Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Education Week Craps The Bed On KIPP Story

The June 13 issued of Education Week published an article on student attrition at KIPP schools, particularly the two in San Francisco and one in Oakland, that didn't bury the lede as much as it pretended it didn't exist. Somewhat surprisingly, all manner of bloggers and commenters performed the same intellectual sleight-of-hand.

The article is trapped behind a subscription wall, making it unlinkable, but Ed Week correctly reports that fewer than half of the kids that begin the Bay Area KIPP schools as 5th graders in 2003 make it to 8th grade in 2006. In the Oakland incarnation, the attrition rate climbs to 75 percent. The article ignores the fact that these lost students are overwhelmingly African-American males. The three Bay Area KIPPs lost 77, 67, and 71 percent of its Young Black Males (YBMs) during this time period.

That's the story Ed Week. That's the story Eduwonk. That's the story, KIPP PR fixers.

There's more Black males on the KIPP website than in the KIPP classrooms.

The internal exit interviews that Ed Week references lay the blame on student migration factors brought about by the low SES of the community. This would suggest that KIPP schools have some of the highest student mobility in California, definitely in the 90th percentile, if not higher, and I'm not buying it. Yes, these schools serve poor kids, but so do many others, and in communities with far higher mobility rates than those located in the Bay Area. Do the OUSD and SFUSD based schools that serve comparable populations report such dramatic rates of student mobility, or can the attrition rate be accounted for in some other way?

Anecdotal evidence would suggest so. Students at my school who have left KIPP have done so because of the debilitating effects of the shame and exclusion based discipline policy, because they were flat kicked out, or because they were told to change an aspect of their physical appearance (hair color; hair style) before being allowed to return. None of them left because their families moved.

The ability to remove students, or create the conditions in which students remove themselves has numerous ramification and implications -- on school culture, classroom management, and issues of testing and accountable. Charter schools like KIPP operate on an entirely different level of freedom from constraint, but are nonetheless compared to public schools to further political and economic goals. They benefit from a poor public understanding of what they do and how they do it, an understanding that is driven by bizarrely (or not) poor reporting. We need to better examine these schools and their operational policies, and not accept their rationale for failure quite so blithely. Meanwhile, if KIPP Bay Area cannot keep Black males in the classroom, maybe we can all dial down the rhetoric on how truly wonderful places these schools are. Or at least attach the appropriate asterisk.

24 Comments:

Blogger Parentalcation said...

To be fair, I wonder if the attrition rate at KIPP is partly caused by the fact that students (and parents), have the right to drop out. I can easily imagine students, who don't like the intense atmosphere and hard work required to succeed, begging their parents to change schools.

Now I imagine some of KIPPs standards are way to high for regular public schools, but I also think that public schools could adopt at least a few things from the KIPP schools.

What I would like to see is a measurement of the academic progress made by each student at KIPP no matter how long they are there. If a 5th grade student started there at a 3rd grade level, then left in 7th grade at a 7th grade level, then I would count that as a success. Of course, if the students are dropping out after making no progress then obviously the KIPP process is nothing more than a boot camp designed to filter out the weak.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous H. said...

Are you sure the Ed Week article is unlinkable? Searching for KIPP on their page I found KIPP Student-Attrition Patterns Eyed without any password protection. In any case bugmenot has some edweek accounts.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous H. said...

In two of four classes at my school, student attrition was easily 50% over one year, and that was not due to either expulsions or to too rigorous requirements. Students just seemed to drift from school to school, it seemed, I am not sure why.

5:29 PM  
Blogger leyla said...

unfortunately, young black male students fail in a lot of academic environments. i could phrase that differently and say that many educational environments fail young black males. i'm really over the political correctness. endless rationalizations and excuses can be made, but point is that the community needs to address this from within, too.

7:44 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Rory: Your last sentence is my whole point.

H: That sounds incredibly high. I may be out here acting like a fool, but I teach in an incredibly low SES immigrant community, and I just don't see mobility like that.

Leyla: I don't disagree, and I certainly do not mean to suggest that KIPP is something how worse, but if they aren't somehow better, maybe we can stop spilling so much ink.

8:18 PM  
Anonymous H. said...

The student turnover at my school may well be much higher than is usual even for this area, I wouldn't know. My school is a little, eh, special, y'know.

I met a parent roaming our hall a few months ago; she was thinking of moving her kid out of KIPP to our school because at KIPP they were "doin' too much." Fortunately she just hadn't realized this was a high school, so I didn't need to warn her that she'd be much better off staying where she was.

11:36 PM  
Blogger Lsquared said...

The best elementary school my kids ever went to was a magnet school that had a high (50% per year) turnover--because there were a lot of hispanic migrant workers in that area. You can be a good school and have a high tunover, but I agree that it looks like a bad sign here.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Parentalcation said...

One more thought occurred to me. Lets say that the most talented students thrive and do better at KIPP than they would of if they stayed at a public school, but its the bottom half of kids who drop out of KIPP and then go to public school. I am guessing the drop out kids do no worse than they would of if they had never gone to KIPP, and might even have improved slightly.

In this context, I would have to argue that KIPP is a positive thing.

Of course, it is obvious that KIPP isn't a viable model for large scale reproduction.

I would send my kids to a KIPP... except of course for the homework stuff.

6:55 PM  
Blogger rpnorton said...

How right you are about KIPP. And you don't even mention how they brutally weed out any kid who has a disability. An aquaintance of mine took her high-functioning autistic son to KIPP for "testing" (uh, isn't this a public school? but you have to test to get in?) and was treated with such astonishing contempt and rudeness that she was too intimidated to persist, even though she was convinced that KIPP's structure was exactly what her son needed.

9:57 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Hi Rory,
Thanks for the kind words on your blog.

"Of course, it is obvious that KIPP isn't a viable model for large scale reproduction."

But it's not obvious for everyone.

"I would send my kids to a KIPP... except of course for the homework stuff."

I wouldn't. Not in a million years would I send my kids to a place where they were forced to chant/shout complimentary things about teachers in an Orwellian manner, subject to ridiculue and embarassment at the hands of adults who should know better, and generally taught the merits of compliance and groupthink. Naw. Keep it.

10:40 AM  
Blogger leyla said...

there are certain conditions that RESULT in the apparent necessity of KIPP for some parents.

chanting is not ideal. the strict discipline is not ideal. hell, i'd rather send my kids to a waldorf school where they are fingerpainting by day and translating shakespeare into spanish by night. or whatever.

it's not just about saying: X is good. It's: X is good considering blah blah blah.

that's the full story, the full description, no?

truth be told, i haven't observed kipp practices. you know much more about their day to day functioning. i suspect that their practices would seem harsh to my middle class, typically bed-wetting liberal sensibilities, but so what?

how many times have you heard people emerge from serving in the military to say that the experience armed them with discipline and good habits? people who don't get that at home need to acquire it in some way. or people who get it at home but also want it reaffirmed. or parents who want their children around peers who are similarily concerned with academic success.

you wouldn't send your kids to kipp because you wouldn't need to.

you'll be reading to your kids as soon as they take their first breath. phonemic awareness leading to success in phonics? i bet your kids will have phonemic awareness at three years old, two years old? don't know..

i bet you'll monitor their experience with commercial television. i bet that you'll train them to have good attention spans in various ways, particularly through limiting the rampant and incessant involvement of media and advertising in a litte kid's life.

the absence of ALL this parenting, matched with low expectations and self-serving prophecies in some schools, matched to peer pressure, and collective environments that denigrate, as opposed to value, education create the conditions for a school such as kipp.

kipp should not get false praise all around. if i lived in east san jose, in your school's zone, and had kids, then i'd rather have them attend mathson than kipp. hell, i'd fight to get my kids in YOUR classroom. but the point is that the choice isn't always between kipp and mathson. i just want to defend parents who choose the former when they feel they have to.

it is so important to publicize the lack of success of young black male students. this is a state of emergency. hell, it's years after the emergency was first declared.

oprah's solution was to say "screw it, they'd rather have IPODS" and go and open a school in africa. while i respect her passion and generosity with her African schools, i don't exactly agree with her analysis of students in the U.S.

but every syllable that is spent rationalizing or apologizing for the underperformance of black males, or worse yet, blaming everything on schools or teachers, does nothing than to further problematize and mystify the possibility of success for this demographic of students. it's the paternalism of the worst kind.

12:46 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Lelya,

Again, I don't disagree. But what these numbers, and all the ones like them, and all the anecdotal evidence point to is that those who suffer MOST from the conditions that pull away, rather than lead toward, educational success and positive life outcomes, are the ones not being served. They're dropping out, getting kicked out, counseled out, moving away, fill in the blank. That's my point in all this -- not that there isn't a need to do better, and not that KIPP has demonstrated how cohesive school culture and additional time and task can lead to that betterness -- but that, if they're losing this many kids, a lot of this, some of this, however much.. is false praise.

I keep thinking about all those numbers that I read: The kids started at __th percentile in 5th grade, and finished at __th percentile in 8th grade. Cool, except are we counting all the drop-outs and move-away in the initial sample, but not the last?

That said, your points are well taken, but we should be careful not to over-generalize about the effects of poverty. Not every poor kid is difficult to educate, not every one comes from a broken home, not every one lives in fear and distrust. There's obviously a balance, and its a hard needle to thread.

1:18 PM  
Blogger leyla said...

true, but i'm not talking about every poor kid. i am talking about every young black male who is difficult to educate. not all young black males are difficult to educate. perhaps not even half of the young black males in my school are difficult to educate.

less than half, but even if 30% are hypothetically difficult to educate, then that would be an emergency.

it's about the difficulty in being able to work hard at something that you might find incredibly boring or worthless, it's that ability or willingness to assimilate to stupid ass rules or systems. to learn how to exist in a formal and complicated system which is defined by the powerful.

in some sense, i admire the stubbornness. but my admiration alone will do nothing to arm these kids with the tools and practices required to succeed in our society.

i tell it to my kids straight: this is a system. learn to succeed in it. you're not a fool for navigating the system, you're just playing a game. play it well. along the way, they'll develop an intrinsic love of reading and writing so long as the teacher selects the right books and the right essay prompts. but for all of the other crap? the write your name in the top right hand margin, the use your bathroom pass to go to the bathroom, the bring your own hole punch crap, it's just a game.

off topic, sorry.

2:04 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Well said, Leyla, especially this:

"in some sense, i admire the stubbornness. but my admiration alone will do nothing to arm these kids with the tools and practices required to succeed in our society."

9:51 PM  
Anonymous Nancy Flanagan said...

Quoting a commenter:

"Lets say that the most talented students thrive and do better at KIPP than they would of [sic]if they stayed at a public school, but its the bottom half of kids who drop out of KIPP and then go to public school."

This is a great illustration of why this discussion/argument isn't about some KIPP schools and their dropout rates. It's about the intense desire of the talking ed-heads to generalize and attribute causality, to take a little piece of data and make Big Pronouncements.

In this case, that generalization is KIPP=good, Public School=bad. So you have a good (whatever that means) student and they would naturally do better at a KIPP school than a public school? Because we all know that public schools are worse than other schools? Come on. We can do some more defensible thinking than that. In fact, we can do some clearer thinking than EdWeek and EduWonk on this one.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Parentalcation said...

It seems like KIPP serves more as a magnet school with attitude than a remedial middle school. While I agree that KIPP's praise is over the top, I do think there is a place for them in our school system.

I do think reports of abuse, humiliation and ritual chanting might be overblown, or misunderstood. From what I understand, the teachers who volunteer to work for KIPP are young and idealistic and dedicated to increasing achievement. I find it hard to believe that these teachers would condone anything that approached the level of abuse.

TMAO, you have opened my eyes to some things that might be wrong with KIPP, but I am not ready to turn on them yet.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Caroline said...

I'm the one who dug up those figures about attrition at Bay Area KIPP attrition and blogged them, which eventually got them onto Ed Week's radar. With all the studies and endless gushing news coverage about KIPP, you gotta admit it's a bit lame that an amateur volunteer civilian mommy blogger had to be the one to put that fairly relevant information out there.

The usual response from confused observers is: But don't traditional public schools serving low-income, high-mobility populations have high turnover too?

Yes, but the difference is that KIPP doesn't replace the students who leave. Given that even KIPP enthusiasts agree that it's the more-troubled students who are likely to leave, this results in KIPP's getting rid of (however that happens) the more-challenged students -- who then end up in the public schools to which KIPP endlessly touts itself as superior.

By contrast, if a student leaves my daughter's diverse SFUSD middle school, the student is immediately replaced. It's most likely that the student who leaves is from a high-mobility, low-income, high-need family -- and it's equally likely that the new replacement student will be from a high-mobility, low-income, high-need family.

Is that the case here, H.? If so, you're missing that point:

(H's quote: "In two of four classes at my school, student attrition was easily 50% over one year, and that was not due to either expulsions or to too rigorous requirements. Students just seemed to drift from school to school, it seemed, I am not sure why.") Wouldn't it be a whole different ballgame if other high-need students didn't then arrive to replace those who left?

The attrition rate doesn't in and of itself discredit KIPP, but it's a HUGE confounding factor, and nobody seemed even the slightest bit aware of it. KIPP certainly wasn't going around boasting that it was getting rid of 7 out of 10 of its African-American male students at some schools. (BTW, those figures were for FALL of the class's 8th-grade year -- it's unknowable unless KIPP decides to tell us how many actually finished 8th grade!)

Another point about KIPP is that it apparently holds students back to repeat a grade at a far higher rate than traditional publics do or can. That's not inherently a bad thing, but it still has to be factored into any reports on KIPP's "results." (Plus that has a potent effect on KIPP's ability to get rid of troublesome students, since parents often pull the child out rather than have him or her repeat a grade.) One commentator here says: "If a 5th grade student started there at a 3rd grade level, then left in 7th grade at a 7th grade level, then I would count that as a success." ... how about if the student took 3 years to get to 7th grade?

Good comment: if the students are dropping out after making no progress then obviously the KIPP process is nothing more than a boot camp designed to filter out the weak.

3:07 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Hi Caroline,

You have definitely been out in front of everyone on this one -- I only jumped in because I was surprised you did not have a stronger stance on the fact that 2/3 of the Ed Week story could have been cut and pasted from various KIPP press releases.

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Caroline said...

I was surprised that they reported on the info at all! It's a tough story to report. The Calif. Dept of Education posts enough data to track the attrition -- but I don't know if any other states do. So barring sending an undercover kid* (or teacher) into the school, they basically have to rely on KIPP for the information, at least outside California. And then of course they have to use KIPP's responses as to why most of their students don't make it through the program!

Once the press gets going on one of its "it's a miracle!" frenzies, putting on the brakes is a challenge -- it just has to be done bit by bit. So that story was one of the bits.

*I have used an undercover kid myself, taking my 7th-grader into KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy to ask about enrolling her. I was trying to find out if they would say she had to pass a test to get in, but they didn't -- they said she would have to be tested to determine her grade level. The view in the community is that that's an entrance test, though.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

It's Liz from I Speak of Dreams

I want your opinion on two tangentially-related posts.

One is by Michael DC Bowen, who blogs as Cobb, reflecting on NCLB and education.

The other is by Dennis Fermoyle, on the ideal high school.

What do you think about these two posts?

8:13 AM  
Blogger Cobb said...

The most telling comment here is that which says that KIPP schools 'fail the young black males'. Despite the fact that I detest that zoological description, the fact that they are considered apart within the school is something I think nobody here has recognized.

I went to a Catholic prep school that had been around about 100 years. Every student understood that certain rules and traditions were in effect on campus. Let's call it the Hogwarts Effect. In the end it resulted in loyalty to the school.

In fact, we did not have very good math instruction. As with many schools, Algebra was taught by the football coach, and obviously there are very few priests in the engineering business. But we didn't have dropouts; we knew there would be a palpable sense of loss. Not just of academics, but of spirit.

None of these special magnet schools seem capable of generating a sense of cohesion among their student bodies. Who are the KIPP anyway, are they the KIPP Cardinals? Do they even have school colors?

I bring up 'Remember the Titans' because it is a superb example of what real leadership can accomplish. I think any school that implies a multicultural agenda is incapable of forging the unity for which discipline means something that gives students the proper kind of pride and willingness to sacrifice. I mean Al Qaeda has discipline. So what?

If they come in as black males and drop out as black males, that says everything because the spirit of KIPP has touched nothing.

8:52 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Hi Cobb,

When you wrote, "If they come in as black males and drop out as black males, that says everything because the spirit of KIPP has touched nothing," you've articulated the point I'm trying to make. This does not necessarily make the KIPP schools in question any different than many, many other schools who struggle to effectively educate this subsection of our nation, but it is an important understanding given the glut of media attention and its subsequent effects on the way we think and speak about school reform.

8:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went to a KIPP school outside of California...perhaps I can be of some assitance.

4:09 PM  
Blogger ming said...

i tell it to my kids straight: this is a system. learn to succeed in it. you're not a fool for navigating the system, you're just playing a game. play it well. along the way, they'll develop an intrinsic love of
--------------------------------------
reading and writing so long as the teacher selects the right books and the right essay prompts. but for all of the other crap? the write your name in the top right hand margin, the use your bathroom pass to go to the bathroom, the bring your own hole punch crap, it's just a game.

8:49 AM  

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