Tearing Down KIPP Charter Schools By Destroying Discipline
July 06, 2019, 09:34 AM
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The no-nonsense charter school chain KIPP does good work getting inner city black and Latino kids to graduate from high school by emphasizing discipline, hard work, and fundamentals. As I wrote in 2015 in a review of historian Raymond Wolters book The Long Crusade:

A few reformers have actually done some good, usually by undoing the work of past gurus. Perhaps the most appealing figures in The Long Crusade are Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, who founded the KIPP charter-school chain in 1994 to offer discipline, hard work, and back-to-basics schooling to the fairly small percentage of slum students serious about earning a way out of the hood. Good kids deserve some breaks in life, such as getting to go to a school without a bunch of layabouts and knuckleheads.

Some of the success of KIPP is due to reviving many of the techniques of public order and respect used by schools before the ascendance of progressive education ideology in the late 1960s.

But now the forces of decay are out to get KIPP, too. From the New York Times news section:

Why Some of the Country’s Best Urban Schools Are Facing a Reckoning

Amid a growing backlash against charter schools, leaders within the movement are acknowledging that some criticism of their schools is warranted.

By Eliza Shapiro, July 5, 2019

When the charter school movement first burst on to the scene, its founders pledged to transform big urban school districts by offering low-income and minority families something they believed was missing: safe, orderly schools with rigorous academics.

But now, several decades later, as the movement has expanded, questions about whether its leaders were fulfilling their original promise to educate vulnerable children better than neighborhood public schools have mounted.

When Richard Buery took over last year as the head of policy at KIPP, the nation’s largest charter network, he began to ask the same questions.

He was used to challenging charter schools after years as a top deputy to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is skeptical of the schools.

Mr. Buery, who is black and grew up in East New York, Brooklyn, noticed that black and Hispanic students in KIPP schools were sometimes being disciplined too harshly by their white teachers. The network’s high schools had impressive academic results and graduation rates, but their students then struggled in college. And KIPP executives’ relationships with elected officials were fraying.

In response, Mr. Buery adopted an unusual strategy: He publicly declared that some of the criticism of KIPP — and the charter movement in general — was merited, and announced that KIPP needed to change for it to continue to thrive. …

“The stereotypes of the sector — there’s a reality behind them,” Mr. Buery said, referring to criticism of how charters handle discipline, race and politics. “It’s up to us to demonstrate, visibly, that we are better than the stereotype and striving to be better than what we are.”

The leaders of KIPP STAR in Harlem said having more teachers of color has naturally led to an easing of strict discipline in the school.

The college graduation rate for KIPP alumni is about 35 percent, above the national average for low-income students but not nearly as high as its founders had envisioned. After years of attempts to help KIPP alumni graduate, the network is proposing new solutions, which it hopes other schools will emulate.

The network has also recently challenged President Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, perhaps the nation’s most prominent charter supporter, for reversing an Obama-era policy aimed at reducing racial disparities in discipline.

So far, New York’s progressive politicians seem unconvinced….

“It’s not every day you see a principal who looks like me,” said Brandi Vardiman, the principal of KIPP STAR, a Harlem elementary school, on a recent morning as she passed pictures of students and teachers in Black Lives Matter shirts. About 70 percent of STAR’s staff is black or Hispanic, one of the highest rates of KIPP’s 13 New York schools.

Mr. Buery is part of a push to reverse the norm of mostly black and Hispanic charters in New York being staffed mainly by white teachers. Studies have found that black students who have even one black teacher are more likely to go to college than black students who do not. KIPP hired a chief diversity officer to promote “anti-racist practices.”

Ms. Vardiman created a class for students to learn about the Harlem Renaissance and the effects of gentrification on the neighborhood. She rephrased word problems in math classes: “Instead of, ‘Sally went to the store to buy five apples’, it might be instead, ‘Maria went to the bodega to get three avocados.’” …

Eliza Shapiro is a reporter covering New York City education. She joined The Times in 2018. Eliza grew up in New York City and attended public and private schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn. @elizashapiro

[Comment at Unz.com]

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