I also wrote a lot about the Williams case in Cupertino, which I regarded as a right-wing attack on public schools, and a cynical ploy by conservative activists to raise money.

I've written about the programs in San Mateo and Santa Clara county that are helping low-income kids prepare for college--many of those, such as College Track, serve kids in the public schools. I've written about literacy and social justice.

The Girls' Middle School is, yes, a "boutique" school--just girls and just middle school-- but our educational philosophy is about as far away from KIPP's as you can get, and we do strive for inclusiveness, aiming to have at least 20% of our students on scholarships. We do more than just money, though, helping with transportation, internet access in the home, and free tutoring. Many of the private schools are part of a broader equity and justice initiative, including Bay Area People of Color in Independent Schools

I believe that all schools have a mission -- a sense of who their students are, and what the school is about. The mission can be unconscious and good (as in many high-achieving public schools) or unconscious pathological (as in low-achieving schools in needy districts -- they just don't get the job done, and lack belief in their students' abilities). Some schools have conscious, written missions, and those tend to be high-achieving, even with challenging student populations. I believe that there are many ways for challenged schools to be effective, and that research, and sharing the results of research, is the royal road to improvement.

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liz here again, I Speak of Dreams. And you are correct, I did miss the point about the Saturday Academy post.

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Ms. J said...

TMAO, I would love to learn more about the structural reforms your school has instituted. Keep writing. I think the most important things my school has done to chalk up tangible results is the incorporation of weekly teacher collaboration time (voluntary, but paid) and the provision of a full-time school nurse and social worker with 10 university MSW interns. I am able to immediately refer a troubled student and know that something will be done fast. We began this year with short summer bridge programs for our incoming 9th graders, a modest success which we hope to expand next year. We must do more, however, to study and willingly embrace other changes to the way we operate. You're so right that these are possible (and actually happening, albeit in a piecemeal fashion) within the public school framework and they need not be the exception.

And Leyla, you and I are in utter agreement as to the force of those demons competing to grab up our students as soon as they leave us every afternoon. As for me, I decided that I couldn't live my life as a mother, teacher and citizen despairing of the need for fundamental societal change rather than focusing on how I can help build the foundation for it. A big part of how I do that is through my work as a government teacher. Romantic? Perhaps, but hey it works for me.

And this gets to why I am increasingly impatient and frustrated with those who instead of focusing their energies on demanding and achieving deep, systematic support for public education across the nation choose instead to champion approaches and programs that, while successful for the few actually work at odds with the needs of the many…and are really unsustainable in any large way because they are dependent on corporate largesse and idealistic young teachers, willing to work 60-80 hour weeks until they burn out or trade their classrooms for high-rent suites (as has been noted here before). Those who share these concerns must freely speak and write about them OFTEN, we need to fiercely defend our schools, our students, our profession—really the whole idea of the public interest — from those forces, well-intentioned or not, which undermine them. (I add here that our nation’s public schools might be the only place left where the idea of the public trust still holds…most Americans still believe in them, even if certain “reformers” and key elected officials don’t.)

True public education is the most revolutionary idea in human history. Period. That focus is what will keep me in the classroom for many years against really impossible odds. I simply can’t concede it’s a lost cause.

Whew, I've gone on way too long and the weekend awaits. I'm relatively new to blogs and they're just too much fun. Thanks again to TMAO and Frizzle for the posts.

5:09 PM  

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