31 August 2010

What KIPP Academies do...

Dear President Obama,

I wanted to discuss the things you believe are "innovative in education," just so I might assure you that in this field - in the field of America's future - your administration is doing irreparable harm.

The "Welsh Not" was hung around the necks of students in Wales who did not conform to the "SLANT" policies of that imperial period.
"Students at both KIPP and Achievement First schools follow a system for classroom behavior invented by Levin and Feinberg called Slant, which instructs them to sit up, listen, ask questions, nod and track the speaker with their eyes." Yes, the first thing KIPP teaches is Calvinist church behaviour. "They all called out at once, “Nodding!"' Yes. Stare at your master. Sit still. Nod to demonstrate your compliance. Speak in unison according to the script.

Mr. President, this is not innovation. We know this formula. It drove the colonialist education systems of Wales and Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was the hallmark of British Colonial Schoolsfrom Lagos to Cape Town to Delhi. It was the path followed by the U.S. government's Indian Schools.

It is the well-worn path of imperial cultures. Force those not born "like" the elite to first convert, and then run in a futile attempt to "catch up."

Mr. President, is that what you would want for your daughters?

Acting as an equal human is intolerable in empires - watch from about 4:30 in

The KIPP "SLANT" idea, shown below being introduced by a smug rich guy I cannot identify, is reductionist education which assumes that children of color are incapable of the kind of rich learning available to their wealthy, white counterparts.

White guy spreading his culture to the great "unwashed" oops "challenging"

But let us notice, white kids don't learn that way... whether very young...


or older... 

  St. Ann's Puppet Parade 2009
- Watch more Videos at Vodpod.
St. Ann's in Brooklyn Heights

or older...

Wingra School in Madison, WI

or older...

Scarsdale (NY) High School

President Obama, I believe that every child in this nation deserves the kind of creative, exciting, and culturally open education your children are getting at Sidwell Friends. And I believe that forcing a traditional concept of attention on children in order to make them "white enough" to be unthreatening second-class citizens is wrong on every level.

Let me quote this from the Middle School at Sidwell: "We seek academically talented students of diverse cultural, racial, religious and economic backgrounds. We offer these students a rich and rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum designed to stimulate creative inquiry, intellectual achievement and independent thinking in a world increasingly without borders.  We encourage these students to test themselves in athletic competition and to give expression to their artistic abilities.  We draw strength from silence—and from the power of individual and collective reflection."

Now let us see how much less KIPP kids get: "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." "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."

What research is it, Mr. President, that Secretary Duncan cites to indicate that the students of KIPP Academy Lynn Charter School deserve so much less - of life, of creativity, of respect, of freedom, than your daughter's classmates at Sidwell?

No Mr. President, KIPP Academies are not innovation. They are the oldest colonialist form of oppression in the school manual. They are institutions of the elite's cultural power, and their purpose is to protect the elites by ensuring that underclass children will never catch up.

But, if you really want to prove me wrong, send your daughters to a KIPP Academy. Your i3 grants mean there should be one coming to the White House neighbourhood soon.

- Ira Socol


Unknown said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

It kind of creeps me out that Mr. Snyder in that video talks about 'SLANT' as an acronym in a context of racial and class distinctions.

'Slant' of course is a racial epithet. If the acronym were 'NEGRO,' they'd change it immediately.


Les O said...

It's sad to read articles like these, so uninformed, so ignorant.

I am a KIPP alumn, and I am now in my last year of college, attending a highly prestigious university, full scholarship, and ready as ever to integrate myself into society. The tools that KIPP equipped me with 10 years ago has not only resonated in my academic life, but my personal life as well.

Your article sounds like muddled complaints, and is only capable of scratching the surface of what KIPP really stands for, and does for its students. Maybe KIPP's model doesn't work for YOU, but it sure as hell works for a lot of people. The family, the trust, that is built while attending KIPP, is uncomparable to anything I've experienced.

Next time you want to write about KIPP I suggest you do a little more research. Maybe try interviewing someone? An expert, perhaps? Instead of making assumptions that frankly make you look uninformed and downright pissed off at the world.

Anonymous said...

Well, probably 99% of "white kids" don't go to one of the handful of "more progressive than thou" schools either. Moreover, did it ever occur to you that kids who aren't privileged with wealthy parents, who have never been read to in their lives, who don't know what an "apple" is, etc., wouldn't ever get off the ground in such a formless, unstructured, and frankly LAZY environment as that Wingra school (which comes across as a parody)?

irasocol said...

Oh my goodness, the anger is out. You can, of course, blog about giving Alaska back to the Russians and be less certain of getting furious anonymous comments than if you dare to criticize TFA or KIPP with their legendary PR machines.

Oh well, "Les O" - If you are a real person - then I am very glad that you found yourself at KIPP. I pretty much "found" myself at the opposite kind of secondary school - http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2009/05/great-schools-1-changing-everything.html - and then perhaps refound myself in the NYPD. Others do it in the Marine Corps or at Art School. Doesn't matter. The point is personal anecdote should never be the driver of public policy. I can tell you what I've seen in KIPP schools (see the comment string at - http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2010/09/irrepessible_ed_blogger_beats.html -) but that's not policy-making material either. The philosophy, the purpose, the public intent is where we find governmental solutions.

Unfortunately neither KIPP nor your further "elite education" taught you to take responsibility for your words and opinions by signing your name, and thus being open to challenge. My sense is that this might be part of the problem with KIPP training followers, not leaders.

As for Anonymous (if that is his real name). I've worked with a lot of kids in dire poverty and with no support at home and I'm sorry to disappoint the racist in you - they are still imaginative, inventive, creative, and exciting learners when engaged. No less so than I'm sure the Obama daughters are. Who taught you that poverty, or even weak parenting, makes kids poor learners? They learn really well. The trick is letting the learning come to them in ways they can understand, and work with. All over this country, in church basements, in homeless shelters, in urban schools, teachers are bringing discovery learning to all kinds of children.

No, it doesn't create the illusionary and momentary test-score bounce that reductionist teaching does, but it builds successes in many ways.

htb: yes, very creepy!

- Ira Socol

Anonymous said...

As for Anonymous (if that is his real name). I've worked with a lot of kids in dire poverty and with no support at home and I'm sorry to disappoint the racist in you - they are still imaginative, inventive, creative, and exciting learners when engaged.

And that's what KIPP manages to do much more often than the public schools: engage the children so that they learn.

No less so than I'm sure the Obama daughters are. Who taught you that poverty, or even weak parenting, makes kids poor learners? They learn really well.

Obviously. But if they're starting years behind their privileged white counterparts, someone has to do the unpleasant (as you obviously consider it) work of teaching them the basics of reading, etc. When they're taught it, they can learn perfectly well. And KIPP teaches it, far better than most schools.

KIPP is dealing with seriously underprivileged kids who wouldn't be well served by a school that lets them sit around smearing paint mindlessly on paper, and making smug comments about how little work they do. Rich white kids -- yeah, they can skate through in a "progressive" school without learning a damn thing, and they'll still coast through life (like George W. Bush) on their parents' money and power. KIPP's students don't have that luxury.

irasocol said...

Actually, Anonymous (2), there is no evidence that KIPP does anything positive "much more" than public schools. KIPP's own studies show their students doing marginally better than students rejected by KIPP who then attend what KIPP calls, "the worst public schools in the country."

Now that's setting a high bar.

Of course what they mostly do better at is take the tests which KIPP "relentlessly" prepares them for.

And that's setting solid educational goals.

I don't know Anonymous, as I've said above, I've worked with homeless kids. I didn't see what you're seeing. I saw huge problems, but if you know how to accommodate those issues, the kids do really fine. Even if you let them finger paint.

- Ira Socol

Anonymous said...

Bzzzt. Wrong. From the Mathematica study on KIPP: "Impacts in many KIPP schools are large. Three years after entering KIPP schools, many students are experiencing achievement effects that are approximately equivalent to an additional year of instruction, enough to substantially reduce race- and income-based achievement gaps."

Good luck finding a hippy-dippy "progressive" school that can accomplish the same thing.

irasocol said...

Anonymous (I have looked back, no one "supporting KIPP or TFA" has ever had the guts to give their name in a comment on this blog - I find that fascinating):

That has been pretty clearly discredited, most recently in the NAEP look at NYC.

It might be true for a few kids, but even without considering the fact that KIPP dumps half its students every year (the ones who will test badly), the results are - in some places - statistically significant plus, some places not significant, others statistically significant down.

but the buzzer? You're not Alex Trebek incognito, are you?

- Ira Socol

Anonymous said...

Wrong again. NAEP results in NYC cannot possibly refute a nationwide study on KIPP done by one of the most respected research organizations out there. What a complete non sequitur.

KIPP does not dump half its students every year. A simple knowledge of basic math would reveal that this is impossible, as each school would quickly have almost no students and hence no revenue.

Moreover, even if that were true, it wouldn't in any way touch the Mathematica study. Mathematica counted kids who left KIPP as still part of the KIPP group, which means that if they were low-performing, they would be counted against KIPPs performance. And even so, KIPP still did way better.

irasocol said...

True believers quote the same "best results" study over and over. Actual researchers look at all the information available.

Of course actual researchers sign their names. People hiding their associations do not.

But KIPP's own figures indicate that about half of each entering cohort leaves within one year. They argue about why, but they don't dispute the figures.http://epicpolicy.org/newsletter/2010/06/new-kipp-study-underestimates-attrition-effects-0

- Ira Socol

Anonymous said...

There are no actual studies showing that KIPP is a failure, unfortunately for you. All you can do is point to the occasional union-funded hackery.

And actual researchers don't feel the need to lie. Your own citation merely says, "a 19% drop in enrollment in KIPP schools between grades 6 and 7 and a 24% drop in enrollment between grades 7 and 8."

That does not translate into a 50% drop "every year." Not even close. And even if it did, it wouldn't refute the Mathematica study.

irasocol said...

I'll give you the last word Anonymous. When you have the courage to come back and identify yourself, we'll talk some more.

- Ira Socol

Jayson Franklin said...

KIPP teacher here.

"SLANT" is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a "system of classroom behavior." It is an acronym that means, quite simply, "pay attention." When students enter in fifth grade, most KIPP schools try to teach them active listening skills. (I don't think that active listening skills are oppressive, sorry). By the time students are in the 8th grade, it is rarely referred to, and when it is, it is used to remind and encourage students, not discipline them. I use "CLIMB", the acronym we use at our school when giving reminders to students to respect each other when a teammate is speaking OR when I'm giving important information to students. I don't think its colonial to remind students to respect each other's addition to the discussion.

The fact that you attach such monumental importance to it, comparing it to public shaming and other such insidious behavior control techniques means that you actually don't understand what happens inside KIPP classrooms.

Of course, I can only speak for how I see things at MY school. All KIPP schools are fairly autonomous and look and act and think different in many ways. I would encourage you to visit our school, if you're interested. We're by no means perfect, but I've never worked with a more dedicated group of educators who have only the success of the children foremost in their minds.

Jayson said...


After reading Jay Matthews blog, I noticed that you have visited our school in Chicago. Awesome! Wish I could have met you when you dropped by.

irasocol said...


First, thank you for your comments and for being the first identifiable KIPP person to comment on this site. I appreciate what you are saying, I appreciate your invitation to see your school again (which I will accept - I'll be in touch), and I appreciate your willingness to both sign your name and to be "searchable."

I'm working on a follow up post about this but I want to just touch, right now, on why I attach "monumental importance" to this issue, and why, in terms of Mathews' questions, the philosophy matters.

First, 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.

The monumental importance I ascribe to the idea of what I describe as Calvinist Church Attention, is based in the inherent colonialism, the inherent power relationships established by, this vision of attention. You describe yourself as Catholic on your websites, and the Catholic Mass in a Cathedral (the prime centers of learning before The Reformation) describe an entirely different concept, in which every sense is engaged, in which every place the eye might wander is a legitimate learning experience, in which every learner creates their own form of attention. That does not suggest disrespect for the other worshippers around you (though I have heard it described just that way by Protestant visitors), rather it is an understanding and appreciation of our human differences.

I'm "an historian" in many ways, so I'll say this - there is a reason our classroom designs and school day structures mimic Calvinist Churches. The concept behind the design of education in the US was two-fold (a) to eliminate Catholic and other foreign cultures, and (b) to prepare compliant and subservient workers and citizens. "SLANT" and other parts of the KIPP Philosophy - the actual training and conceptual understanding of KIPP's founders - come straight out of this tradition.

And that's why I think it is important.

- Ira Socol

Scratchie said...

Great post Ira and comments are well worth reading also. Inspired by the Wingra School.
Just letting you know the Wind that Shakes and Montessori videos are not viewable unfortunately.