Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Visit to A KIPP School

I have long been suspicious of KIPP, or the "Knowledge is Power Program", a charter school company which is a darling of the mainstream media. KIPP mostly teaches low-income, minority kids.

KIPP's motto is "Work Hard, Be Nice", and they ain't kiddin' about "Work Hard". KIPP schools have long hours (7:30 -- 5:00), and their students spend about 67% more time in class than most public school students. They are also given upwards of 2 hours of homework per night, and homework over "vacation". Famously, KIPP students are taught middle-class habits like sitting up straight and tracking the teacher with their eyes.

As for "Be Nice", as a woman, I've had people telling me that all my life, and it's never done a bit of good.

Not content with taking over the kids' lives, KIPP also overworks its teachers. From the KIPP website:

KIPP teachers are expected to help all students succeed, and they typically work a nine-hour work day during the week, half days on selected Saturdays, and three weeks in the summer. They also are available via cell phone for homework help in the evening.

No one should expect teachers to martyr themselves for the good of their students. Teaching, like all jobs, should allow a reasonable balance between work and personal life.

I was interested to read the following comment posted by "chemtchr" at Bridging Differences:

Actually, I accepted Kipp's invitation today, to come and look at a charter middle school. Four academic classes had a smartboard with a worksheet up on it. The board was smart, the content was dumb, the teachers were exhausted from leading the stereotyped clapping and response activities that accompanied the filling of the worksheet.

"What is classification? How does classification help us?" There was nothing to classify, no student interaction, and the teacher was unable to get any kid to respond with the desired answer, so she couldn't fill in the dumb answers so the class could copy them. The kids, instead, made comments about whether a person in a coma or an unborn baby was alive. The teacher could only respond by critiquing their adherence to the behavior rituals. Apparently the lesson was "How do we classify is a living thing?", and this was a science class.

Only one worksheet was not agressively dumb, because there were actually a couple of styrofaom cups set up in the front of the room, with thermemeters in them. Students didn't move, or handle the cups, but that teacher alone was able to address the content of what children said in response to the worksheet questions.

The other smart-board teachers were lost in the continuous struggle to maintain conformance with the bizarre clapping and posture rituals. This required continuous peppering of all discourse with monitoring, admonishments, threats to take away games, and little reward claps and games. The funniest reward games were Simon Says, and shooting a little Nerf gun at a target.

The kids (all very cute ones) were okay with it, and seemed neither beaten down nor particularly educated. I can see how you'd be able to take some great still pictures. The teachers were a visible wreck, but then their principal had just strolled in with a guest at the end of a very long day of this.

The kids were fresh as daisies, I have to say. They are indeed the lucky ones, and over half will win scholarships to the Catholic high schools, so they won't have to deal with MCAS. The unselected half will go to the public district, which is increasingly under the control of KIPP and other turnaround partners.

Hmm ... reliance on clapping and posture rituals ... does this remind you of anything?


  1. "KIPP students are taught middle-class habits like sitting up straight and tracking the teacher with their eyes"??? Sounds more like keeping the low-income kids obedient to me.

    The science class situation was interesting. It sounds like the kids were actually trying to have a philosophical discussion and the curriculum/environment was doing everything it could to keep the kids from thinking.

  2. Matthew, I responded to your comment in my new post.