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Irrepressible ed blogger beats me up, again

Jim Horn of the Schools Matter blog, one of my favorite hecklers, posted a critique of my recent column, "Forget about the achievement gap." He says:

Obviously, Jay has joined other bold reformers such as the recently-fired Bret Schundler of New Jersey whose efforts to remake New Jersey schools in the corporate image led him to denounce New Jersey Public Schools as a “wretched system” and the state’s #1 national rankings on the NAEP in both 4th and 8th grade reading and math as “irrelevant.” For bold reformers like Jay and Bret, or Arne and Michelle, if the facts don’t support your desired results anymore, those facts no longer matter. Poof.

Jay and the the new generation of reformers doing the same thing as the last generation (when will they become the status quo?) would rather look at test score growth over time, especially when big achievement gap closing claims by your favorite politicians do not materialize. Focusing on individual gains makes the disparity between the haves and the have-nots much easier to ignore, since this new value-added universe is not even interested in those troublesome group comparisons any longer that are based on poverty chasm. Unless, of course, the reformers need to shut down your neighborhood school and turn it into a corporate-styled testing madrasah, i. e., charter school. Then your percentile ranking becomes a crucial tool in deciding who is in that bottom five percent that just keeps replenishing itself as the last group is scraped off to become charterized.

I am not sure I fit well with the important present and former policymakers he cites, but it is always good to be noticed by Jim. He is a great writer, and validates my existence on the planet.

In his most recent post he also hands me some ammo to fire back at him. He quotes an online letter to President Obama from a reader, Ira Socol. Socol is critical of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), as an example of the kind of charter school the president admires, and compares KIPP unfavorably---too rigid, too uncreative, too imperialist---to the Sidwell Friends School which Obama's daughters attend. This is reminiscent of a point made by the late, great Gerald W. Bracey at the beginning of the Obama administration.

Sadly, Socol makes the same mistake Jim has made many times. He cites as evidence for his views of teaching at KIPP and Sidwell some descriptions he found on their Web sites. Any good teacher would tell you that is no way to judge a school. Socol gives no indication he has ever spent time inside a KIPP school, or Sidwell. Neither has Jim, unless I have missed something. They are among the many KIPP critics who consider it sufficient to judge schools by what they read on the Internet.

I think they should visit the schools they write about and tell us what they see. All of the KIPP schools I know have an open door policy. There are 99 KIPP schools in 20 states and D.C., including one in each of the 20 largest cities except Phoenix. I have visited many KIPP schools and Sidwell. I think Socol, and Jim, will be surprised, once they get inside, at how little difference there is between the great teaching going on at both places.

By Jay Mathews  | September 1, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Horn attacks Mathews view on forgetting about the achievement gap, Jim Horn, Mathews attacks Horn, Schools Matter blog, and reader Ira Socol, for judging schools without visiting them.  
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Comments

Visit the 2 KIPPs in Indiana and find out why they perform at or below state average.

Posted by: edlharris | September 1, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Well Jay, let me recommend a few journalism tricks. One would be to read further - that is by using Google to look for my other writing on the subject. Another would be to email or call the subject of one of your columns to confirm what you are about to write.

So yes Jay, I have been in KIPP schools. That was not the point of this particular blog which was focused on philosophies expressed to the Obama Administration. I have been in KIPP schools (3) and - personally - I have found them terrifying.

But more than that Jay, I have some really extensive experience in the types of communities KIPP seeks to serve. I know these kids, and I know what they could do if they were offered the kind of educational opportunities available at Sidwell (or Cranbrook, or St. Ann's or etc).

And I know one more thing. Barack and Michelle would never send their daughters to a KIPP school, nor tolerate KIPP-style education in any school their daughters attended. As I've said, KIPP is the way the white and powerful want the poor of color to be educated. But they aren't suggesting it because that's a path to equality. They are suggesting it for just the opposite reason - they don't want the competition for their own children.

- Ira Socol

Posted by: irasocol | September 1, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Jay:

Here's a suggestion: Ask your wife if she'd agree to send your children to KIPP schools. Now ask her to explain her answer.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | September 1, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

For Irasocol---I think I have published something on this good question before. I can't speak for the Obamas, but I have talked to middle class college educated parents who have their kids in KIPP schools and are quite happy with them. I would be happy myself, and I suspect my wife would be too, to have a child in the KIPP schools I have seen. (I had a brief visit to one Indiana school that showed rare signs of stress and a bad vibe, but a longer visit at another one in Gary looked good to me.) The teaching is as good as we have seen in Scarsdale and at Sidwell, and the trips and other out of school experiences are better.
I am delighted you posted the comment. I would be very grateful if you could send me an email at mathewsj@washpost.com telling us about yr visits to the KIPP schools, what you saw and how and why it terrified you. I would post it in full as a separate blog item. We could then get the people at those KIPP schools to comment. You could also tell us why you used Web site material, rather than your own observations, to make your point in your online letter.
For Linda/RetiredTeacher: This from my wife, also named Linda:
"We have two grandsons, one almost two and the other due to be born in January. I would be glad to see them go to a KIPP school because the regular public schools where they live in Los Angeles are not very good, and I am certain the KIPP schools in LA would be much better."

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 1, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Socol:

Would you prefer to send your child to a DC public school with its particular level of quality (any DC public school), or, a KIPP school? Please explain your answer.

Also, do you truly believe there is a plot to subjugate any subgroup in any public school system? Or, is all public education a plot? What is the evidence? If so, what is the alternative? Are teachers unions in on the plot?

Posted by: axolotl | September 1, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Ira---Too impatient to wait, I have searched google for your writings on KIPP. I am far from an expert Web surfer, but the pieces I found that mentioned KIPP did not cite any personal experiences or observations. So I am doubly eager to give you a chance to do that here. We had one KIPP visitor who was critical of the school she saw, and I ran her comments in full, but it was a comment she posted here anonymously and she declined to respond to my request that she identify herself and tell us more. Since you have visited three KIPP schools, you could give us a much deeper critic's view of what you saw.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 1, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

One tires of the nonsense regarding charter schools.

Do people really believe that charter schools have secret handshakes or secret methods that make them innately better than public schools?

If these schools are superior to public schools simply adopt there methods in the public schools.

But this would mean that the supporters of charter schools like Jay Mathews would have to admit that the only method different of the charter schools is the method dumping back into the public schools any students that are viewed as problems.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 1, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Mathews:

I visited KIPP schools with "invited observation teams" in 2007 and 2008. KIPP Ascend Charter School (Chicago) in 2007, KIPP Lead College Prep (Gary, IN) and KIPP Indianapolis College Preparatory School in 2008. I am not willing to say who brought me in, that might threaten a person's job.

What concerned me? An absolute lack of tolerance for mental, learning, and behavioural diversity, in classroom after classroom, corridor after corridor. Of course I come from a Special Education background, so this was far more disturbing than it might be to others. I also found the brutality of teacher-student, and especially in Indianapolis, administrator-student communication fairly shocking. If you would send your grandchildren there, you're a different kind of parent than I am.

I also found the educational philosophy quite flawed. Though there was substantial "one on one" time in all three schools, I saw almost no pedagogical or curricular differentiation, which is the heart of creating success for the diversity of students in any school.

But I will not deny that I am, philosophically, anti-colonial. I do not think that we have to "force these kids to be white." Nor do I believe that "gazing at the teacher" is anything but a power-relationship statement. If you follow the links my blog post offered, you would have found these conversations. If the first step offered poor children of color is being made to become "white" - and then they are expected to catch up, obviously they never will.

I do see a great many schools each year in my multiple roles. I see great schools, I see lousy schools. I see great charters, I see lousy charters. Great schools in my sense of the word empower students to build their own identities, their own toolbelts, their own skillsets, which they can carry through their lives. They prepare students to be themselves within the wider world. And I believe that every child can experience that kind of school.

I will not accept the idea that (a) we compare KIPP to the worst schools in America (that is NOT the change we believe in), or (b) that we accept that rich kids get one kind of education and poor kids get another (that's not new, we already have that).

But just one question Mr. Mathews, I've seen lots of KIPP demographics. Where, exactly, are all those middle class KIPP parents you speak of?

- Ira Socol

Posted by: irasocol | September 1, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Ira---Thanks very much for your comment. I would still like to run a more detailed post by you that tells us exactly what you saw and heard at which schools that led to the conclusions you draw. Some readers might interpret the same events differently. It would help everyone to get clearer sense of what moved you. I visited the Indianapolis school in 2008 also, if my memory is correct, and I saw things there I had not seen at any other KIPP schools, particularly students insulting each other in the hallways. The principal was not there that day for me to ask about this. I visited KIPP Ascend and KIPP Lead in 2009 and did not see anything that bothered me. They seemed to be productive and happy places to learn, similar to the 38 other KIPP schools I had visited.
I know you are not a reporter, and prefer to get right to the point. But I think it would help the rest of us to read what you saw and heard, and see what the KIPP people at those schools have to say about that. Let me know. mathewsj@washpost.com

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 1, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Ira--- I forgot to answer yr last question. The college educated middle class KIPP parents I spoke to were in Atlanta and LA, and I am told there are some in DC whom I havent met yet. Since about 10 percent of KIPP students nationally are not low-income, I suspect there are a few middle class kids in nearly every school. One of our reporters told me she was trying to choose between KIPP and a regular DC school in an affluent neighborhood, Janney. I told her I thought KIPP was the better bet. But I believe she chose the regular school.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 1, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

I will add a couple of things: First, I'm not sure it is possible for a reporter, certainly a national education reporter, to visit a school and see much more than the best "Potemkin Village" the school can construct. The same goes for politicians, especially celebrity politicians. And it might go for "invited educational observers" as well. However, the "tech guy," universally viewed as somehow "unimportant," sees and hears a lot. I'm not targeting KIPP here. At universities and K-12 schools I have seen and heard amazing things, including way more confidential information than should ever be disclosed.

That said: Let me offer you a couple of scenes.

In Chicago I saw a young teacher working one-on-one with a series of students who needed reading help. A few things stood out. The students who came to him were all, quite obviously, struggling with different aspects of the reading process. One had essentially no phonological awareness, one was really struggling with the symbols (he could not, as an example, associate the lower case letters with the equivalent upper case letters), a third read fluently but with almost zero comprehension.

The teacher, very clearly untrained in any of this, repeated the same efforts with all the kids. He was clearly operating from a script. And as his efforts inevitably failed, he became angry with the students, repeatedly blaming them for "not trying hard enough." The child with no phonological awareness was called "lazy" repeatedly. KIPP only phenomenon? Of course not, but I saw similar scenes throughout all the buildings.

In Gary I saw more than one teacher encourage students to belittle and demean students who were struggling to stick with the "SLANT" program. As I believe most WaPo reporters would struggle if these rules applied in staff meetings. The encouragement of "pack cruelty" was something else I observed in all three schools.

In Indianapolis I saw appalling student-to-student behaviour, but honestly, I thought it fairly closely mimicked the communication system between the school's adults and the children. That school (and there were echoes of this in the others) was all about "top down power" - yes - very old-school British in the "hidden curriculum" - which is, in every school, the curriculum which really matters.

What I saw almost none of in any of these schools was student-led, or student-centred learning, much less any student-generated context. These classrooms are training followers, not leaders, and not collaborators.

Now, sure, I have no doubt that there are parents who want this system. There have been military-style schools and reductionist hyper-discipline schools forever. But that is not the way the American elites are trained. They get very different environments. And they get those because that top of the American economic pyramid has always been about creativity and flexibility and rapid adjustment. Never about compliance. Never about staring at your superiors.

- Ira Socol

Posted by: irasocol | September 1, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse


So, Jay, how much of the information on the school's website is incorrect-just the portion to fit in to your reply or all of their promotable info like their test scores and graduation rates?

This gentleman is frustrated and rightfully so.

Posted by: rsolnet | September 1, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

for rsoinet---I wasn't questioning the accuracy of the web site info, just its completeness. It doesn't really describe what actually happens in classroom, like what he actually witnessed.

for Ira--thanks. I will put this up next week, and ask the kipp folks for comment. How much time did you spend in each school?

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 1, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

For Ira, also if you could recall the actual words the Gary teacher said, that would help.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 1, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

Who attach any credibility to Mr. Socol's opinion? There's a tone and a few choice words used suggesting an orientation to class war terminology and thought way out of date for today's society, ills and all. It's a cracked lens through which to observe American public education, including in the District.

Posted by: axolotl | September 1, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

http://www.thefrustratedteacher.com/2010/09/kipp-should-change-its-name-to-cipp.html

Just my opinion.

Posted by: tfteacher | September 1, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

So, uh, Jay, what about the issues I raised regarding your abandonment of the achievement gap, or the education debt, as Ladson-Billings rightfully calls it? I know it is easier to change the subject by blaming the ministrations of the eugenics-inspired KIPP chain gangs on the fact that Jim Horn has not visited one.

In that regard, I do not have to visit the any of these psychological sterilization camps to know their methods, any more than I would need to go behind the walls to know that prison has less to recommend it than, let's say, going to work at the Washington Post. The horrors at KIPP Fresno are documented in State filings and at Schools Matter, just as those are at Fulton County, only to name a couple of the most blatant cases of abuse. In fact, I learned a good deal from reading your book, "Work Hard, Be Nice," particularly the part where you laugh off the time in the good ole days of Houston when Feinberg threw a chair through a plate glass window because the chidren were not contrite enough for a minor disciplinary breach. If one pays attention, one can learn a good deal from reading and listening, and it doesn't even require one to SLANT.

By the way, your sucking up to Rafe Esquith is quite sad, but not as sad as the way you have compared what Esquith does in his humane classroom to the brainwashing and positivizing of the corporate KIPP work cults.

Now back to the subject that you would rather change: is it only because Fenty and Rhee could lose their point positions for the oligarchy that the achievement gap no longer matters? If they were actually doing something in terms of housing, jobs, health care, caring and challenging learning environments, to close the achievement gap, do you think it would be quite the "mindless measure" that you now judge it to be?

Posted by: SchoolsMatter | September 1, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Aw, here now after reading the title of this post, I thought I was going to read a thoughtful response to Reflective Educator's recent blog post (found here: http://www.anurbanteacherseducation.com/2010/08/whats-wrong-with-chec.html)
about the not-so-rosy side of your favorite school, CHEC. Will you please post soon on that topic?

Posted by: uva007 | September 1, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

"As I've said, KIPP is the way the white and powerful want the poor of color to be educated. But they aren't suggesting it because that's a path to equality. They are suggesting it for just the opposite reason - they don't want the competition for their own children."

What bull****. Disagree with KIPP if you like -- no one is stopping you from opposing a system that every study shows to be producing dramatic improvement -- but have the human decency not to pull out this sanctimonious crap about how you care about children and KIPP is just trying to subjugate them. Have a little tolerance for the shocking notion that other people just MIGHT have a different idea about how to help inner-city kids.

Posted by: educationobserver | September 1, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Jay,

With KIPP and any other special type school I just wish that you approach the subject with an open and informed mind. This thread seems to have taken a rather interesting turn, but there are still points that you have rejected before that quite frankly are true. I always thought you did that simply because they did not support your rather fixed position.

Posted by: mamoore1 | September 1, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

It's funny that the name of this blog is Class Struggle because that struggle is the one that has the biggest impact on education.

America is diverging faster and faster along class lines. You'd think a journalist who names his blog after such a classic notion wouldn't then ignore it--except to perpetuate it.

Compliance is not Knowledge.

Posted by: tfteacher | September 1, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

"I'm not sure it is possible for a reporter, certainly a national education reporter, to visit a school and see much more than the best "Potemkin Village" the school can construct. The same goes for politicians, especially celebrity politicians. And it might go for "invited educational observers" as well. However, the "tech guy," universally viewed as somehow "unimportant," sees and hears a lot. I'm not targeting KIPP here. At universities and K-12 schools I have seen and heard amazing things, including way more confidential information than should ever be disclosed."

Excellent point! Jay, how are your numerous observations of schools conducted? How much notice do you give the schools? Who do you meet with? Do you randomly talk to some of the other students and staff that are not handpicked for you to visit?

At my former school, announcements were made and posted in bulletins when we had visitors (which was quite often) due to being such a highly "ranked" school. Teachers were pulled aside to "dog and pony show" up classrooms for visitors (just like for IMPACT evaluators). Administrators did quite an impressive dance around the school to highlight all the great programs that were supposedly going on. I'm pretty sure that some hallways and class transition periods were avoided as well to shelter the chaos that often ensued between classes.

I'd say that it would be really hard to for you to get a real feel and pulse for what happens in a school given who you are and the power of your voice at the WaPo.

Posted by: istheresocialjustice | September 1, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

tfteacher - I expand my thinking about education by reading this blogue, both Jay's content and every one of the commenters. You sound thoughtful and informed, no surprise, except when you accuse Jay of obscuring or trying to perpetuate the "class struggle." What's the evidence? Education seems to have enough legitimate policy, management, technical-analytic, and practical angles without resorting to silly class-baiting. No, the schools are not crappy in many areas because of a capitalistic or elitist plot. Those other things -- like bad management, quality issues in the vast teacher corps, and bad infrastructure--are far easier to spot and address than the grand ideological conspiracy you worry about.

Posted by: axolotl | September 1, 2010 7:38 PM | Report abuse

for uva007---We will be getting to CHEC soon. I am seeking a reaction from the people who run CHEC.

for Jim, tfteacher and others--reread the column. I didn't say the achievement gap doesn't matter. I said it distorts the picture of what is working and what is not in schools. Surely your well-considered distaste for manipulating test scores can see the problem of hailing an achievement gap narrowing as good news when it is only achieved by whoever is at the top of the scale losing some points. I am happy to look at all data. There is no way the achievement gap analysis is going away. It is part of the culture. But I do object to everyone talking about it as if it is the ultimate measure, when it can, as the latest DC results show, cover up some good news about low-income kids, the class to which I have devoted most of my reporting. We named the column after my book about the idiocies of judging schools by the class of the student body. Schools full of affluent kids were considered good, no questions asked. Schools full of poor kids were considered bad, same wrong-headed analysis. And there is a touch of that misplaced attention in this topic too.
And Jim may have read the book too quickly. Feinberg made it clear he had no intention of tossing that chair into the window. He pushed it aside, but it took flight because he was angry. I bet you get angry too about issues you care about.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 1, 2010 7:43 PM | Report abuse

The class struggle is alive and well, and KIPP perpetuates it, and by extension, Jay.

I never said there was a conspiracy or even a cogent effort to perpetuate the class struggle; narrow thinking perpetuates it. Simply ignoring it perpetuates it. Claiming it doesn't exist perpetuates it.

"Good" schools are in affluent parts of town, "bad" schools in the crappy parts of town, still and for the foreseeable future.

Why is that? Poverty. The class struggle.

We need universal healthcare, free, high-quality early childhood education, and rich people to pay their fair share of taxes.

I have said nothing about intentions, just interventions. KIPP is the lazy cheap man's intervention. And it doesn't work.

Posted by: tfteacher | September 1, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

eugenics-inspired KIPP chain gangs

Anyone uses phrases like this is too stupid and hateful to be worthy of notice in polite society.

Posted by: educationobserver | September 1, 2010 9:29 PM | Report abuse

"Feinberg made it clear he had no intention of tossing that chair into the window. He pushed it aside, but it took flight because he was angry. I bet you get angry too about issues you care about."

He pushed it aside and it took flight due to his anger? That's the lamest excuse for teacher misbehavior I have ever heard.

I've been plenty angry with students, but I have never been physical about it. It's pretty inexcusable, isn't it?

http://www.thefrustratedteacher.com/

Posted by: tfteacher | September 1, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse

Nothing attracts haters like success. KIPP is proven in multiple studies to improve the academic success of students who attend, compared to students who applied but weren't randomly selected. Dumb***es and snake oil salesmen are just royally pi**ed to see that their own "progressive" philosophy doesn't work nearly as well, and so they come up with all kinds of hateful lies to try to bring KIPP down.

Posted by: educationobserver | September 1, 2010 9:41 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Mathews:

I have no intention of giving the actual quotes of the teachers in Gary in this forum, and I will explain why.

If I provide the actual words, the KIPP/TFA machine will "fire up" and claim that I am mistaking "peer mentoring" and "cohort building" and "positive pressure" for bullying. They will focus on the words themselves and not the faces of the children being tormented, nor the question, "is bullying good educational policy?"

Suffice it to say that in KIPP classrooms I have seen teachers encourage children to humiliate others. And this is done with the "pack" using the same words, as if scripted. You may see that as positive, I see it as hazing, and perhaps a significant reason for KIPP's rather stunning attrition rate. http://epicpolicy.org/newsletter/2010/06/new-kipp-study-underestimates-attrition-effects-0 A rate the KIPP Foundation seems to go to great lengths to obscure.

I do want to add one other question: Who, Mr. Mathews, paid for your traveling to all these KIPP schools around the country? And why? There is an awful lot of "Vioxx Research" in education these days, with people who profit from one reform project or another funding studies which often hype the positive and gloss over the "side effects." (The Washington Post Company is one company which does profit directly from current Obama Administration educational policies http://voices.washingtonpost.com/college-inc/2010/08/higher_ed_community_focuses_on.html ).

I'm just curious. How many urban Montessori schools did you visit on those trips? How many "free" schools? How many public schools? I'm just trying to get a sense of the purpose of your research.

- Ira Socol

Posted by: irasocol | September 1, 2010 10:40 PM | Report abuse

Ira Socol's points fall into two categories; on the issue of individual abuses at particular KIPP schools, I have no reason to doubt his assertions, though some of them are a matter of interpretation. But it would be helpful if Mr. Socol would, in criticizing the educational philosophy that KIPP schools follow, specify other schools that use a different philosophy -- a more Montessori-type philosophy, perhaps, and that are open admission at the same level as KIPP (i.e. free, minimal paperwork for admission, etc) and that produce learning gains that are better than KIPP's.

Posted by: jane100000 | September 2, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

jane100000:

I can point you to many schools making great gains with far more "open" environments. Most of these are, in fact, "traditionally financed" public schools built on inclusive models, but they are working with the kind of systemic change necessary - creating districts which, when possible, cross community boundaries, providing equalized funding, including high levels of professional development. These are the areas where there is little or no pressure for KIPP. One example I might offer is Michigan's Godfrey-Lee District, with demographics closely matching those of KIPP, this public school draws in many "school choice" students, and though it might not match the test scores of East Grand Rapids, its graduates do very well in life.

Which raises the question: How Jane, do you measure schools? http://education.change.org/blog/view/evaluate_that_-_schools_for_children

- Ira Socol

Posted by: irasocol | September 2, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Ira, not just by test scores, for sure. Altho the Godfrey-Lee NAEP scores aren't very encouraging especially for minorities and low-income children. My benchmark is how well students do after they finish their schooling -- not something you can tell from a website, unfortunately. I'm curious as to why this particular school district is your comparison for KIPP, as 75% of the students are Anglo or Asian?

Posted by: jane100000 | September 2, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

"Thanks very much for your comment. I would still like to run a more detailed post by you that tells us exactly what you saw and heard at which schools that led to the conclusions you draw."

Sorry Jay, Ira's blog posts are already more detailed, and better substantiated with both research and direct observation, than your articles, or your books.

Posted by: mcstowy | September 2, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

From Ira:

"In Chicago I saw a young teacher working one-on-one with a series of students who needed reading help. A few things stood out. The students who came to him were all, quite obviously, struggling with different aspects of the reading process. One had essentially no phonological awareness, one was really struggling with the symbols (he could not, as an example, associate the lower case letters with the equivalent upper case letters), a third read fluently but with almost zero comprehension.

The teacher, very clearly untrained in any of this, repeated the same efforts with all the kids. He was clearly operating from a script. And as his efforts inevitably failed, he became angry with the students, repeatedly blaming them for "not trying hard enough." The child with no phonological awareness was called "lazy" repeatedly. KIPP only phenomenon? Of course not, but I saw similar scenes throughout all the buildings."

This is EXACTLY the type of instruction my dyslexic son was provided until 6th grade. Not in DC but in FAIRFAX COUNTY. The special ed. teachers were trained in only one (whole language) reading method. The tutors they recommended, other FCPS teachers, also had only one way to teach. We finally removed him from public school and got him a reading instructor who taught him how to read, but to this day, he makes the same basic reading errors he was TAUGHT in Fairfax.

As an interesting note: The TFA-sponsored Mathamatica study, that TFA uses as a shield against all other educational research, also includes a survey of views about reading instruction, and 70-85% of TFA teachers embrace whole-language concepts (although less than 4% actually recognized that they were using whole-language). That may explain why their reading results in the "study" were as bad as the uncertified long term subs (who di9dn't attend elite colleges) that they were compared to.

Posted by: mcstowy | September 2, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Jane:

Lowest "resources" (tax-base) in Michigan. Very high poverty. Over 60% non-English speaking at home. (There is one Asian family that I know of.) About 65% of district adults have no high school diploma. http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/sdds/singledemoprofile.asp?county1=2616080&state1=26 Great NAEP? No. But many kids on to college, and other post-secondary success. With a very involved, very creative, administration and staff http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2010/02/west_michigan_school_district.html I see them as a model of a district which takes in everyone, sends no one away

Posted by: irasocol | September 2, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

... [hit enter too fast], and yet treats students as fully human, and as fully capable of handling sophisticated learning.

- Ira Socol

Posted by: irasocol | September 2, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

for ira --- I think if you tell us what was said, the KIPP people will be put in a real bind if it is as compelling as you feel it is. They might come up with some excuse, but the blog is not for them, but for readers, and readers would see your point even if KIPP tried to shrug it off.
As for yr good question on my travel, which has been asked before here and answered, all of my travels to KIPP schools have been paid by me. I have been a reporter for more than 40 years and know that you kill yr credibility if you take money from a source. I did a lot of traveling to KIPP cities while writing my book about KIPP, Work Hard. Be Nice, and then did some more traveling, often to KIPP cities, to promote it. My wife can verify that all the money came from the family bank account, altho we were able to write much of it off as a business expense. I am very cheap. That worried some people. Particularly when I described the Executive Inn and Suites in Houston, where the clerk at the main desk gave me the TV remote since, he said, they couldn't afford the loss of keeping them in the rooms.

For Jim, tfteacher and others---my apologies for my last post. The headline on that online version, "Forget about the achievement gap,' certainly left the impression I wanted people to henceforth ignore the gap. The column itself was more balanced, thank goodness. They shouldn't let that blogger write his own headlines.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 2, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Another note: Ira Socol's comparison of the KIPP/TFA approach to the BIA's ethnocide in its Indian schools for much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is also apt. How about an article on that? As a frequent visitor to the Wahpeton Dakota Res, every older person there seems to have a horror story that mirrors the KIPP experience.

Posted by: mcstowy | September 2, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Mathews,

I appreciate the answer on the expenses. What was the intent of this trip? That is, why KIPP? Did you look at the other schools in each community? Trying to get a sense of what drove your research in this direction.

As for the quotes: I was not doing an "approved" study. I did not ask anyone if I might quote them. And again, I do not think language is the issue. I know these positions seem odd to a journalist, but I work from differing standards.

- Ira Socol

Posted by: irasocol | September 2, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Ira---if you read the book, which I hope you do, it explains in the first couple of pages why I decided to do a book about KIPP. Since a book I wrote in the 1980s about Jaime Escalante and his school, Garfield High, I have been investigating schools that have found ways to significantly increase the academic achievement of low-income students. I heard about KIPP in 2001, did a lot of reporting, and realized they had compiled a better record than any other organization for taking low-income kids to a new level, and had done it through wonderful teaching and more time, which was reassuring. The standard rap about KIPP being a drill and kill enterprise, everybody memorizing the answers, was as far from the truth as it could be. The schools were being started by some of the most creative teachers I had ever met, and they were hiring for their staffs people just like them, and like the two founders, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, whom the book is mostly about. I think it is a very important story and have continued to cover it on this blog, and will probably do another KIPP book when the big Mathematica study of KIPP---the largest randomized study every of a charter network--is completed.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 2, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

for mcstowy---I don't have the expertise in tribal culture and the BIA to pull that off, but i would be very interested to read anything you wrote about it.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 2, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Ira,

Read the book already!

As a matter of fact... buy 10 copies and read them all. Better yet, buy 100 and pass them out to all your friends!

Jay, please answer the questions asked about how you approach a school for "observations" and what are the surrounding circumstances and setups of your school visits. I think it's invaluable in regards to the quality and integrity of your observations.

You can't deny that there has to be preparations at schools made for a visit from a high profile education reporter.

Be honest.

Posted by: istheresocialjustice | September 2, 2010 10:31 PM | Report abuse

I continue the conversation here http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2010/09/on-kipp-and-question-does-philosophy.html

- Ira Socol

Posted by: irasocol | September 3, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

"The schools were being started by some of the most creative teachers I had ever met, and they were hiring for their staffs people just like them, and like the two founders, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, whom the book is mostly about."

Interesting definition of "creativity:" surrounding yourself with people "just like them" and their corporate leaders. Most creative people, most THOUGHTFUL people, surround themselves with diverse people with differing, often competing ideas. It's exactly this type of "creativity" by our economic elite that has cause the failure of the economy.

"will probably do another KIPP book when the big Mathematica study of KIPP" is this the same Mathamatic that sold its research to TFA and any corporate interest? Have you read the Mathamatica TFA study? Its conclusions are not even supported by its own data. It's issue-oriented research along the lines of the Tobacco Industry Research Committee.

Posted by: mcstowy | September 3, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

"for mcstowy---I don't have the expertise in tribal culture and the BIA to pull that off, but i would be very interested to read anything you wrote about it"

My area of expertise is Criminal Justice, not education, but my research on alternative systems lead me to explore the circle justice system of the native peoples. This inevitably led to talk of the damage done to their culture by the imposition of European (white man's) culture and values at the expense of their own. Their hair, dress, language, religion and behavior all had to be changed to fit the expectations of the dominant culture, but with no promise or expectation that they would ever be accepted or provided the opportunity to succeed. They were forced to exchange the rich culture and traditions they had created for themselves for the bottom rung of an alien society. Every time I see DC kids going to school in uniforms that would have fit right in at my preppy New England high school, I’m reminded of photos of young native boys, hair cut, combed and plastered down, dressed like they were attending and English Boarding school, obediently looking up at the teacher and a Christian cross.

Posted by: mcstowy | September 3, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

for mcstowy-- we have the same definition of creative people. stop by a KIPP schools sometime and meet some of them. If you know of a good alternative to the approach to raising achievement we have been discussing, we would love to hear about it in detail.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 3, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

For Ira---for most school visits I must call the school district PR office and get permission. For schools where I have developed a relationship with the principal, I call that person and ask what would be a good time. Three of my books were focused on specific high schools, where I visited for 2 or 3 years, and I just showed up whenever I wanted without calling ahead since the principal had approved the project and I had the run of those places--Garfield High in East LA, Mamaroneck High in Westchester, NY,and Mt. Vernon High in Fairfax County, Va. For KIPP schools, which have an open door policy, about half the time I call ahead and make an appointment with the principal and half the time I just show up. When I visited that Indianapolis KIPP school, I was just showing up without an appointment.
If there is breaking news, or if we (the Post) have been frustrated in all attempts to visit a school where we think there is news, we will show up and try to slip in, or stand outside and interview students as the leave at the end of the day. We can get their parents numbers that way, and parents often have teacher home numbers.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 3, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

Jay,

I know columnists rarely consider their research design, but I'm wondering because you describe your only negative observations as occurring in the one KIPP school which had no advance notice of your arrival or interest. If, from an academic point of view, I saw that your experience in Indianapolis would move from an "outlier" position to one which challenges the structure of your investigation. Just a thought...

And I'd really, really, like you to read the comments from "htb" on my second blog post (linked above). I'd love to hear you respond to him.

- Ira Socol

Posted by: irasocol | September 4, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Poor Jay Mathews . . . . He trashes teachers and is sad to have to answer to his slanders.

Posted by: rsmullin1 | September 5, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

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