When Jon Becker tweeted to tell me I was being "called out" in the Post by educational columnist and KIPP school biographerJay Mathews, I knew we had a chance to bring an argument into The Beltway even if the US Department of Education refuses to listen (literally blocking me from receiving their twitter feed as well as refusing to even see mine @EdPressSec - hi Justin and Sandra (includes phone number)!).
Mathews, regarding my most recent post re: KIPP education:
"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." WashingtonPost.comOr judge the schools by what Jay Mathews writes in his bookI suppose. This is a kind of funny argument coming from a guy who has just judged me by reading one part of something on my website, but, sure...
And I have seen KIPP education live and in person, and we'll get to that, but the issue I was writing about in that blog post was philosophical, and philosophy matters.
As I told a KIPP teacher who commented on that previous post, "...you describe great teachers, so does Mathews, but Jayson (and Jay), I see fabulous teachers, administrators, and schools in a lot of places, and the Federal Government is giving none of those people or schools huge amounts of money to expand and serve more children. They are giving that money to the KIPP Foundation (which argues that they have a "system" and a "philosophy," not a bunch of autonomous and totally different schools). So the underlying philosophy matters." Which, from the reviews I've read of Mathews' book, is something Mathews' claims as well.
And here is why it matters. I described, in my follow up comments on the Post site, three scenes from KIPP schools:
"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.These are, of course, just scenes. They could, indeed, be seen in many American schools, KIPP or otherwise. But what unites them, what gives "us" as educational researchers (and by "us" of course I mean "me") is the philosophy which allows these kinds of behaviours to flourish in these schools.
"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. [Jay asked for quotes and details, and I responded, "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."]
"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."
When KIPP says, for example, on their website, that, "KIPP schools relentlessly focus on high student performance on standardized tests," that is important to know. It explains the instructional forms I have seen in KIPP schools. And when KIPP embraces "SLANT" (the creation of KIPP's founders) and insists that students, "sit up, listen, ask questions, nod and track the speaker with their eyes," That is important as well. And that explains the differences you will see between KIPP classrooms and those I provided video links to on my previous post - the classrooms which the children of the rich and powerful (and future leaders of the nation) attend.
So, with the philosophies in mind, I can say that the video below might show many things, but I'm not sure how this is (or any of the many KIPP chanting exercises you can see on YouTube or in their schools) is preparing these kids for the critical thinking and independent creativity I see as essential for real success in universities.
I'm not against rhythm and rhyme and song in school, but why are all KIPP chants to military boot camp marching rhythms?
You see, I said nothing about dedication or that these people have "good intentions," nor did I doubt that if you "relentlessly" do test preparation scores on tests might go up, or that if you keep schools open later (as wealthy communities have always done), kids have a safe place to go. What I was discussing was the philosophy which drove Arne Duncan and Barack Obama to give a huge percentage of the funds available for school innovation to the KIPP Foundation. And what I was discussing was why an organization (and its highly vocal supporters) which claims, "KIPP schools have clearly defined and measurable high expectations for academic achievement and conduct that make no excuses based on the students' backgrounds," also believes that poor children of color need a system so radically different than their wealthier, whiter peers.
Bart Simpson once said, "We're behind, and we're going to catch up by going slower?" It is a fair statement of too much of what I see in education today. If the students at KIPP begin behind, I don't want to start by "whitening" them, I want them to begin by finding a path that allows them to use the knowledge and skills they have (which are considerable, in my experiences with this population) to rush ahead. Because while KIPP stops to "whiten" (I know they disagree with this term, but it is what SLANT is to me) the wealthier, whiter peer group is not standing around waiting for them. While KIPP stops to teach chanting, the wealthier, whiter peer group is not standing around waiting them. That group is rushing ahead, learning creativity, real collaboration, real leadership, and leaving the KIPP cohort chasing that for the rest of their lives.
- Ira Socol
 There you go, Alfie
 Attention, as it is discussed here, is a cultural construct, not a brain fact. Before The Reformation there was little belief that staring at a speaker meant attentiveness. In fact, the entire design of, say, the Catholic Mass in a Cathedral is based around a very different idea. What "attention" looks like in KIPP Schools is the Calvinist - northern European vision of subservient focus.