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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 12/10/2010

Valerie vs. Jay on Teach for America, KIPP, etc.

By Valerie Strauss

My friend and incomparable colleague Jay Mathews came up with the idea for us to have a little debate. He was, he said, "irked" by something I wrote in a column about Teach for America.

Here is how Jay introduced the debate on his great Class Struggle blog:

My colleague Valerie Strauss, czarina of the irresistible The Answer Sheet blog on, and I rarely get to see each other. She works in the big newsroom on 15th St. NW in Washington. For many years I was across the Potomac in the Post’s Alexandria bureau. Now I work in a spare bedroom of my house in Bethesda, with the two family cats walking over my keyboard.

But we do have interesting arguments, and occasionally share them with readers. Here is one she started by saying something in her column, which runs regularly in the Post’s Monday Metro section, that irked me:

The debate:

Mathews: You nicely exposed Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s incomplete knowledge of Teach For America in your recent column on The Answer Sheet blog. You summed up the program very well: "It attracts some of the smartest college graduates, gives them five weeks of training and then places them in schools in low-income communities--to teach children who really need the best-trained, most inspirational teachers--with a commitment that they stay for two years."

You are right to question their initial classroom weaknesses, having only had five weeks training. But here is my question. The Knowledge Is Power Program, which has provided just that kind of inspirational teaching through its network of 99 charter schools, with unprecented success in raising achievement, would not exist if Teach For America had not persuaded its co-founders, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, to try teaching. We both know many other great teachers who came up through TFA. Don’t you think our education system would be worse off without them?

Strauss: My short answer to your question is not so much.

Teach for America and KIPP are the darlings of the philanthropic world, as well as the U.S. Department of Education, which just awarded each of them $50 million.

But they both represent small-scale thinking. It’s taken KIPP 16 years to open 99 schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia for a little more than 26,000 kids. Some studies show that some of these schools have had a very high attrition rate. There are more than 49 million students in K-12 public schools. I’m delighted for KIPP kids, but they are a tiny fraction of the whole.

TFA has, it is true, helped make teaching sexy again among a certain young set, and I’m sure it produces some teachers who turn out to be terrific. But I don’t know what important question it answers. Our nation has more than 3 million teachers; we need to replace 300,000 who leave every year. TFA sent 4,500 teachers with little training into some of the nation’s neediest schools this past fall. Regular teacher attrition is about 50 percent after five years; the percentage is higher for TFA teachers after just a few years. How does that solve the need to improve the profession?

No high performing nation in the world depends on a revolving pool of inexperienced teachers to fix its education system. Why should we?

Mathews: Because we haven’t come up with anything better yet, and we don’t have the funds now to try something like the systems in Finland, Singapore and Korea. Here in the world we inhabit, how would you come up with the teachers that TFA provides? I realize studies have shown them doing only as well on average as new teachers coming out of education schools, but a new study of Tennessee teachers shows the TFA cohort doing much better than the ed school bunch.

More importantly, you haven’t answered my question yet. With what would you substitute the power of TFA to lure some of our smartest and most energetic new college grads into teaching, and unleash their creative energy for the good of our students, as happened with the KIPP founders? Remember, the TFA numbers don’t give you the entire sweep of such programs. There are many local TFA-like teacher placement organizations in our bigger cities.

Strauss: I thought I did answer your question, but I’ll try again. Do we need more funds to improve our system? We need to redirect the billions of dollars now being wasted on phony accountability systems, data systems that don’t tell us much and new generations of high-stakes standardized tests. And we need money to help get kids out of poverty.

I don’t think that people with great SAT scores who go to Ivy League and Ivy League-plus schools are necessarily any better fit to be teachers than students who don’t. That reeks of elitism. Aren’t you the one who wrote the great book Harvard Schmarvard?

Teaching is not a science, even if Michelle Rhee says it is; it is an art, and it requires a lot of learning. Because many traditional educational programs are wanting doesn’t mean that teachers don’t need serious solid training. It means our programs need to be improved. The idea that TFA/similar programs are any better at producing them than the traditional route seems, at best, unproven.

Can you get a great teacher by plopping anybody -- from Teach for America, or similar programs -- into a classroom after five or so weeks of training? Sure, but outliers don’t make good policy. I won’t mention how insulting it is to professional teachers with traditional training.

Look, Jay, there’s no guarantee anybody will be a great teacher. The key is to get rid of the lousy teachers -- and yes, there are way too many -- and help the teachers we do have to improve while attracting people with real commitments to teaching. That means beyond just the two years required by TFA.

Mathews: I forgive you trying to spread that myth that KIPP schools have poor student retention rates. Nationally they are doing about as well as regular schools in their neighborhoods, and some KIPP schools are doing better. Your ideas about how to improve schools, and thus teachers, are excellent. But I don't know if you can count on the diversion of the billions of dollars you say we are spending on accountability systems. Test-driven accountability is here to stay. Politicians who try to campaign against it are swiftly undercut by opponents who say, "What? You don't want to make our schools accountable for all the money we spend on them?"

Start a program that lures more bright and energetic teacher prospects (the vast majority of such people do not attend the Ivy League) into a training program that suits you better than TFA, and I will applaud. But let's not dump on a program that is doing some good. Fixing schools is going to need many varied approaches from people with different ideas, like you and me and our blogs. Happy holidays.

Strauss: I can’t be the only person who is not willing to accept test-driven accountability as it is today. The tests don’t provide real accountability. That's unacceptable to me. As for a new program to lure more bright and energetic teacher prospects, well, I don’t think we need new ones. We need to deal with the ones we’ve already got; let’s get rid of the bad ones, improve the average ones and laud and learn from the great ones. Thanks for dreaming up this debate, Jay. Let’s do it again soon. And with that, I will wish you, my friend, and the most knowledgeable education reporter in the world, happy holidays and the best new year.


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By Valerie Strauss  | December 10, 2010; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Teachers  | Tags:  education programs, education schools, jay mathews, kipp, mathews strauss debate, teach for america, teach for america debate, teacher education, teachers, valerie strauss  
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As Valerie says, the TFA contribution to the teaching pool is minimal. As Jay says, no need to bust on it too much and we need a diversity of groups and approaches. I agree with both points. They will continue to produce good, middling, and bad teachers at about the same rate as other programs. Only wonks need to concern themselves with the variations.

Please examine, at some point, TFA's real goal of putting people into policy positions later down the road. In my opinion, this is where they are doing real damage in some ways (certainly not all).
For example, in the District we now have a group of TFAers making lots of decisions that affect every classroom teacher. Jason Kamras and many others are in this set. I contend that there is some real incompetence on their part in terms of managing large systems that require differentiated approaches among schools.

Pushing a one-size-fits-all evaluation instrument (IMPACT)is just the start. That it is intended to raise achievement in low-income schools (but not all DCPS schools are in dire straits) is a major strategical error. The biggest problem with it is that is doesn't reflect the reality of the classroom challenge that these people have fled (another story in need of airing: why is classroom teaching viewed as being below administrative/ policy work by so many?).

Being a Teacher of the Year does not necessarily qualify someone to be the "architect" for all classrooms in the District. I posit that Jason Kamras is damaging teacher morale in his role as Director of Teacher Capital something or other. Good teachers do not need his prescriptions or guidance to get results.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | December 10, 2010 6:08 AM | Report abuse

Both KIPP and TFA have had studies that show they do no better overall than regular "ed school" teachers or teachers coming in via other alternative methods (of which there are this area GW offers an excellent program for those wanting to switch careers).
Jay criticizes Valerie because "there is nothing better out there" and "what can we do in the meantime since we aren't Finland" kind of saying we might as well work with what we got So Jay, why no GT in DC if "we might as well work with what we got" despite flaws?
The real issue is, as Valerie says education has been skewed to mean test scores = good teaching. KIPP does self select regardless of what they say (if the contracts signed by the parents interested enough in bringing their kids into a KIPP school aren't followed, kids are kicked out..there are blogs about this as well as newspaper articles) and many TFA teachers get their loans forgiven via TFA and then move onto law or medical is the lure of that cohort, the elite Ivy league set rarely settle into their first career after only a BA. While many teachers who aren't TFA do have their master's degrees they stayed and obtained a master's that specialized perhaps in special ed or some other area to assist them in working with all the children that come their way (or they get an endorsement to teach GT because they realize that is the nitch they enjoy...guess they can't in DC :-)

So there are flaws with both KIPP and TFA. What we really need is for all ED schools to do away with the unpaid semester or so of "teaching" in a classroom and replace that with a paid mentor system. Perhaps not at full scale, but certainly a decent salary. I know many, many people who would like to become teachers but can't afford that unpaid time. In addition, mentoring would truly assist the student teacher in realizing the "reality" of the classroom. While that teacher gained wonderful knowledge(I mean this to be kind of an apprenticeship program) the training teacher would also be able to evaluate whether this person, regardless of training: ED school, 5 weeks of TFA, KIPP bootcamp:-), could really handle the classroom. IF that person really has the skills and flexibility to deal with the reality of the classroom. The reality of a huge span of reading/math levels. The reality of a huge span of "attitude towards education" and what that means in the classroom, kids walking in with bookbags full of pencils/paper and kids walking in with out a single thing, not even a pencil, everyday, and still looking surprised when the teacher questions why they don't even have a pencil on them.

Bring back the respect teachers used to have. Instead of reporters gleefully reporting the whole school was taken over by a private company (Bedford) and new teachers (who haven't a clue)have been brought in, doesn't mean a savior has arrived, it means one more blow to the profession of teaching. One more article that is essentially teacher bashing.

Posted by: researcher2 | December 10, 2010 6:10 AM | Report abuse

Jay "forgives" you for your comment on attrition rates? I thought this myth was substantially exposed already. KIPP does not REPLACE students who leave. Meanwhile, traditional public schools (like mine) experience a constant flow of students throughout the year, year after year. These students are often among the most challenging to teach.

As for TFA, enough. It's been 20 years and they haven't transformed American education. What they've done is developed a neat trick whereby tax payers are soaked for the teacher-training expenses of recent graduates who leave in a few years. That's sheer idiocy.

Posted by: Nikki1231 | December 10, 2010 6:14 AM | Report abuse

Oh, a point I didn't clarify. Any teacher who works in a Title 1 school for 3 years gets their student loans forgiven. Hence, we have taxpayers footing the TFA's training as Nikki1231 states, and if they stay 1 year beyond their 2 year TFA commitment, they get their student loans forgiven. This is a double trick, because in addition to loan forgiveness that additional year makes it appear as if some TFA's stay beyond their 2 year commitment. See how many stay 5 years, in teaching, and don't go into the admin side after those 2-3 years.
All folks in education say the first 3 years are the "training years" after 3 years you find your groove, understand what to do when, and become a true teacher. But, in my opinion, once you hit that point, you need to teach for a few more years prior to going into admin.
Off topic, but one aspect that would keep those admin newbies from forgetting the reality of the classroom would be if they were required to sub one day a week in their district. Saves on sub costs, and would save the teachers from having program after program added to their routine:-)..if admin kept up with classroom reality they would stop adding the latest stupid program they have "bought" into.

Posted by: researcher2 | December 10, 2010 6:53 AM | Report abuse

I know it was not intentional, but where does the "learning" debate start? Teaching is one side of the aisle. Students need to learn how to learn. While that not make sense, if a student doesn't know "how" to learn, then the teacher is just a talking head.

To think Superman exists is stupid. To think the Lone Ranger has the Silver Bullet is second in line to Superman. The good/great teachers I had in school understand "kids" and each child's "learning buttons."

Peggy Wise was my 6th grade teacher. Without a doubt one of the biggest impacts on learning for me. That was in 61-62 school year. When my mother passed away in 2005, Peggy was there. She knew how to reach kids.

When we determine that "learning" is the word vs. teaching is the problem we possibly will see results.

Posted by: educ8er | December 10, 2010 8:07 AM | Report abuse

Here is my take...Until the day comes that any talented young adult can consider teaching as a career that will support a family, nothing will change. The current salary structure makes it impossible to attract and keep such talent unless they are married to someone who can afford to pay for the family that many young people want to start.
As far as TFA, I could perhaps support it more if it placed teachers in high-wealth schools and gave a meaningful stipend to top teachers from those schools to go work in schools that serve poor kids. The current system though of revolving door teachers for the neediest kids is damaging on many levels.

Posted by: marybcoach | December 10, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Researher2-- Your points are so-o-o well taken. As the parent of a young teacher I take note of the fact that it takes more than one year for a young person to gain acceptance of the parents and the administration. TFA? Well, my young person and a close acquaintance from high school both graduated in the top 5 of their class a few years ago. My kid went on to graduate from a state college with a degree in El Ed.. The friend went to a well-known private college and obtained some sort of business degree. Again, both graduated from college with nearly 4.0 GPAs. While my kid found a position immediately, the friend was caught in the whirlwind of the recession and did not. Unlike my young person, who did not pile up debt because of scholarships to the state school, the friend, who could also have went to the state school but chose private instead, graduated with debt in nearly the 6 figure range. So what happened? The friend needed a job, and TPA came calling. The friend suddenly developed a "need" to teach, and is getting the massive debt load from college repaid. I am of course assuming that once the recession is over and jobs are again plentiful in business the friend will find teaching too low-paying and will leave the field. My kid will continue to teach, having decided long ago, even against advisor's advice that this is the field of choice, a life-calling, if you will.

To your point that administrators be required to sub one day a week, right on! Let's take it one step further. The governor of my state is making noise about running for President and is the darling of The Wall Street Journal crowd for his pushback against unions of any sort, but especially against public employees and teachers. He and his superintendent of public instruction are totally pushing for merit pay and teachers' futures being dependent on how well their students do on standardized testing. The superintendent, a former jock coach, thinks this sort of competition and evaluation based on competition will weed out all of the bad teachers. Our royal highness governor has bought into the idea of bringing business people into the classroom with the notion that running a business is the same as running a classroom. Give these folks a few weeks of training and they are ready to go! My opinion is that our governor, and his coach, also need to be required to spend at least one full day a week in the schools across the state. You know, dealing with parents. Cleaning up vomit. Paying for school supplies. Seeing how hard it is to get hungry kids to learn something. Dealing with inane state standards dealing with testing the politicians have dreamed up. Maybe the guv and his boy wonder would sing a different tune then. They are in fantasy land now, but they have a newly elected conservative legislature full of business-types to do their bidding now.

Posted by: rtinindiana | December 10, 2010 8:39 AM | Report abuse

As I've said elsewhere, The Reform movement (e.g., TFA, KIPP, Friends of Bedford, etc.) is the cult of the magical adult. While reformers are supposedly putting children first, they are really lionizing the very special adults who perform supposed educational miracles – though for instance in the case of TFA, there no sign of it after 20 years.

If not for TFA, we’d have no KIPP founders. So what – and is that even a fair conclusion? How much special treatment do bright young people who have already been lucky in life need to develop a successful educational program for those less fortunate? Is TFA the only or best path to this outcome? Who says so?

Miracles and Magic are beyond the realm of scientific research and thus not the foundation of any other academic enterprise.

It’s an insult to our children and to the thousands of dedicated adults who make a career of teaching to instead glorify a chosen few whose efforts, after a long period, have been limited, meager or unimpressive.

Posted by: efavorite | December 10, 2010 8:51 AM | Report abuse

I couldn't agree more with Valerie:"I can’t be the only person who is not willing to accept test-driven accountability as it is today. The tests don’t provide real accountability. That's unacceptable to me."

I take great delight these days by shocking my education colleagues by saying out loud that our accountability system is pure and total crap. Time to speak truth to power.

Posted by: marybcoach | December 10, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

"Mathews: Because we haven’t come up with anything better yet, and we don’t have the funds now to try something like the systems in Finland, Singapore and Korea."
There! We don't have the money to try something like the systems in Finland etc. Why then are are we constantly being compared to those systems?

Something about KIPP I remember reading. Newsweek, Time or one of the news magazines did an article on the New Orleans Recovery School district which is comprised of a lot of KIPP schools. One teacher was interviewed as saying they couldn't imagine working there once they got married or had a family because the workload pretty much prevented them from having any kind of personal life. Likewise the superintendent was quoted as saying that he didn't know where they would continue to find people who were willing to work 80 hours a week for what they paid them. Hence the need for a rotation of teachers. Hire them, burn them out then hire some more. The beauty of this system is that they are are always at the bottom of the pay scale. What better way to educate on the cheap! Michelle Rhee was even quoted as saying that no one goes into a job for life anymore. That is an incredibly insulting thing to say to those of us who have spent our lives in the classroom and still love teaching. Why is it that teachers are the only ones who apparently can't stay committed to their profession of choice? Why is it that experience in the classroom is considered a negative?

Posted by: musiclady | December 10, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Test-driven accountability is here to stay. Politicians who try to campaign against it are swiftly undercut by opponents who say, "What? You don't want to make our schools accountable for all the money we spend on them?"

That is a little naive, Jay. Test driven accountability will eventually die, all one needs to do is poison it in some way or lose office because of it and politicians will run from it like the plague. Fenty's loss and Rhee quitting (like most TFA alum)are examples.

Posted by: postmichael | December 10, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

To provide some more anti-teacher sentiment from New Orleans

Posted by: HistTeach1 | December 10, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I don't understand why no one writes about the problem of incompetent administrators in schools; where good teachers are forced out due to poor management; where books aren't ordered; smart boards aren't fixed; discipline and attendance aren't enforced; curriculum and new programs are misinterpreted; student schedules are wrong and inappropriate; the list goes on. Bad teachers should go, but bad administrators cause us to lose many good teachers; and the ones that stay become increasingly burned out, frustrated and demoralized. But all we read about are the teachers.

Posted by: jmartin7 | December 10, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

"I forgive you trying to spread that myth that KIPP schools have poor student retention rates. Nationally they are doing about as well as regular schools in their neighborhoods, and some KIPP schools are doing better."


The notion that their attrition rate is somehow equivalent to surrounding schools is profoundly misleading. Even if we grant that you are right on the numbers (which is a subject of debate, such as in Oakland) KIPP's rules make such comparisons unfair.

KIPP only has one intake year -- usually 5th grade -- and they do not replace kids as public schools do. That means that while a public school experiences the attrition of bad kids and the intake of more bad kids, KIPP experiences the attrition of bad kids and no new bad kids to replace them. The end result is a small, highly motivated crop of high school students. (Other much-balyhooed schools like Canada's Promise Academy and SEED operate the same way.) With this competitive advantage over public schools, they can craft strong school cultures while the public schools have to take care of those who can't handle KIPP. Who really has the tougher task here?

I understand why you (Jay) like KIPP -- their push for rigor and high expectations is laudable and they seem to take seriously the mission of providing a catch-up education for hard-working but disadvantaged kids.

That all said, you give KIPP more credit than it deserves: it operates under a different set of rules than public schools and does not even come close to reaching the neediest kids. That difficult burden falls back on the public schools who are not permitted to play by KIPP's rules.

Posted by: joshofstl1 | December 10, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

It is very nice here on Valerie's blog, with great comments but some myths being spread. KIPP schools DO take in new students beyond the 5th grade. Most of those I have visited have plenty of new 6th graders, and some new 7th graders. It is only 8th grade that usually does not take newbies. It is also a myth that KIPP has a big teacher burnout problem. Go into an established KIPP schools and you will plenty of teachers with families who are making it work, just as busy teachers in regular schools do. The KIPP people also have the luxury of being able to make all kinds of individual arrangements, since they are not bond by district rules. I haven't seen any data yet, but I sense the KIPP burnout problem is no greater than found in regular schools in those same communities.
I did see a comment saying that the Finns don't spend more than we do, but I think that left out the money the Finns and other such systems spend on teacher training. They spend much more than we do. I wish we would up our spending too. But journalists have to deal with the real world, where that is not going to happen (and where we are not going to jettison accountability by test, either) so work hard for us to move toward better systems, but don't wait for that to happen without supporting what we CAN do, like using useful tools like TFA.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 10, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher, I am pretty offended by programs like TFA. I have been teaching for 11 years and I continue to hone my art. And yes, I agree with whoever wrote that teaching is an art. I can't even imagine beginning my career in a school with some of the neediest students. I started my career at a great school and was exhausted every day working with kids who came from pretty decent families. As a seasoned teacher, I have seen the a shift in the kind of students I teacher from upper middle class to lower middle class families and these kids need someone who knows how to be flexible, how to differentiate the instruction, how to change direction midway through a lesson or unit, how to wade through state standards and state test results, all the while trying to manage huge class sizes and the problems of 30+ kids in a classroom.

A five week training course isn't going to give a person any clue on how to deal with the situations a teacher comes across on a daily basis. I am at the top of my game because of years of education and years of experience in the classroom. I could definitely work in a school with at-risk students now, but I definitely didn't have the experience to do it 11 years ago. Would you send in a first year resident or intern to work on your sickest patients or a first year lawyer to defend or prosecute a big time criminal or crime. No, you would want the best and most experienced doctor or lawyer to do the job. Not some newbie who just got their certificate in 5 weeks. Give great teachers an incentive to work in these tough schools. Teaching is exhausting, time consuming and soul wrenching.

Schools cannot be run like business. I can't fire my students. I have to educate all of them regardless of their work ethic or experiences. Yes, I agree that we need to get rid of bad teachers, but really, how many bad teachers does one know? I personally work with 12 amazing teachers that bust their butts each and every day. I get tired of hearing that poor education is the fault of the teacher. How about blaming parents who aren't equipped to parent or a society that loves to skip out on taking any kind of responsibility for its actions. Teachers don't go to school every day to a job that pays so little and where they are so under-appreciated to sabatoge some poor kid's life. Like with any educational "reform" people believe that fixing "those bad teachers" will be the quick fix, but in reality it is so much more complicated than that. We are one of the few (if not the only) country that educates EVERYONE: wealthy, poor, disabled, handicapped, foreign and American born, English speaker or not, we take them all. I am pretty damn proud to be a teacher. Quit assuming that just ANY ONE can do this job.

Posted by: minnesotagal | December 10, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse


Thank you for your response.

A couple of thoughts:

It is hard to find good data on KIPP and its intake / attrition issues, but here is the best I could find:

The article applies to the Bay Area and notes that:

"Although the Bay Area KIPP schools have continued to enroll substantial numbers of new students in the sixth grade, they have been less likely to do so in the seventh and eighth grades. This practice, combined
with relatively high rates of student attrition and in-grade retention, explains the declining enrollment."

I would still argue that this is a competitive advantage for KIPP, who (again) does not have to play by the same rules as public schools do; they do not have to accept every 7th and 8th grade student that applies, and in fact it is not normative for them to do so.

Why is this a big deal? Because the media -- yourself included -- compares KIPP schools to public schools every day. Your annual school rankings, for example compare KIPP schools and public schools. I am arguing that it is not a fair comparison. KIPP schools and public schools are guided by fundamentally different legal restrictions on what they can and cannot do. Public schools are required to give a free and apppropriate education to *all* students in their jurisdiction, save for the few who are so bad they are expelled (and sometimes taken into another school in the district!). KIPP schools are not required to give a free and appropriate education to all students; they have a degree of selectivity in who they accept. KIPP schools are, in essence, private schools for kids who cannot afford private schools.

That does not mean KIPP schools aren't good schools. Their model is rigorous and their students do well by most reliable measures. But KIPP's success has limitations. I'm willing to laud them while cautioning against seeing them as a panacea. You are not. At the risk of taking a cheap shot, I hope that isn't confirmation bias from a long-ago published book.

Posted by: joshofstl1 | December 10, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Hi Jay. Sorry, but I need to correct you about the KIPP attrition.

Now, you ARE correct that KIPP's 5-8 schools take in students over grade 5. At least some KIPP schools have an influx in grade 6 -- no surprise, because many/most of them are located near K-5 feeder schools. I researched all of California's KIPP schools a few years ago. Some or most showed a bump in grade 6.

But in six of the then-nine California KIPP schools, the drop in numbers of the same cohort from grades 5 and 6 to grades 7 and 8 was precipitous. You can't argue with the numbers. It's not possible. They are definitive. No matter what the policy is, hordes of students left and weren't replaced.

That's just not the case with public schools. Public schools replace the students who leave -- with students who are likely to be high-mobility and thus statistically likely to be academically challenged.

The organization SRI International did a study, released in 2008, of the San Francisco Bay Area KIPP schools that confirmed those findings. SRI's study showed that the then-five Bay Area KIPP schools overall lost 60% of each year's cohort before 8th-grade graduation.

That's NOT a myth. KIPP's responses are lies.

Here are the two KIPP lies in response to the exposure of their high attrition:

Lie No. 1: The San Francisco KIPP schools are outliers. But actually, I researched all the California KIPP schools, and SRI researched all the Bay Area KIPP schools. The KIPP schools in San Francisco proper do show the high attrition pattern, but they weren't even the highest.

Lie No. 2: KIPP schools have the same attrition pattern as public schools. Wrong, because the numbers show that KIPP schools lose the majority of their students AND THOSE STUDENTS ARE NOT REPLACED, whatever KIPP's official policy may be. To repeat: The numbers definitively show it.

Public schools replace the students who leave. I made comparisons, and the numbers confirm that.

I did some further research. When I looked at the attrition at KIPP schools broken down by demographic subgroups, all the KIPP schools with high attrition showed strikingly higher attrition of the subgroup that's most likely to be academically challenged -- African-American boys or Latino boys, depending on the school. At Oakland's KIPP school, 79% of the African-American boys who started at the school in grades 5 or 6 were gone by the BEGINNING of grade 8 -- we don't even know how many (if any) stayed through the end of grade 8, as the publicly available figures are from the beginning of the school year.

My blog post on the SRI study:

My blog post on KIPP attrition vs. attrition at SFUSD public schools:

One of my early posts on KIPP attrition data:

Posted by: cgrannan | December 10, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

JoshofSTL1, since you mentioned that it's hard to find good data, I'll add that I used the data available in the California Department of Education's Dataquest database. I believe that KIPP furnished data to SRI for the study you mentioned.

Posted by: cgrannan | December 10, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

I've taught for 15 years inner city schools in Texas. Been dismissed from one school, even though we made AYP in my subject. The new sheriff just didn't want to keep my fellow content teachers. With that said, I have no problem with KIPP schools or TFA. Have many friends who've taught at KIPP or teach at KIPP. Have many friends who came up through TFA, and though all of them are now out of teaching, it's good for the system to have additional sources of teachers. KIPP schools aren't a problem. So what if they kick out kids - the comparison TO them is the problem. The best kids deserve to be surrounded by like-minded kids and families, whether in public ed schools are in KIPP schools. The KIPPsters would be stuck in under-performing schools, surrounded by the unmotivated, and teachers would not be allowed to concentrate on them. Even under the most ideal situation, "differentiation" is a lot harder to achieve - and that's what KIPPsters need. At least at a KIPP school they'll receive that nurtured environment and show where their abilities can take them when someone focuses on them. The "reformers" and "expert journalists" such as Jay want KIPP results, but they don't want to hammer the administrators who won't provide a KIPP environment. They will, however, blame teachers.

Same old song and dance.

Posted by: peonteacher | December 10, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

I agree, "peonteacher." Perhaps what KIPP is showing us is that the key to success is taking a subset of high-need students who are from low-income, at-risk communities but who are motivated and compliant enough to get through KIPP's enrollment processes and stay in the school -- and putting them in a setting where they're not impacted by the lower-functioning, less-motivated, less-complaint, more-challenged students who are not getting into or remaining at KIPP schools.

That's an extremely useful thing to know, and it's something that could be emulated throughout our school system to bring that subset of low-income, at-risk students to their maximum potential.

It's impossible to know it when KIPP lies about it constantly, though. (Why use euphemisms -- the responses are lies.)

And the problem is, KIPP basically has to lie to keep the philanthropic dollars flowing in. If one of the big foundations started wondering if any old schlubby public school could achieve the same results if it got rid of the same proportions of lower-functioning students, that might divert some of the funding stream.

Posted by: cgrannan | December 10, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

I've never met a teacher who said they were from TFA. Are they only in the inner cities?

Posted by: jlp19 | December 10, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone have a reliable figure on the attrition rate for KIPP?

Here is something interesting that I found:

According to Miron, "While it may be true that attrition rates for KIPP schools and surrounding districts are similar, there is a big difference: KIPP does not generally fill empty places with the weaker students who are moving from school to school. Traditional public schools must receive all students who wish to attend, so the lower-performing students leaving KIPP schools receive a place in those schools."

Posted by: jlp19 | December 10, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

jlp19 - TFA's are placed only in high needs areas, such as big cities and poor rural areas, where it can be hard to find qualified teachers to work long-term and slots were often filled by subs. TFA was originally founded to fill this gap. I think of it as a good idea gone wrong.

TFA started 20 years ago, when high-needs schools were being ignored. Now people seem to have tuned into the fact that such schools are a huge problem that needs to be solved.

Enter minnesotagal's comments above. Energetic newbees can't solve such a problem; common sense (if we're using it) tells us that.

We need the finest pros AND a serious plan AND a lot of support for the people who take on this important work.

Jay's remark that KIPP teachers don't burn out any faster than other teachers in similar communities is not exactly a ringing endorsement for KIPPs support of its teachers.

Posted by: efavorite | December 10, 2010 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Matthews comment about funds is revealing. "We don't have the funds." We have never had the funds to develop the capacity of our teaching staffs, but we always have funds for more tests, more takeovers, more experts (who have never stepped into a school) and more ways for private business to run teachers into the ground and continue their takeover of public education. I think it is time for a re-reading of Berliner and Biddle's, "Manufactured Crisis." As far as KIPP goes, when public schools can expel students who don't bring their homework or whose parents don't show up for conferences like KIPP schools, you will see incredible results for those who aren't left behind.

Posted by: occumsharpe | December 11, 2010 7:58 AM | Report abuse

Cgrannam says, “[KIPP’s actual effect] is an extremely useful thing to know, and it's something that could be emulated throughout our school system to bring that subset of low-income, at-risk students to their maximum potential.”

Yes – being straightforward about an aptly demonstrated positive effect of charters (or any school) could actually help some students learn more and could help adults design future successful charters.

The only reason I can think of not to do this is that it doesn’t add to the myth of charters as panacea, thus doesn’t contribute to the wholesale growth of charters which only helps adults.

Posted by: efavorite | December 11, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

I agree with those pointing out what a small percentage of teachers/students TFA and Kipp make up. I am a former TFA teacher who has chosen to stay in the classroom, while earning a masters degree in education, and plan to stay there for my entire career (and I never plan to go into admin!). I disagreed VERY STRONGLY with many TFA policies and their overall culture. I agree with many criticisms of the program, and have many criticisms of my own having been through as a corps member.

I drove myself crazy at first thinking of all the problems with the program. However, I made some peace with it when I realized that at the end of the day, if a student has a TFA teacher, that teacher likely had limited training BUT they also nearly 100% believe that EVERY CHILD in their class can and will learn, and make at least 1.5+ years of growth. They are likely working 100+ hours a week (obviously, lacking training and experience they need to, but the dedication is clear) and spending a ton of their own money to support their students. They are held accountable within the program for improving their students throughout the year- not just at end of year tests.

Many teachers I taught alongside in low-income schools put in minimal effort and often shrugged when their students weren't mastering material ("they are just SO behind, there's only so much I can do")and were out the door at 3:30. Not all, of course, but enough to make me thankful that at least TFA teachers would never fall into that category. None that I've ever met, anyways.

Incidentally, after I got into the classroom my fellow teachers never defined me a TFA teacher - I worked hard, moved my students up academically, and deferred to educators with more experience than me when I had questions. I wasn't elitist, didn't go to an Ivy League school, I was just there to learn like all the other new teachers.

My point is the program educating the teacher matters less than what the educator does once in the classroom.

Posted by: acasey3 | December 11, 2010 7:10 PM | Report abuse

acasey3, I suggest you get in touch with Jessica Lilly, also of TFA, who just went on the record in the article about the chaos at Dunbar high in DC

Because of the undue respect given TFA (thanks in large part to its PR machine), people like you can have needed influence in school policy.

I’m personally interested in the rationalization you made about the program – that the TFA “beliefs” instilled about children’s learning potential were helpful, even if many other (unnamed) policies of the program were not. It’s good that you found something to keep you going, but I hope you examine that rationalization more now that you’re firmly established as a teacher.

Do you think it’s sound educational policy to depend on teachers spending 100’s of their own dollars to support public education? Were you or any of your colleagues, TFA or not, able to achieve 1.5+ years of growth among your students. If so, has it been sustainable? (I haven’t seen any proof of that, have you?) Did it occur to you that if all teachers fulfilled that belief, then in 2 years, all students would be 3 years ahead and in 2 more years, 6 years ahead? All this would be accomplished through the power of hard work by teachers who “believe.” Have you noticed that after 20 years of TFA, this belief has not been fulfilled? Do you think that teachers alone, without support from the administration and the family can substantially raise student achievement over the long haul? Is there any academic research to back that up?

Youthful enthusiasm, hard work and idealism (and the desire to pay off one’s college debts) are wonderful things, but can be terribly exploited and misused, as I feel has happened with TFA. These traits need to be coupled with realism, experience, sound training and educational policy for us to make educational progress for our children.

If you agree, please look beyond your personal rationalization to join with those who truly want to improve the teaching profession to improve student achievement.

I think this is a realistic goal that former TFA members have a shot at.

Posted by: efavorite | December 12, 2010 8:23 AM | Report abuse

efavorite, I think that the charter operators who are reaping glowing press coverage and millions in private philanthropy have to work hard to avoid any down-to-earth examination of factors that impact their success. The press and the donors need to believe it's something that only a charter school could manage.

That's why KIPP has its stock lies in response to anyone who points out the attrition data (such as is publicly known, that is).

I have been pretty shocked at the people who have been willing to repeat those lies -- in some cases it MUST be done knowingly.

Posted by: CarolineSF | December 12, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

"Many teachers I taught alongside in low-income schools put in minimal effort and often shrugged when their students weren't mastering material"

I disagree. The majority of teachers I've seen in low-income schools put in a lot of effort.

Posted by: educationlover54 | December 12, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Maybe it seemed like "minimal effort" because the non-TFA teachers were experienced and didn't have to do everything from scratch.

And maybe they didn't see themselves as super heros who could raise student achievement through the roof just by believing they could.

Here's the real question: We're the results significantly different between the TFAs and the vets?

There is not evidence that TFA teachers, for all their smarts and enthusiasm are more effective than their peers -- unless, of course you count Michelle Rhee's completely unproven claim of huge success in Baltimore.

Posted by: efavorite | December 12, 2010 8:28 PM | Report abuse

efavorite, Michelle Rhee has claimed that the magical miracle soaring achievement gains she supposedly achieved with her students in Baltimore (in a year when all the test scores were lost or something) were all erased when they went back to normal, non-godlike teachers.

If that were true when TFA teachers achieved magical miracle soaring achievement gains, what's the point?

It's kind of hard to imagine kids' suddenly becoming brilliant high achievers one year and falling back to mediocrity for all future years.

It's also hard to believe that with all the fawning press coverage Rhee received, there weren't any tough questions about this whole story. (I'm talkin' to you, unbelievably gullible Amanda Ripley of Time Magazine.)

Posted by: CarolineSF | December 13, 2010 3:03 AM | Report abuse

Yes, Caroline - if it hadn't been for relentless bloggers like us, the Baltimore story would have become an even more powerful myth than it is.

What I've noticed, is that that story hasn't been told for a while. Rhee used to repeat it regularly at speaking events, but I haven't heard a peep lately. Of course, the feat has never been replicated - making it a true miracle and thus not very useful in educational policy.

I also notice that reformers in general have modified the "teachers are everything" meme, and the words "in school" have been re-inserted in the quote about teachers being the greatest influence on kids' education.

I suppose their PR shops are toiling right now to think of new ways to deceive the public (and themselves) - so we have to keep on top of it!

Posted by: efavorite | December 13, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

Maybe it seemed like "minimal effort" because the non-TFA teachers were experienced and didn't have to do everything from scratch.
I've seen veteran teachers who were able to leave school at 3:45 every day who were FANTASTIC teachers - they were so experienced they did not need to put in 100 hours a week and their students did not suffer, they excelled.

I'm talking about the teachers who hand out worksheet after worksheet and call that a 'lesson' while they talk on their cell phones in the back of the room. I've seen too much of this. The teachers who shrug their shoulders when students are not making progress and explain to me 'well, they are just SO behind there's only so much I can do with them' and leave at 3:30 every day after a day of worksheets and uninspired lessons. Teachers who have no classroom management skills and no intention of learning better ones so the students are actually learning - they just shout at their students when things get too far out of hand. Or even just well intentioned teachers whose lessons aren't engaging at all. I don't just mean that TFA teachers have high expectations and that solves everything - TFA teachers believe that THEY are responsible for student success and make no excuses for low scores, and they work on that assumption. I'd rather have that teacher than a worksheet teacher any day, and I say that knowing that it is choosing the lesser of two evils :)

My point is that these are the teachers we should all be outraged about - I know I am. And most teachers in low-income schools are dedicated and hard-working - but not all. And I'm willing to bet those unmotivated, un-invested teachers make up a larger percentage of teachers overall than TFA teachers. I would argue that they do more damage in the classroom.

Did it occur to you that if all teachers fulfilled that belief, then in 2 years, all students would be 3 years ahead and in 2 more years, 6 years ahead?
The idea is based on the principal that students are SO FAR BEHIND when they get in your classroom (even in 2nd grade!) that you have to make up for how far behind they are - most of my students were reading at an early 1st level and many at a K level. So in 2 years, they would just catch up. Make sense?

Posted by: acasey3 | December 14, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

The insightfulness of the comments here are so great to see. Especially the breakdown of the KIPP data by SRI. In terms of the TFA crowd having such great passion, I've previously had my son in a charter school full to the brink of TFA and NLNS folks who while they give 100% (whatever that means) didn't want to implement science fair or other other inquiry based learning until their mostly lower income brown and black student read proficiently for the standardized test (talk about tail wagging the dog-and this was supposedly a science math enrichment charter). I shared with the principal at this school research results of Catherine Snow, A preeminent literacy researcher who could show that students who participate in inquiry based science and math program in elementary setting actually become stronger readers (and critical thinkers) than students who don't have access to such curricula and that the students who weren;t proficient readers had the most to gain from the school improving its academic program. Didn't matter they still wouldn't up their game but seemed awfully upset at me for sharing that information at a parent meeting designed to address the science and math curriculum.
I think that TFA goal seems to give privileged connected young people an entrance to hob nob and dabble in the education world. Unfortunately at the expense of students who need educators who are seriously already up on their game. Interestingly at the current charter school we attend whose students are 40% white, 6% asian (and less than 15% low income) -all of the teachers are fully certified and have master's degrees with at least 2-4 years of teaching experience. It never ceases to amaze me what passes for education in this country and for whom.

Posted by: rastajan | December 17, 2010 7:19 PM | Report abuse

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