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KIPP school leader rejects charge of narrow teaching

Last week an erudite reader of this blog who signs on as mcstowy posted a provocative comment in response to a column of mine on the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools. He quoted from the Web site of the KIPP middle school in Lynn, Mass., as evidence of what he said was KIPP's failure to encourage imaginative, independent thinking.

I told him I would ask the leader of that school, Josh Zoia, to reply. You will find Zoia's response below, but first the quotes from the KIPP Lynn Web site cited by mcstowy:

"KIPP Academy Lynn Charter School will create an environment where the students of Lynn will develop the academic skills, intellectual habits and character traits necessary to maximize their potential in high school, college and the world beyond."
"Students learn to be active participants in the classroom by following the SLANT motto: Sit up straight, Listen, Ask and Answer questions, Nod your head if you understand, Track the speaker (i.e. make eye contact), whether that speaker is a fellow student or a teacher."

"Academic Skills - Calculate accurately - Read fluently - Write effectively - Comprehend fundamental knowledge."

"KIPP Academy Lynn will relentlessly focus on high student performance on standardized tests and other objective measures."

Mcstowy said: "Note: Nothing about intellectual creativity, critical thinking, imagination, reflection, or independent thinking. Nothing of cultural diversity or tolerance. Nothing about the value of the individual or freedom of conscience. I've compared the KIPP (and Teach For America/New Teachers Project) philosophy to Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. Ira Socol has made the comparison to the British colonial schools. Both models emphasized, as does the KIPP philosophy quoted above, that the students were members of an inferior culture that needed to be civilized and assimilated. The education provided emphasized the skills and values needed to survive (not prosper) in the dominant culture, but never, ever to question it."

Mcstowy, in another post, said the KIPP Lynn Web site "describes a philosophy that provides the barest semblance of an education while enforcing a behavioral program aimed at ensuring a docile underclass." It was, he said, "a punitive mission statement that claims it has a method of controlling the children of the dangerous poor (Much like the philosophy of the first juvenile courts in the early 1900's; poor immigrant children could only be 'saved' if they were removed from their families so that the corrupting influence of their parents could be overcome.)" The site seemed designed to "attract interest from corporate and wealthy donors," he said.

I told mcstowy that picking quotes off of a Web site was a poor way to judge any school. I recommended he visit KIPP Lynn. There is also a new, independent research paper on the school. But I promised to post Zoia's reply as soon as I received it. Here it is:

"I apologize for the delayed response. I have been focused on opening a new HS next year, applying for a K-4 in Lynn, applying for a K-8 in Boston, building a 26 million dollar facility and trying to do right by our kids! I haven’t had anyone question how we present our students on our website before. I looked over it. There is definitely room for improvement. As with anything, if you look at things in isolation, you can draw almost any conclusion you want.

"With that I just can’t understand how a person could draw the conclusion, 'a punitive mission statement that claims it has a method of controlling the children of the dangerous poor (Much like the philosophy of the first juvenile courts in the early 1900's; poor immigrant children could only be 'saved' if they were removed from their families so that the corrupting influence of their parents could be overcome.) on its website in an effort to attract interest from corporate and wealthy donors' from our website …

"What I do know is the following:

"In our mission statement it talks about maximizing the potential of ALL of our students.

"We had a 2.8% student attrition rate last year…the lowest in the KIPP network and one of the lowest in the charter school space.

"We have 150 parents (over half) engaged in our adult education classes. We keep the school open until 9:00 at night 3 nights per week for English classes, computer classes in both English and Spanish as well as a citizenship class.

"We offer recess every day and have 20 different elective offerings including sports teams, several types of dance … African dance, a step team, a Latin Dance team, and Jazz dance, as well as art, music, Tae Kwon Do and yes knitting.

"All students are part of an advisory with 12 or less students that meets at least 2 times per week so each kid gets a personal touch.

"But most importantly, fun is one of our core operating values. You see it and feel it in every classroom throughout the day. So the best answer is that he needs to come and see our school in action before casting judgment. It is possible to interpret our website in a negative way if that is what you are bringing to the table, but that is not what is happening every day at our school."

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education Web page.

By Jay Mathews  | October 13, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  KIPP Lynn, KIPP day is full of art, KIPP school leader Josh Zoia replies, blog reader mcstowy suggests KIPP teachers prepare students for domination, music and fun, school is growing  
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Comments

I admire what KIPP and other quality charter schools are doing, but I'm going to have to side a bit more with the commenter on this one. So much of the reform movement right now is obsessed with quantitative data, standardized testing, and business-oriented performance-driven models. Actually, the commenter is approaching what certain critical education theorists, like Giroux, Friere, Bordieu, Apple, and others; these voices are not heard enough within the mainstream discourse on education reform.

But I get it: what use are social justice and intellectual creativity if a child cannot read? That is always the justification for highly rationalized and prescriptive reform measures. Who cares what these high-falutin' critical theorists say in their academic journals. Kids are suffering out there. That is also a reasonable charge and it certainly is the fault of academe in not making more practical recommendations.

When I gaize at urban school reform, however, I wonder why low-income students must always be subject to militaristic measures, narrow curriculum, and emphasis on training workers to compete in our global economy. Again, as much as I admire KIPP, I do believe that their "brand" of education reform, the ideology on which the schools is based, reflects the larger philanthropic and hedge-fund driven tenor of school reform. It is limited in scope and ignores a host of other potential options for creating an educated members of our democratic society.

Posted by: shpjohns | October 13, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

"When I gaize at urban school reform, however, I wonder why low-income students must always be subject to militaristic measures, narrow curriculum, and emphasis on training workers to compete in our global economy. "

Because time and again, that has been demonstrated to be the only thing that works.

While the hippy dippy nonsense about discovery and content free "critical thinking" is very popular among well-meaning liberals, it does the kids no good at all.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | October 13, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Hey Cal,

I appreciate the verbatim quotation of my words, but I'm sorry, and I state this with all due deference: you're just wrong. Well, maybe misguided, at the very least. Critical theory has nothing to do with so-called "hippy dippy nonsense" or the traditionally progressive pedagogy you criticize. What critical educational theorists do, like Friere or Giroux, just to name a few of the more notable persons, is to get us to re-think our beliefs of what it means to be educated or to what ends our education system of structured. For instance, Friere cautioned us that students are not empty vessels in which we deposit information. The banking model of teaching and learning serves no one, empowers no one.

"What work," what schools are "effective," what are so-called "best practices," are all nebulous concepts. What works for whom and to what end? Additionally, the determination of what works in urban school reform is based on narrow metrics and narrow definitions of what it means to be educated in our democratic society. A common solution in many public Title I schools is to eliminate the "specials," like art and music, in favor of extra remedial test preparation. Social studies and science are not taught because extra time is devoted to math and reading. Students fill out packets, worksheets, sit in their seats for hours at a time, and are assessed with quantitative measures multiple times a school day. Students as early as first grade fill in bubbles and complete canned and highly structured essay questions in preparation for a test they will not take for two more school years.

I applaud the wonderful things that KIPP and all the other schools that "work" are doing. Fantastic. Here's the problem: many public schools were doing all of these things already, integrating art into the curriculum, completing projects, taking field trips, among others, while most of these charter school principals were still in diapers. Excessive bureaucratic control of schools, intensification of teachers' duties, the low status of the profession writ large, all of these forces eradicated teacher autonomy, creativity, and continually humiliate public schools so that they are set up to fail. It is these charter schools, with methods they did not invent, that apparently swoop in to save the day with their innovative tactics. Please remind yourself that the bulk of these so-called innovations are not new. Lemov's Taxonomy, no new ideas there, sorry. Mary Budd-Rowe "invented" wait-time, look it up.

In any case, schools submit to government control and supervision while charters are somewhat free to operate. This is why they look successful, not because what they're doing has never been done, but by and large they are unencumbered by the constraints placed on public schools. If anything, the way we bash our teachers and our public schools emphasizes Americans' overall ambivalence towards education.

Posted by: shpjohns | October 13, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

shpjohns;

Where have you been? Someone who has actually reads educational theory and can apply it? I'm impressed. My field of expertise lies elsewhere. I became an education gadfly because of my experience with my severely dyslexic son in the Fairfax public schools, and their inability to look beyond their limited curriculum. I’ve discovered that as bad as the huge and unresponsive FCPS was, the educational “reformers” are worse.

You also make an interesting point; without knowing it, I was perhaps channeling critical education theory. In criminal justice, I often incorporate the Critical Criminology School into my lessons as a counterpoint to conventional thinking which so dominates most of the scholarship in my field. I had simply applied a critical criminologist's view to education, without even realizing there was a similar school to thought in education. I now have a jump on my holiday reading list.

Jay:

As to Josh Zola's response; how typical of the reformers' mindset. I pose a question of philosophy, and he responds with numbers. I ask about critical thinking and freedom of conscience in the face of what appears to be forced behavioral norms (SLANT), and I hear about student advising and (extracurricular?) electives. I note no specific defense of the SLANT approach, but I can tell you without a doubt that it would be a mind-killer for all three of my children. (I can recall one inexperienced science teacher telling me in a parent meeting that my daughter was not paying attention in class. Science in not her favorite subject, but I found the comment interesting because she had gotten every single question on every single quiz right up to that point, so I asked him one more question: does he ask students questions in class to gauge understanding and does she answer them? It turns out that she is one of the first to raise her hand in response to the question and, as with the quizzes, always seemed to have the right or appropriate answer. I had a similar conversation with a teacher of my older son because he didn’t take notes. Being dyslexic, he couldn’t take notes, but has an almost perfect memory of what he hears. Both children would be admonished for not adhering to SLANT)

I repeat, KIPP may be appropriate to a niche group of students, as are military academies, parochial schools and even home-schooling, but are they innovators worthy of emulation in the public schools, or are they just running an educational business to cater to their niche?

Posted by: mcstowy | October 13, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

I sympathize with your arguments, MCSTOWY. A fantastic call to action would be to eliminate the education punditocracy, dominated by business leaders, lawyers, and journalists. I am in education (and I'll leave it at that) and I see so many books touting, for example, the "boys crisis" written by journalists with only a basic understanding of pedagogy, curriculum, and gender. Actually, without the flashy references to the "feminization" of education, many would be quite mediocre texts on education. I think this is evident in most of what is written in education, of what is discussed, of the prevailing conversation. Examine who is missing in the conversation, who gets to speak, who gets to define what "works" and what doesn't. Ultimately, I find it quite interesting that everyone is now waiting for Superman all of the sudden. Has anyone noticed that Superman is a white guy and we're apparently all waiting for him, biting our collective nails, so that he can save our poor children of color? Maybe that's just me overanalyzing: I have to get some work done... I'm done.

Posted by: shpjohns | October 13, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I enjoyed reading the discussion on this page. :)

Posted by: DHume1 | October 13, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

I'm well aware of Freire, thank you so much, and he is the epitome of hippy dippy. Freire saw education as a political action, in which traditional teachers are the oppressors, the subjugators who enforced a mind-numbing drudgery upon their students. All that and Marxism, too. Spare me.

"Additionally, the determination of what works in urban school reform is based on narrow metrics and narrow definitions of what it means to be educated in our democratic society. "

Of course. Redefine the playing field so you can kill a few years examining everyone's navel to find the true meaning of education. And of course, education will naturally be leftist claptrap. Rather than educate the oppressed to find jobs that alleviate their economic condition, we'll teach them that they are oppressed so they will rise up and vote out the oppressors and tax the evil landowners to spread the wealth.

God, educational progressives are vomitous without Freire. With Freire, they should be stuck on an island with each other for eternity, spouting idiocy where no one else can hear it.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | October 13, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

crucial website for
background info. about
charter schools --
http://charterschoolscandals.blogspot.com/

The purpose of this Web site is to provide the public with a source of independently collected information about U.S. charter schools.

For instance, compare what you learn
from my description of the (now closed, shuttered)
3,500 student "CATO School of Reason"
with the content provided by the
pro-charter Center for Education Reform
in their compilation:
"Closed Charter Schools by State: National Data 2009"

In the CER's document, the reason given for closure is "Management." The explanation is "Inadequate record keeping, suspect relations with private and sectarian schools." Well, the story is much bigger and dirtier than that, as you'll learn when you read the articles compiled in my entry for the same school.

This site is a non-billionaire funded (and un-bought off!!!),
non-union affiliated, one-person operation in the name of
public service. I post the information as quickly as I can, but
have a massive backlog due to the sheer number of stories.
Please check back periodically for new additions.

And be sure to check out these other informative
blogs too::

-THE BROAD REPORT
-THE PERIMETER PRIMATE

--------------------

There are a range of charter schools
(including non-profit and for-profit,
parent & community designed,
also corporate chain schools,
and scam schools (schools for scandal).....

view the website
listed below
for crucial
behind-the-scenes
info.
about the actual performance
& management of charter schools
in the U.S. =>

http://charterschoolscandals.blogspot.com/


==================================

Posted by: newmanagement2 | October 13, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

thanks for the comment, DHume1. Notice how little our best discussions have anything to do with me.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | October 13, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Cal Lanier, you aren't actually aware of Freire. You have imbibed some garbled tale, third or fourth hand, which conflated him with other imaginary hippy-dippy demons.

Freire didn't need to suggest that traditional teachers were the opressors of the illiterate Brazilian underclass he was fighting for - they had no teachers, but they had very real opressors. The claim the oligarchy was that the underclasses couldn't be taught. Freire's theoretical treatises are hopelessly dense, in every translation I've found. It is what the teachers, peasants, and slumdwellers in his movement actually DID that blaze out with hope for today's world.

When I teach chemistry to my low-income students, I teach power. They learn power, and they know it. That's mainly what I take from Freire.

I taught uncertainty in measurement this week, and what that means for quantitative research. The "simple", classic 10th grade activity allowed them to move purposefully, plan actions, direct their own attention, and communicate with each other. Their eyes went everywhere. They stood straight or leaned, and they moved freely around their lab room, directing their own attention.

Each team had a different metal sample, which they had to identify from density reference values, using calculations from their own data. The tin and zinc were the toughest to distinguish. There's your marxist hippy-dippy leftist claptrap significant figures for you.

My point is just, you know nothing about education or power. Less than nothing - you spew lies in your rants.

Posted by: mport84 | October 13, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Idiot, don't project. I am the reluctant owner of two Freire books and several of his essays. All of which I read as required by my professors at one of the top two ed schools in the country.

"When I teach chemistry to my low-income students, I teach power. They learn power, and they know it. That's mainly what I take from Freire."

Oooooooh. I bet shivers went up your leg a la Mathews when you wrote that. Some people just really get an unholy, self-serving thrill when they think of themselves as teachers. Evidence, again, that many people go into teaching not to educate but to have a reason to bore others to tears with preachy tales of how fabulous they are.

And don't embarrass yourself by delusionally prattling about who I must be or what I must do. You'll be wrong. But then, what else is new?

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | October 13, 2010 11:31 PM | Report abuse

Well Ms. Cal, ma'am, what exactly are your views on education because you're just simply being belligerent? You sound like my grandmother with all that "hippy dippy" anti-Commie talk. At least join the conversation in 2010 and use a term like, "hiptster dipster." And Commie-talk is so 1950's, let's update those boogeymen. Oh, if you want to give up those Friere texts, donate them or something, sell them on eBay. You may get a few bucks.

To bring it back to Mathews' original post, strict adherence to standardized testing and quantitative data is nearly ruining public education in the United States. Regardless of test advocates' original intentions, educators responded to the high stakes environment in understandable, yet highly destructive ways. Curriculum narrowed to reading and math; science and social studies are taught either infrequently or not at all.

KIPP schools, in addition to other niche charter schools, are based on very specific ideologies when it comes to teaching and learning. They ascribe to their own definitions of curriculum and pedagogy, of what it means to be an educated or successful person. That's fine, they are entitled to their own definitions. My response is that they are limited in scope and narrowly define success. For instance, since SLANT was mentioned above, what does this strategy have to do with allowing students the opportunity to collaborate and work together? It seems as if the M.O. is to encourage passive, well-behaved, individuals. There is a time in place for everything, sure enough. But always silent with eyes on the teacher as the sage on the stage, rather than perhaps adopting a role of guide on the side from time to time?

Education is inherently empowering, which is why so many people fight for access to it. Education is political, which is why so many people disagree on how to implement it. Access to education, or lack thereof, is oftentimes used as a weapon to marginalize certain groups. Take, for example, women in many Muslim countries or even African-Americans in our own past. Slaves were prohibited from reading in case they got any fancy ideas.

Access to education and educational resources can equalize disparate groups to some extent, although equal access to education is sometimes not yet realized. I admire those that rush to the cities to establish some equal access to high-quality education. But I also understand that urban school reform is quite "sexy" right now. It wins political points and many pats on the back. However, I don't see as much clamoring to rural areas, for instance, to instill similar reforms. If school choice is so important, then what of rural schools where choice is not an option? Why not send TFA members out there? I guarantee you that there are similar amounts of poverty and neglect in low-income rural areas.

To me, young, precocious leaders don't want to head out to the boonies. Cities are hip, sexy, and exciting.

Posted by: shpjohns | October 14, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

To shpjohns:

As a Teach for America alum who spent almost a decade in rural Mississippi, I can attest that TFA does indeed send corps members to rural areas. In fact, the Mississippi Delta is TFA's second-largest region.

I urge the anti-KIPP crowd to spend half a day at a KIPP school (and, yes, there are KIPP schools in rural areas too -- I just visited one in Helena, Arkansas). If they did, they may be shocked to find that in that kind of "militaristic" environment the kids are much freer to be creative, inventive, and imaginative than their peers are in other schools. Why? For a number of reasons, including safety (students do not fear being in school), time (they have much more of it when their teachers do not waste time being disciplinarians), and culture (intellectual curiosity is actively encouraged). Go ahead and visit -- it's fun!

Posted by: myerschris1973 | October 14, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

myerschris1973

KIPP and TFA are part of the same cult that rejects scientific research in education in favor their untested and/or disproven ideology. No one has ever provided a research-based explanation for SLANT, (Poor kids never learned how to pay attention is an example of prejudice, not an explanation.) and it is in direct contradiction of all the current research on cognitive development I've read. But if your goal is similar to the BIA schools, ethnocide, rather than inspiring scholarship, then it’s entirely appropriate.

Posted by: mcstowy | October 14, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Cal_Lanier

Argumentum ad hominem in lieu of reason?

Posted by: mcstowy | October 14, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

mcstowy-
What about your condescending attitude towards minority parents that have chosen KIPP for their children? If only you could choose for them, since you clearly have it all figured out...

Posted by: HappyTeacher | October 14, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

I don't get the way "militaristic" gets used as a criticism when the U.S. military is one of the most successful organizations for taking young, disproportionately underprivileged and/or minority men and turning them into responsible leaders. Oftentimes, the transformation I witnessed during my years as an Army wife was near-miraculous. The Army would get these 18- or 19-y.o. kids who were often practically street thugs and within a few short years they'd become stand-up guys you'd trust with your life.

I don't think we'd have remotely the same problem with crime if all our young men went through some military-style discipline as teens.

Posted by: CrimsonWife | October 15, 2010 1:47 AM | Report abuse

mcstowy-
What about your condescending attitude towards minority parents that have chosen KIPP for their children? If only you could choose for them, since you clearly have it all figured out...

Posted by: HappyTeacher

No condescension at all. If I were limited to the choice between an under resourced, unsafe school and a regimented, but physically safe environment, I would certainly choose safety for my children. However, the fact that these are the long alternatives presented to poor families is not inevitable, it is a policy choice. We could choose to tax the corporate sponsors of KIPP and the reform movement at a reasonable rate (as we did during the 25 years after WWII, when America led the world in just about everything, including education). That would provide the resources needed to provide educational opportunities based on the best education research, instead of the education corporate America wants poor children to have. Or, as the study of income integration reported in today's Post notes, we could take steps to ensure that kids of all economic backgrounds attend the same schools (bussing), thus requiring society to invest in all schools, instead of just the ones in their own neighborhood. KIPP vs. death should not be the only choices available, but that is the choice our policy choices have left many parents.

Posted by: mcstowy | October 15, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

don't get the way "militaristic" gets used as a criticism when the U.S. military is one of the most successful organizations for taking young, disproportionately underprivileged and/or minority men and turning them into responsible leaders. Oftentimes, the transformation I witnessed during my years as an Army wife was near-miraculous. The Army would get these 18- or 19-y.o. kids who were often practically street thugs and within a few short years they'd become stand-up guys you'd trust with your life.

I don't think we'd have remotely the same problem with crime if all our young men went through some military-style discipline as teens.

Posted by: CrimsonWife | October 15, 2010 1:47 AM

Where to begin? Let's start with military style disciple. Absolutely necessary is you are training young people who might be called upon to die to protect others in their platoon. The goal of military discipline is clear. It is designed to replace the value of the individual with that of the larger group so he can be an effective and dependable weapon. Without removing a soldier's individuality, the military cannot depend on him because he may act out of self-preservation when sacrifice is needed. Individuality is dangerous. Military training is necessary to build an effective fighting force. It is absolutely inappropriate for children and diminishes their capacity to develop into responsible, independent adults. It is preemptory punishment.

As to using military discipline in non-military settings. Yours was precisely the reasoning behind the concept of shock-incarceration during the 1980's and 90's. The idea was to place young offenders, both juveniles and adults, in "boot camps," just like the military and similar results could be achieved. It didn't work and those incarcerated in boot camps had much higher recidivism rates than those given conventional sentences or incarceration or probation. (Another problem with military-style boot camps was they attracted sadistic drill instructor wannabes, resulting in many deaths, injuries and litigation.) Why? The effect of the military on young men is described in criminology as "aging out." While almost all adolescents engage in criminal behavior (according to self-report surveys going back decades) the majority desist from criminal behavior sometime between 20 and 25 as they develop long-term goals and adopt more conventional, pro-social norms. 95% of juvenile deviants are adolescent-limited, while only 5% become career criminals (the criminal 5% 1st identified in the famous Philadelphia cohort study). So the vast majority of those "street thugs" would have become responsible adults anyway. One factor, however, that increases the likelihood of becoming a career criminal is if one gets caught, and labeled as a criminal. The military mitigates against that through close supervision of its soldiers, kind of like supervised probation.

Posted by: mcstowy | October 15, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

mcstowy- please elaborate on your experience with the U.S. military because your post seems to be spouting stereotypes rather than the reality of the modern military.

The truth is that the guerrilla nature of combat today requires soldiers to act a lot more autonomously than in the past. There's no time to wait for orders from higher up the chain- decisions need to be made quickly or people will die. The kind of unthinking automaton you imagine the military trains its servicemembers to be would be catastrophic in modern combat.

Next time, stick to topics about which you actually *KNOW* something.

Posted by: CrimsonWife | October 16, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

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