How Much Are Your Volunteer Hours Worth? Social Capital Scrip & the Financial-Tech Experiments with New Forms of Precarious Employment

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears. Original Title: “Social capital” scrip? Fin-tech experiments with new forms of precarious “employment

scrap yard

If you consider most activities are awarded 200 points, the per-hour rate of compensation is at most $2 (presuming the volunteer activity is only an hour) for the $25 gift card. The system is constructed so that the number of points needed to obtain a larger gift card is much, much higher. To receive a $200 gift card, a person must volunteer 750 hours, which equates to a payment of twenty-six CENTS per hour.

I write this piece as a follow up to my post on self sovereign identity on Blockchain, the distributed ledger system designed to capture flows of data, and information about our lives. Supporters of Blockchain tout its ability to secure “transactions” into permanent, immutable records of activities, earnings, payments, and debt. As we shift to a cashless society dominated by dynamic online payment systems, I see new forms of draconian labor compensation practices starting to emerge.

To set the stage for my examination of Union Capital Boston, I want to give you a bit of personal background. I work at a botanic garden surrounded by a mostly post-industrial landscape. It’s on the way to the airport, a stone’s throw from trash transfer plants. Residents live with terrible air quality due to the refineries across the river. For a number of years we were hopeful they’d be shut down, but then fracking revitalized the petroleum industry and they’re still going strong.

When I started my job fifteen years ago, an adjacent parking lot held hundreds of school buses. Most students in Philadelphia don’t take yellow buses to school, but the company must have serviced the field trip market and perhaps charter schools and private schools. About seven years ago, as standardized testing ramped up and education funding decreased, the era of field trips drew to a close. The bus company closed up shop, and within a year or so that lot was taken over by a scrap metal company.

Today sidewalks outside the scrap yard are littered with wrecked cars. There’s a constant flow of people in pick up trucks, with shopping carts, and grocery dollies carrying in old appliances, rebar and junk to make ends meet. We are on a trajectory of intentional scarcity and economic instability that has been picking up speed as technology and financialization take hold of our lives. It’s brutal. The image of a frail elderly gentleman attempting to navigate a top-heavy shopping cart across the treacherous trolley tracks remains indelibly printed on my mind and my heart.

Jobs with pensions, with regular hours, with benefits, with stability have been slipping away for decades. First there was temp work and consulting, later gigs and now micro-work. Some try to cobble together part time jobs, but barbarous algorithms, striving for leaner deployment of human labor, make it nearly impossible to piece together a workable schedule. Meanwhile, tech has stepped up to design platforms that meet industry’s need for “just in time” labor.

mTurk matches developers and businesses with “human intelligence” at a “lower cost than was previously possible.” Discrete tasks like identifying objects in photos or transcribing audio recordings are a poor substitute for a regular job. Now we have Uber, Insta-cart shoppers, Task Rabbits who vie to assemble Ikea bookshelves at the lowest possible wage. While this work may be less dangerous than scrap collection or being driven to exhaustion or death in an Amazon warehouse, it is still not a viable option for anyone who desires a stable life and to raise a family. The Fourth Industrial Revolution isn’t even in full swing, but we’re pushing kids into “career connected” pathways even though we have no earthly idea what the future of “labor” will be other than that all signs indicate it won’t be good for most people.

Now I’d like to introduce you to Union Capital Boston, a new economic model that, were it ever to become widely adopted, would grossly undermine authentic, citizen-driven, grassroots community engagement. The non-profit organization based in Roxbury, MA was founded in 2014 by siblings Eric and Anna Leslie. The premise is that what the poor REALLY need is a system of rewards points that allow them to acquire small cash gift cards in exchange for volunteering in their communities. They also promote helping participants build resumes of volunteerism and activism, well-suited to being badged on Blockchain.


The Leslie’s system isn’t on Blockhain, but it does have ties to the impact investment community, is located in greater Boston where all of this is being incubated, is promoting interventions tied to established behavioral economic “nudging” strategies, and seems to be an experiment in activity tracking and alternate payment systems using  “virtual bank accounts.” In a sense, it is creating digital scrip where “good citizenship” is structured and rewarded by corporate-driven philanthropic interests and their complicit non-profit partners, all imposed upon the poor under the guise of benevolence. Membership fees that participating non-profit groups pay to become members of the program underwrite the cash payouts.

Prior to obtaining his Masters in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Eric worked for nine years in education, first as a Teach for America Fellow and later as a teacher and school leader at KIPP charter schools in Philadelphia (note Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B-Lab, the entity that establishes social impact metrics, serves on the KIPP Philadelphia board). Anna has a Masters in Public Health, worked as an outreach coordinator for Americorps (an initiative of the Corporation for National and Community Service along with the Pay for Success Social Innovation Fund), did a short stint at KIPP and then went on do to research at the Harvard School of Public Health.

In 2015, the Knight Foundation granted Union Capital Boston $35,000 to “prototype a program and tools to reward citizens for getting civically involved, as part of an effort to accelerate and learn from early-stage media and information projects.” They received another $7,500 from the Boston Foundation. In 2016 they were granted $60,000 by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Inc. (Rockefeller, the force behind the Global Impact Investment Network).

The Knight Foundation is doing a lot of “civic” work in Philadelphia. I didn’t end up incorporating this plot line into my “Building Sanctuary” story, but in the back of my mind I had entertained the idea that all of these philanthropically-directed civic projects could be a means to identify possible change agents in advance and neutralize them. Maybe that’s too dark. I don’t know, but Knight is also funding Internet of Things grants for “smart” cities…

What Eric and Anna developed was an app and a system for earning “points” that could be exchanged monthly for cash gift cards in denominations from $25 to $200. Only certain activities earn points. They’ve had to scale back on compensation, so options that used to be rewarded are now just “celebrated.” See the image of the UCB Selfie guidelines below:

If you consider most activities are awarded 200 points, the per-hour rate of compensation is at most $2 (presuming the volunteer activity is only an hour) for the $25 gift card. The system is constructed so that the number of points needed to obtain a larger gift card is much, much higher. To receive a $200 gift card, a person must volunteer 750 hours, which equates to a payment of twenty-six CENTS per hour.

All of this activity, including geolocation data about the “volunteer,” is logged via the UCB app where it is aggregated in dashboards so communities can compete with one another for “civic engagement.” I’m sure all of this data will be associated with Rates of Return on Pay for Success contracting tied to education, healthcare, housing and financial inclusion. It is important to note that one of the activities rewarded is voter registration and participating in political activities.

Note their funders below:

I want to share an excerpt taken from Union Capital Boston’s Facebook page in March. It has since been removed. It describes the plight of a single mother who works full time in the Boston area, but cannot make ends meet due to the high cost of living and her low wages. How they proposes to solve her problem? With an app of course! With the help of UCB, this mother will spend whatever open hours she has outside of her work and family time “volunteering” to earn rewards so that she can buy a transit pass to get to work. Rather than addressing income inequality, which would be the radical solution, impact investors like the Leslies propose surveillance apps that proffer “assistance” with many, many strings attached. It is a solution that completely undermines the true spirit of community support and mutual aid. This “solution” is one structured around the financial motivations of impact-oriented non-profits and their investors.

Do I think Union Capital Boston is a program that is going to take off soon? No, I actually don’t. They have about a thousand members now. What I think is that this program is an incubator for bigger projects down the road. I wouldn’t be surprised if the policy folks at Harvard and the digital economy folks at MIT are getting regular updates from Eric and Anna. The end game with digital identity and payment systems is a bit farther out on the horizon. But global financial tech needs these test cases, and they need to start normalizing new and ever more abusive alternate labor payment systems. They need to lay the groundwork for the successor to “micro-work.” It appears some are betting on “social capital scrip” being the next big thing, maybe with a side of Sesame Credit factored into dynamic pricing just to keep things interesting.

Excerpt pulled from the UCB Facebook Page March 2018:

“In every low-income community there are vast amounts of human and social capital, and wonderful organizations trying to utilize those resources to make improvements. These resources and organizations are often disorganized, disconnected, and inefficient. Union Capital Boston (UCB) aims to connect people with these resources in low-income communities and provide rewards in order to overcome the poverty trap.

“I’m stuck!” laments Nadia, who lives in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury with her three children. Although she works full time, Nadia’s $28,000 annual salary is barely more than half of the median family income in Boston ($52,000), and more importantly, insufficient to meet the city’s high cost of living. Like many in her community, she does not want to depend on government assistance but has to use SNAP benefits and Section 8 housing to make ends meet.

By joining UCB, Nadia will earn points-tracked by swiping a QR code on her smartphone or keychain-for doing things that benefit both her her family and her community. For example, Nadia picks up her children from school on a Friday and earns 100 UCB points by volunteer at their afterschool program. On the way home, Nadia shops at the local grocery store and received 50 UCB points for her purchase. On Saturday, Nadia takes her children to the neighborhood playground and joins in a clean up earning another 100 UCB points. Nadia now has earned 250 points in her UCB Virtual Bank account. She logs into the UCB Virtual Store and uses her points to purchase a monthly MBTA pass that she needs to commute to work-all from giving back and being loyal to her community.

UCB plans to partner with schools, businesses, and civic groups that will benefit from increased participation and business. Ultimately, these institutions will pay fees to UCB in exchange for increased patronage from and improved outcomes for UCB members. UCB will use capital garnered from these fees to purchase and distribute rewards, including public transportation passes, health care coverage, home loan assistance, and college tuition payments.

The concept of customer rewards is not new, but the goal of organizing loyalty in a low-income community is a new endeavor that we believe will yield important benefits based on recent academic studies. According to research by Canada’s Knowledge Development Centre, key motivations for low-income volunteers like Nadia include desire for personal and professional development, and contribution to one’s community. Furthermore, Mark Rosenbaum in the Journal of Services Marketing (Vol. 19, Iss: 4, 2005) demonstrates that participation greatly increased when customer loyalty programs were communally-based, rather than just financially motivated, because individuals highly valued connecting with their community. Robert Putnam’s research demonstrates that this community loyalty improves social capital, which is a key component for breaking out of poverty. The benefit of a low-income community rewards program is therefore two-fold: create opportunities for individuals and families, while simultaneously improve the surrounding community.”

Below is a screen shot of their May 2018 community participation dashboard. The behavioral economists sure do love their leader boards. So much better to have people pitted against against one in competition than organizing together, eh?

-Alison McDowell


Relay Graduate School Indoctrination

Reposted with permission from Peg with Pen.


Ultimately, these practices are racist, classist and serve one purpose – protecting the privilege of a few while cashing in on our neediest children. These practices strip children of their culture, their ability to think, and they fuel the school to prison pipeline.  Schools like North Star, which Relay uses as an exemplar, have only 50% of their children from the fifth grade class still attending in the 12th grade.   They also serve far fewer children of poverty and/or those with disabilities.  Check out their attrition rates here and that will tell you everything you need to know.

This blog, and many future blogs, are going to be focused on the Relay Graduate School indoctrination occurring in my school and many schools across the country this year, due to the Relay principal academy which occurred this past summer. Colorado folks should also know that Relay intends to set up a permanent campus here in Denver.  Relay Graduate School was created to support the needs of charter schools, specifically KIPP, Uncommon and Achievement First.  Many of the individuals who work with  Relay also publish books that detail scripted ways of teaching, disciplining and leading. If you start researching the leaders of Relay Graduate School you will see that they are ripe with all sorts of training and experience that ultimately does not equate to true experience within the field of education. And one cannot equate charter school experience (like KIPP for example) as teaching experience.  I’d call it school to prison pipeline training.

Carol Burris, in an article for The Answer Sheet states:

At the Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE), teacher education that balances research, theory and practice has been replaced by ‘filling the pail’ training. Designed to serve the needs of three charter school chains — KIPP, Achievement First and Uncommon Schools— RGSE has no university affiliation, yet awards masters degrees in New York State.

In order to enroll in their program, one must teach, uncertified, in an affiliated school. Traditional public school teachers need not apply. Degrees are earned by online video and reading modules, attending discussion groups and by the uncertified teacher’s students’ test scores. If the test scores are not up to snuff, the teacher does not earn her degree. There are no classes in educational theory or history, nor any indication that the candidate must complete a masters thesis requiring research and reflection. It is cookie-cutter training grounded in one vision of instruction — the charter school vision. Each candidate’s pail is filled with the same techniques.

Doug Lemov, a Relay “teacher”,  and the author of Teach Like a Champion, has a doctorate in business from Harvard and two degrees in English. As far as I can tell from digging through articles and bios on Mr. Lemov, he has four years teaching experience. Three of those years were in a private school in New Jersey where he taught English grades 9 -12, in addition to being a counselor of admissions. He taught one year of intro. to composition at Indiana University. He’s ultimately never taught in a public school, but he has plenty of experience leading and shaping charter schools.

If you are familiar with my blog you will know that I spend a great proportion of my time discussing opt out and various facets of how to tear down corporate education reform.  Tearing down these faux graduate schools will be a new venture for me and one that I must pursue simply for selfish reasons – it is inside of my school, infesting our democratic inquiry-based school with all sorts of propaganda – and sadly, we are just beginning. We are in year one of a three year grant.

You probably are wondering – how did this happen? My school is in “turnaround” status. We have a very diverse population of students within a high poverty community. At last count we had approximately 40 languages represented in our school and approximately 75% of our students on free and reduced lunch.  Our state passed legislation to create a school “turnaround” leaders program.  My school is one of the unlucky recipients of this program.  Our Colorado Department of Education then picked so-called graduate school programs to assist in “training” school leaders/principals, within this program. Relay was picked as one of the providers. As you keep digging and researching you’ll discover all sorts of ugliness to be found in terms of money wasted on Relay in lieu of more resources and small class size for our urban diverse districts.  There’s been several articles written on Relay in terms of the training – see here and here .  I also recommend checking out this blog titled School Finance 101.  JerseyJazzman has a great takedown of North Star, a charter school that Relay uses as a “model” for all schools to follow.

The following was my first attempt to explain what I’m experiencing at our beautiful elementary school where we have worked incredibly hard for the last few years to represent the culture and beliefs of an inquiry-based democratic school and community.

I wrote on FB:

Okay – so now that I’m getting indoctrinated with charter school rhetoric (even though I’m not IN a charter school) I am utterly in awe of how absolutely mind-numbing and surface level thinking absolutely everything is – from the discipline to instruction to data collecting to greeting students. Seriously. These folks lack any understandings of child development, instruction or an understanding of how to relate to children and build relationships, not only with children, but adults. They prefer barking orders and demanding compliance to scripts. Everybody gets a script – whether you are the coach, the teacher, the principal or the student. Orders barked and children parrot back all sorts of stupid crap. No thinking. Stupid posters everywhere that demand compliance about something. And stupid phrases folks are suppose to say to demand compliance – and they seriously request that the less words you say (as you bark orders) the better. Pretty much it’s all about raising test scores and learning nothing about anything. All about a “controlled” environment. And “aggressive” monitoring. No learning. For anybody. And definitely no learning about one’s self as a learner and future literate problem-solving citizen. It’s a combination of prison environment and some bizarro robotic world with a definite connection to the Native American boarding schools. It’s clear who will maintain the privilege here as they cash in on urban diverse schools such as mine. There’s definitely nothing about being human and caring about humans within a lovely community. That’s out the window. Kinda hard to stomach in a school that is striving to be a democratic inquiry-based school. I’d say it’s really like a serious punch in the gut. The more I read from the Relay Graduate School script the more I can’t fathom that there is any educator out there that would tolerate this bullshit. The fact that there is – and the fact that school districts and CO dept of ed HIRE these non-educators to “support” (I mean beat down until you comply) their schools – signals to me a clear step towards the end of the teaching profession as I know it and knew it. How anyone could believe that there is anything in this scripted process that is actually about meeting the needs of children I’ll never know. How to get it out and shut it down? That is the question.

So, I’ve spent this three day weekend researching Relay – researching their beliefs, their dog training, and the folks who are behind this – not only at Relay but here in Colorado – where certain legislators passed this bill and our Colorado Dept. of Ed. brought in Relay to provide these services.

My head has been spinning since the launch of our staff development where we received a quick outline of the fun headed our way via Relay.  It’s hard to talk about what goes on in your school without revealing personal details – and I wish no harm to come to anyone in my school, but I do feel a responsibility to share what’s happening, as everyone across the country should do, in an effort to protect children, save our profession, and our public schools. The silence is what is killing us.

Which is why I wrote this on FB: As education activists, it is our job to expose the evils of corporate education – but specifically we must expose the nuanced ways in which non-educators and testing are destroying our public schools and ultimately the lives of children. These fascist methods for forcing us into compliance to scripts which demand obedience to the test are becoming increasingly present in our urban diverse schools. The strangle hold is becoming greater by the day as schools in turnaround face the looming devastation which will occur as PARCC, or whatever test you must take, reaches its ultimate goal of shutting down public schools and creating great profit for corporations. In the final stages of this process it appears that many across the country are turning to those who embody everything we oppose – in a desperate attempt to keep a school from being shut down due to test scores. It’s a rather sickening process to watch. A bit of the Stockholm Syndrome twisted up with some strange process in which educators either fight back, or become one of them. It’s so important that educators do their research as these folks infiltrate their schools. Be prepared and know what’s coming. I’m devouring everything I can find on Relay Graduate School and their buddies at KIPP, etc. What scares me is that there is not a lot out there exposing Relay for what it is – which means, some are joining and becoming one of them. I will expose this nightmare every step of the way this year. We must take them down.

I want to dig a bit further into this idea of nuanced ways in which non-educators and their propaganda can infiltrate a public school. And please remember, one doesn’t have to be in a chain charter school to be the recipient of these militant practices – it could happen to anyone. I can assure you, never in a million years did I think they would make their way into my school, and now – here I am.

I am in a public school built on the ideas of community, inquiry, democracy, and love and respect for children. Yet, when I walked into school this year the language had changed.  Language shapes a reality. And when the language no longer matches what you see with your eyes, it is unsettling and creates fear and instability. Our reality shifts as the language shifts. I’m thinking democracy yet I’m hearing achievement and college career ready. I’m thinking community yet I’m hearing 100% compliance. And then, you begin to see it visually – the signage, the weekly staff bulletins, the “professional development” books. You begin to see it emotionally in the faces of those around you – the denial, the sadness, the anger and the appearance of “acting” because it’s not really who we are. Every time one of those words – corporate words – militant words – fills the air – it’s like a stab in the heart of our school.

Please understand that those at my school are not caving to this nightmare…..but regardless, its presence takes its toll.

Words/phrases like: infraction, acronyms for rules (H.A.L.L., S.H.I.N.E., F.L.U.S.H.), bite-size targets, controlled atmosphere, unpacking standards, accelerate achievement, proficiency – these words –  begin to become common place. We are encouraged to use economy of language – the less words the better when asking children to follow directions ( this is directly from one of the many Relay scripts).

Relay has scripts for everything. They have videos to show you second by second how to maneuver within these regimented practices. Within this system, the key to high test scores is compliance. When teachers are dealing with children who are traumatized, children who lack food and healthcare, children who are attempting to learn a second language, children who have no books in the home – when we are attempting to do all of this in a class size of, let’s say, 28 – the only way to keep a focus on the mind-numbing test skills (which is Relay’s goal) is to demand compliance while ignoring the realities in our classrooms.  Google “Uncommon Schools:” on YouTube to see the very regimented practices that they demand of their teachers and their students. Here is an example:

These (practices in video above) are not in my school – but it does show you how far the compliance will go if folks buy into this militant training. One person who watched the video on Facebook said….Hitler Youth???

What scares me about Relay Graduate School and their propaganda is that folks are willing to sift through all of it to find the good. I’ve been watching this happen for several years now. A perfect example is the book by Doug Lemov, Teach Like a Champion.  As stated earlier, Lemov is not an experienced teacher. He’s really a charter school king who is raking in the money by preying on urban diverse children. Yet, folks will look at Lemov’s book and find something good in it that they can use.  I’ve literally heard folks say, “But there’s a few good things in that book!”  Folks will also go to Relay training, or sift through Uncommon School videos and find something good. This is how the conditioning to comply begins. This is how little things – like a poster that says H.A.L.L. begins to create an atmosphere void of democracy and thinking human beings.  It may seem perfectly innocent at first – but it’s not.  Folks might say, structure is good! Remember this – structure and compliance are two very different things. I can create a safe structure/environment with my students that allows us time to think, talk, move, share, and work quietly as well as loudly!!! I can have a conversation with children before we walk into the hallway to help remind all of us (including myself) to talk quietly so we do not disturb the other classes.  There is nothing democratic about compliance, which is what Relay Graduate School scripts demand. Finding a few good things in something that folks compare to Hitler’s Youth or Native American boarding schools – in terms of the big picture – is honestly, terrifying.

Ultimately, these practices are racist, classist and serve one purpose – protecting the privilege of a few while cashing in on our neediest children. These practices strip children of their culture, their ability to think, and they fuel the school to prison pipeline.  Schools like North Star, which Relay uses as an exemplar, have only 50% of their children from the fifth grade class still attending in the 12th grade.   They also serve far fewer children of poverty and/or those with disabilities.  Check out their attrition rates here and that will tell you everything you need to know.

Another thought to consider – as Opt Out moves forward this year, schools like Relay will fall by the wayside if Opt Out indeed wins.  Without a focus on test scores Relay has nothing – there would be no reason to demand such severe compliance of principals, teachers, and children, if indeed there was no need to bow down to high stakes testing. Schools in turnaround, such as mine,  could return their focus to community building, student and teacher inquiry, democratic thinking, all in an effort to make the world a better place – a place where children walk down the school hallway talking and smiling. A place where children can share their thinking without being required to sit in their chair with hands folded – do you sit with your hands folded when in a meeting?  A place where names like “Relay” for a “school” wouldn’t even exist – because in a relay there are winners and losers. We know how this is going to end if we keep playing this game – we will lose – we must stop playing. Stop giving the corporations, the faux educators and the pretend graduate schools what they want  – we must quit giving them our children. Our children deserve it all – yet, we continue to sacrifice them to the corporations and those who dictate the corporate agenda. As educators, we cannot be silent as they experiment on our neediest children – we cannot be silent as they inflict practices on children which are meant to beat them down until they comply. To be silent – well, it’s simply a crime against humanity.

-Peggy Robertson

An Interview with Kenneth Zeichner: Relay Graduate School of Education



The reason that I use Lisa Delpit’s term “other people’s children” here is to underline the point that few if any Relay staff and advocates for the program in the policy community would accept a Relay teacher for their own children.

Ken Zeichner is the Boeing Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Washington. He is a member of the National Academy of Education and a Fellow at the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado.

A former elementary teacher and longtime teacher educator in NY, Wisconsin, and Seattle, his work has focused on creating and implementing more democratic models of teacher preparation that engage the expertise of local communities, K-12 educators and university academics in preparing high quality professional teachers for everyone’s children.

He has also challenged the privatization of K-12 schools and teacher education by exposing the ways in which venture philanthropy has sought to steer public policy in education, and the ways in which research has been misused to support the privatization process. His new book “The Struggle for the Soul of Teacher Education” will be published later this year by Routledge.

This interview took place via email between January and February of 2017. It’s presented in full, with only very slight editing for style.

Editor’s Note: On March 8th, the Senate  voted to roll back the Obama Administration teacher education regulations. Ken contacted me to say this regulatory change will NOT affect what he said in this interview about Relay and the teacher preparation academy provisions in ESSA.  -Carolyn Leith

As an introduction, could you explain for our readers: What is the Relay Graduate School of Education and why we should be concerned.

Relay Graduate School of Education is an independent institution not affiliated with a legitimate college or university that prepares new teachers and principals and provides professional development services for teachers and principals to school districts and charter networks. It was founded in 2007 by three charter school networks (Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First) within Hunter College’s Education School and became independent in 2012 changing its name to Relay Graduate School of Education.

Until recently, its teacher preparation programs were all “fast tracks” preparing uncertified teachers who were fully responsible for classrooms after only a few weeks of preparation. Among those who they prepared were many TFA (Teach for America) teachers in NYC. Recently, they have begin offering a “residency” option in certain locations where during the first year of the two year program their teachers are not fully responsible for classrooms and are mentored by a licensed teacher. In both the fast track and residency versions of the program teachers receive a very narrow preparation to engage in a very controlling and insensitive form of teaching that is focused almost entirely on raising student test scores. Relay teachers work exclusively with ‘other people’s children’ and provide the kind of education that Relay staff would never accept for their own children. The reason that I use Lisa Delpit’s term “other people’s children” here is to underline the point that few if any Relay staff and advocates for the program in the policy community would accept a Relay teacher for their own children. Most parents want more than a focus on standardized test scores for their children and this measure becomes the only definition of success in schools attended by students living in poverty.

The evidence is clear that the kind of controlling teaching advocated and taught by Relay has often resulted in a narrowing of the curriculum (1), and in some cases in “no excuses” charters, in damage to the psychological health of children as evidenced in research of Joan Goodman at Penn in Philadelphia.(2)

We should be worried about Relay because it prepares teachers who offer a second class education to students living in poverty, and in my opinion based on examining the evidence, it contributes to exacerbating existing educational inequities in both student opportunities to learn and in the equitable distribution of fully prepared professional teachers.(3)

According to their website, it appears Relay was founded by three charter
school networks: Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First. Can you explain for our readers what student populations these charters serve and their approach to student instruction?

These charters exclusively serve students living in poverty, most of whom are of color. Relay teachers also work in other charters however, and in some cases they may also teach in public schools.

Relay originally received NY State approval when they were still part of Hunter College.They have used this approval and their accreditation by the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation the Middle States Commission on Higher Education Accreditation to gain approval to operate in other states. One could legitimately raise the question- how can a program gain approval from states and accrediting agencies that prides itself in having no theory, where few if any of its instructors have advanced degrees in education, and where much of what most people believe teachers need to know and learn how to do is missing from their curriculum, The answer is that Relay is very good at packaging and selling itself to others as offering successful teacher education programs despite the lack of any credible evidence supporting their claims. Their mumbo jumbo and smoke and mirrors game did not work however, in either CA or PA where the states ruled that Relay’s programs did not meet their state standards for teacher education programs.

One of the more shocking parts of the Relay story is the use of Doug Lemov’s book Teach Like A Champion (TLC) as an instructional bible for the Relay program. Can you explain who Doug Lemov is and why TLC is such a toxic approach to student instruction.

Doug LeMov is currently a “faculty member” at Relay and the managing director at Uncommon Schools, one of the charter networks that formed Relay. Lemov’s “Teaching like a Champion” is the basis for the Relay teacher education curriculum. These generic management strategies are highly controlling and are dangerous when they are the main part of what teachers receive in their preparation. Relay has argued that the choice is between theory or practice and that they focus on practice. This is a false choice, and while I agree that teacher education needs to focus on practice, and that some of these strategies are useful if they are used in the proper context, it matters what practices you focus on. Additionally, teacher preparation also has to provide teachers with theoretical background in learning, development, assessment, language, and so on. There is no attention to context, culture, or even subject matter content in LeMov’s strategies. There is also no credible research that supports their use with students.

Relay’s list of philanthropic investors reads like a who’s who of education reform. The Gates Foundation is on the list, along with the Walton Foundation, and The Learning Accelerator – which is all about blended learning and the development of human capital. What do you think these groups hope to gain by supporting Relay?

Yes, Relay has been heavily supported by philanthropists like the Gates and Schusterman Foundations and by venture philanthropists such as the New Schools Venture Fund as well as by individual hedge fund managers.(4) The funding of non-college and university programs that are linked to charter school networks helps these individuals and organizations further their goals of deregulating and privatizing public schools. As the charter networks continue to expand across the country and replace real public schools, there is more of a need for teachers who want to work in these schools that are often tightly regimented.  Many graduates of professional teacher preparation programs in colleges and university do not want to work in these charter schools. Foundations that want to expand the proportion of charter schools throughout the country must help create a parallel set of charter- teacher education programs to prepare teachers for charter schools.

The failing school narrative is one of the media’s go to frameworks when covering public schools. In contrast, reporters give Relay the hands-off approach. Hard questions about Relay’s questionable credentialing, focus on test scores, and the use of Teach Like A Champion don’t get asked.

I agree. The hard questions do not get asked about Relay. This is because Relay has done a very effective job of branding and marketing its programs and in getting the Education Department in the Obama administration to do the same. They have flooded the media with “puff pieces” that tout the alleged success of their programs in preparing high quality teachers. The fact is however, that there is a total lack of credible evidence that supports their claims. My recent policy brief published by the National Education Policy Center in September details the inadequacies of Relay’s claims.(5)

Can you explain Relay’s credentialing process and instructional focus? Also, why do you think reporters let Relay off the hook?

I think that the media has let Relay off the hook because they have been taken in by the slick “puff pieces” that keep rolling out about how great the program supposedly is. Most media outlets do not have the capacity to do a more in depth look at the program. Relay also has been very good in linking to currently popular issues such as teacher residency programs, diversifying the teaching force, and addressing teacher shortages. As I argue in my testimony to the CT State Board of Education, it makes no sense to accept Relay’s claims about being able to help districts and states address teacher shortages and diversify their teaching staff without examining retention data on Relay program graduates.(6)

Another media favorite is the “bad teacher” narrative. For instance, under NCLB Title 1 schools had to provide parents the opportunity to review the credentials of their kid’s teachers. The unspoken message being “bad teachers” have traditionally hidden out in Title 1 schools.

Under NCLB the U.S. Education Department violated an order of the 9th Circuit Court in CA that ruled against the Department’s waiver in administrative rule of the requirement that  “highly qualified teachers” have completed their certification programs.(7) They implemented this rule after being urged to do so by TFA and other fast-track programs that send underprepared teachers into public schools as teachers of record. The court had ruled that the certification status of teachers had to be made transparent to families and that only certified teachers could be called “highly qualified.” The court ruling would not have prevented TFA teachers from teaching in public schools, but it would only have required schools to be transparent with families about the certification status of teachers. After the court ruling, the Department inserted waivers to the court ruling three times (for one year at a time) as one of hundreds of amendments in general spending bills that were designed to keep the government operating. The real goal of the Department of Ed and programs like TFA and Relay was to get rid of the label highly qualified and focus on teachers’ effectiveness that was defined as teachers’ abilities to raise student test scores. In the new elementary and secondary education act, ESSA, the term highly qualified teacher has been eliminated.

Here’s the ironic twist, at least in Colorado. Relay – with all its questionable credentialing practices – is allowed by Colorado’s Department of Education to provide intervention services for public schools that fall under the turnaround school designation. How can this be?

This is the case because they were approved by the Colorado state education department to provide these services. Yes, their practices are very questionable, but because of their very strong branding and marketing they have managed to convince states (with the exception of PA and CA) to let them operate. Relay also has very influential supporters in CT including the governor, the state superintendent, and the director of Achievement First, one of its three founding charter school networks. In CO, they went through the approval process under the radar and the colleges and universities that operate teacher education programs did not find out about it until it was too late.

Relay operates schools in Baton Rouge, Chicago, Denver,Houston, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Newark, Philly/Camden, San Antonio and the state of Delaware.

Yes, Relay has programs operating in these places, but the schools in which they teach are not necessarily those in the original three charter networks. For example, in Chicago Relay partners with the Noble charter network. Also, because Relay was denied approval in PA their Camden/ Philly site can only operate in NJ. They were also recently approved to operate in CT and will be opening a program soon there. In addition to having their application to operate programs rejected in PA, their application was also rejected in CA. Last year they doubled the number of program sites and they plan to continue to expand.

Finally, can you speak to the recent controversial approval of Relay by the Connecticut Board of Education? Also, do you know of any plans to introduce the Relay Graduate Program in Washington State?

Relay’s application to operate a program in CT was strongly opposed by K-12 educators and teacher educators throughout the state because of the program’s performance elsewhere. I was asked to submit written testimony in opposition to their application and did so. (8)

Despite the lack of any evidence about the claims that that Relay makes about the performance of its teachers, and their failure to release any retention data on program graduates, their application was approved.  One of the arguments that they made to support their application was that they will bring more teachers of color into the state. Given the increased attention and funding available in the nation to teacher residency programs and recruiting and preparing more teachers of color. Relay has very influential supporters in CT including the governor, the state superintendent, and the director of Achievement First, one of its three founding charter school networks. I think that these connections made the difference between the outcome in CA and PA and the outcome in CT.

I do not believe that Relay would gain approval to operate a teacher education program in Washington. Our state standards for teacher education are too high and the standards board unlike states like TX and FL does not allow lower standards for alternative programs. All programs, including the TFA program at UW have to meet the same PESB standards to gain and maintain approval. A few years ago when they were only operating fast track teacher education programs, I learned that they were considering coming to Washington. It was my impression that the tremendous opposition to TFA in Seattle discouraged them from coming. 











The grifters of corporate ed reform: KIPP charter schools with the aid of the DOE


KIPP is a taxpayer-subsidized school franchise that pays no taxes on its revenue and provides a tax-deductible vehicle for uber-wealthy families to promote the school “choice” agenda.

KIPP charter schools have been touted in Washington State as the savior of all black children.

Among those people is the now State Representative (Charter School) Chad Magendanz who, while active in the Washington State PTA back in the day, sang their praises when attempting to put a plank in the PTA platform on charter schools. (Also see: The Washington State PTA Convention: Be There.)

Others chimed in although year after year KIPP charter schools proved to be far less than perfect.


KIPP charter schools and the behavior modification of…teachers

How KIPP charter school handles Special Ed/IEP students

For KIPP charter schools, more computer time, less class time

Michael Feinberg’s selling of KIPP in New Zealand: FAIL

A look at KIPP, Michael Feinberg, NCTQ and Bill Gates

A former KIPP teacher comments on her experience

KIPP charter chain and torture adviser Marty Seligman: A match made in hell?

Of course, that didn’t stop the Washington State Charter School Commission, in their rush to get charter schools established in our state, from approving KIPP’s application to set up their green tent next to the highway.

Recently the following article was published by PR Watch and is well worth a read.

Exposed by CMD: KIPP’s Efforts to Keep the Public in the Dark while Seeking Millions in Taxpayer Subsidies 

charter school oversight

By Lisa Graves and Dustin Beilke

Charter schools are big business, even when they are run by “non-profits” that pay no taxes on the revenue they receive from public taxes or other sources.

Take KIPP, which describes itself as a “national network of public schools.”

KIPP (an acronym for the phrase “knowledge is power program”) operates like a franchise with the KIPP Foundation as the franchisor and the individual charters as franchisees that are all separate non-profits that describe themselves as “public schools.”

But how public are KIPP public schools?

Not as public as real or traditional public schools.

New documents discovered on the U.S. Department of Education’s website reveal that KIPP has claimed that information about its revenues and other significant matters is “proprietary” and should be redacted from materials it provides to that agency to justify the expenditure of federal tax dollars, before its application is made publicly available.

So what does a so-called public school like KIPP want to keep the public from knowing?

1. Graduation and College Matriculation Rates

KIPP touts itself as particularly successful at preparing students to succeed in school and college.

Yet, it insisted that the U.S. Department of Education keep secret from the public the statistics about the percentage of its eighth graders who completed high school, entered college, and/or who completed a two-year or four-year degree.

A few years ago, professor Gary Miron and his colleagues Jessica Urschel and Nicholas Saxton, found that “KIPP charter middle schools enroll a significantly higher proportion of African-American students than the local school districts they draw from but 40 percent of the black males they enroll leave between grades 6 and 8,” as reported by Mary Ann Zehr in Ed Week.

Zehr noted: “‘The dropout rate for African-American males is really shocking,’ said Gary J. Miron, a professor of evaluation, measurement, and research” at Western Michigan University, who conducted the national study.

Miron’s analysis was attacked by KIPP and its allies, who said KIPP’s success was not due to the attrition of lower performing students who leave the school or move to other districts. One of its defenders was Mathematica Policy Research, whose subsequent study was used to try to rebut Miron’s analysis. (That name will be important momentarily.)

The Department of Education has been provided with the data about what percentage of KIPP students graduate from high school and go on to college, but it is helping KIPP keep that secret—despite the public tax dollars going to these schools and despite KIPP’s claim to be operating what are public schools.

Real public schools would never be allowed to claim that high school graduation rates or college matriculation rates are “proprietary” or “privileged” or “confidential.”

Why does the Education Department’s Charter School Program “Office of Innovation and Improvement” defer to KIPP’s demand to keep that information secret from the public?

Meanwhile, the KIPP Foundation regularly spends nearly a half million dollars a year ($467,594 at last count) on advertising to convince the public how great its public charters are using figures it selects to promote. Almost no public school district in the nation has that kind of money to drop on ads promoting its successes.

2. Projected Uses of Federal Taxpayer Dollars (and Disney World?)

Even as KIPP was seeking more than $22 million from the federal government to expand its charter school network, it insisted that the U.S. Department of Education redact from its application a chart about how much money would be spent on personnel, facilities, transportation, and “other uses” under the proposed grant. KIPP also sought to redact the amount of private funding it was projecting.

The agency’s compliant Office of Innovation and Improvement obliged KIPP.

However, after the grant was approved, KIPP did have to comply with IRS regulations to file a report on its revenues and expenditures, as all entities given the privilege of having their revenue tax-exempt or tax-deductible do. (Those filings usually are made available a year after the revenue and expenditures accrue.)

That is, the federal government’s Office of Innovation and Improvement redacted information about KIPP’s revenue and expenditures on the basis of an unsupportable assertion that such information was exempt under the Freedom of Information Act as proprietary, confidential, or privileged even though it is not.

Here are some of the key details from KIPP’s 2013 tax filings (uploaded below):

  • KIPP received more than $18 million in grants from American tax dollars and more than $43 million from other sources, primarily other foundations;
  • KIPP spent nearly $14 million on compensation, including more than $1.2 million on nine executives who received six-figure salaries, and nearly $2 million more on retirement and other benefits;
  • KIPP also spent over $416,000 on advertising and a whopping $4.8 million on travel; it paid more than $1.2 to the Walt Disney World Swan and Resort;
  • It also paid $1.2 million to Mathematica for its data analysis; that’s the firm that was used to try to rebut concerns about KIPP’s performance and attrition rates.

KIPP’s revenue and spending in 2014 were similar, but there are some additional interesting details (uploaded below):

  • KIPP received more than $21 million in grants from American tax dollars and more than $38 million from other sources, primarily other foundations;
  • KIPP spent nearly $18 million on compensation and nearly $2 million more on retirement and other benefits;
  • KIPP paid its co-founder, David Levin, more than $450,000 in total compensation, and its CEO, Richard Barth, more than $425,000 in total compensation, in addition to six-figure salaries for eight other executives;
  • KIPP also spent over $467,000 on advertising and more than $5 million on travel;
  • It also paid nearly $1 million to Mathematica for its data analysis.

In that tax year, which covers the 2013-2014 school year, as traditional public schools faced budget cuts across the country, KIPP spent more than $3.5 million on “lodging and hospitality,” including more than $1.8 million alone at the posh Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Since its revenue from taxpayers is commingled with its revenues from wealthy charter school advocates and the foundations they control, there is no way to sort out how much of taxpayer money has directly gone into luxurious trips for KIPP employees versus how much having revenue from taxes helps subsidize such largesse.

But, there is no public school district in the country that would be allowed such travel and promotional expenditures for its executives or teachers if the voters knew about it or had a say in it.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that KIPP would want the grant-makers at the U.S. Department of Education to redact the amount of its expenditures for personnel, facilities, transportation, and “other uses”—especially with extravagant expenditures like its transportation and lodging at fabulous resorts, as opposed to transportation for kids to school—but why would the federal agency charged with oversight go along with redacting information about how much KIPP was projecting to spend in those categories?

KIPP did request that budget information about how much it or its affiliates paid the executive directors for individual charters, principals, accountants, grant managers, community coordinators, and IT teams be kept from the public, under a claim that such information is proprietary.

But the Office of Innovation and Improvement did not accommodate that request.

Notably, KIPP’s grant application sets forth “regional leadership” expenses that total nearly $5 million of the projected budget for the grant. There is no indication how much taxpayers are directly or indirectly subsidizing the six-figure salaries of its executive suite including the nearly half-million in total compensation for each of KIPP’s two highest paid employees. (This grant application only pertains to one source of federal and state grants that annually provide revenue to KIPP.)

3. Full Disclosure of Attrition and Performance Results

Not only did KIPP seek to keep the public in the dark about how it spends tax-exempt funding and how many KIPP students make it to high school graduation or college, it also sought to redact information “KIPP Student Attrition” by region and “by subgroup” and “KIPP Student Performance” on state exams on “Math and Reading.”

The Office of Innovation and Improvement did as KIPP requested.

But why would KIPP, which advertises its claimed superiority, and the Department of Education, which uses KIPP as an example of the success of charters, keep information about attrition and performance secret, especially when that subject is one of great public interest as noted by the Economic Policy Institute?

Page after page after page in KIPP’s application that shows the percentage of school students who leave KIPP is blacked out along with information about student test results by school for the three years prior to the grant application.

How can the Department of Education acquiesce in a request by a charter it cheerleads for to keep data about that charter’s retention or dropout rate secret?

If both sets of redacted figures were truly excellent, why wouldn’t both KIPP and the Department of Education release those results? After all, KIPP included glossy PR documents on some of its schools in its application materials touting select data about test results.

Why should unelected bureaucrats at the federal agency get to see the data about attrition and performance in awarding millions in taxpayer dollars to KIPP but go along with KIPP in keeping those specific statistics from the public?

In short, what are KIPP and the Department of Education hiding from the American people?

4. The CEO Foundations Pushing School “Choice” and Subsidizing KIPP

KIPP also asked the Office of Innovation and Improvement to redact the amounts of funding provided to KIPP by foundations that wrote letters of support for KIPP to receive federal taxpayer money under the grant.

The grant documents the Center for Media and Democracy has examined reveal that these are the names and amounts that KIPP sought to keep the public from knowing and that the Department of Education blacked out at KIPP’s request:

  • Robertson Foundation: $20M
  • Atlantic Trust/ Kendeda Fund: $15 million
  • Marcus Foundation: $4.5M
  • Zeist: $1.7M
  • Lowe Foundation: $357,000
  • Webber Family Foundation: $351,780
  • Sooch Foundation: $675,000
  • Tipping Point Community: $2M
  • Schwab Foundation: $2.5M
  • Koret Foundation: $2,135,000
  • SAP: $297,389
  • Kobacker: $100,000
  • Todd Wagner Foundation: $1,000,000
  • El Paso, $1,000,000
  • Charles T. Bauer Foundation: $1,242,000
  • Karsh: $8M
  • Charter Schools Growth Fund: $2 million
  • Formanek: $526,000
  • Goldring Family Foundation: $1,000,000
  • Charles Hayden Foundation: $1.393 million
  • Victoria Foundation: $626,000
  • CityBridge Foundation: $2.9M”

Almost all of these donors are foundations that have to annually disclose to the IRS and make available to the public the names of their grantees and the amounts granted. So this information is not privileged, confidential or proprietary.

Why would the Office of Innovation and Improvement go along with a request to keep secret from the public information that is subsequently required to be made public?

While many of the foundations listed above are led by corporate CEOs or their families, only a few are corporations whose donations might not be routinely disclosed.

SAP, for example, is the name of a German corporation that made headlines 18 months ago for dumping the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) after Google dumped ALEC for its climate change denial and obstruction. Should Americans be concerned that a foreign multinational corporation is influencing American “public charters” through KIPP? The truth is foreign multinationals are exercising increasing influence over American charter schools and testing. Just look at the growth in U.S. business of the British firm, Pearson.

At the same time, the volume of such private philanthropic support begs the question of why the American taxpayer ought to be subsidizing schools that are touted as public but act like private ones when it comes to executive compensation and roadblocks to transparency, especially at a time when traditional public schools are facing such budgetary pressures?

KIPP is a taxpayer-subsidized school franchise that pays no taxes on its revenue and provides a tax-deductible vehicle for uber-wealthy families to promote the school “choice” agenda.

And, the fact that taxpayer money is going to a group spending millions on luxury trips to resorts in Las Vegas is mind-boggling in an age of austerity when many public schools are going without basic necessities.

With each new fact that comes out, the charter school industry is looking more like the military defense industry with the scandals of the 1980s as with the infamous $600 toilet seat. There’s no indication of fraud by KIPP.

But from an optics standpoint some might consider a $600 plastic seat small change, compared with a “public school” spending more than a million to go to Disney World in one year, even if only one-third of KIPP’s funding comes from taxpayers directly and the remainder comes at taxpayer expense due to CEOs writing off donations to foundations that help underwrite KIPP.

Plus, separate from the grant application discussed here, KIPP has been funded by the U.S. Department of Education to conduct leadership training summits for KIPP principals and other personnel. That application also includes significant redactions, including about key components of the budget for what it calls KIPP “summits” or annual meetings and other gatherings (as well as a total redaction of the Mathematica analysis commissioned by KIPP).

Meanwhile, KIPP told the Education Department that in its first 10 years it had raised more than $150 million from private philanthropic sources, which underscores the question of why taxpayers are subsidizing an operation that already has ample support from the corporate community and those taxpayer dollars could be going instead to strengthen traditional public schools that are truly public and that are not subsidized by tax write-offs for the one percent through their foundations.

Indeed, those tax write-offs serve to diminish the base of revenue available for tax revenue to fund public schools and other genuinely public goods in the first place.

A Closer Look at KIPP

It appears that all the redactions were in response to “proprietary” instructions KIPP dictated to DOE through a four-page document titled, “Proprietary Information.”

The Education Department complied with almost all of KIPP’s instructions, despite how contrary they are to public policy and even to publicly available information.

These black marks come at a time when cracks are starting to show in KIPP’s once beyond-reproach veneer.

KIPP is the largest and most lauded charter school chain in the United States and the recipient of many millions of dollars in taxpayer grants, foundation gifts and handouts from billionaire charter school enthusiasts.

A new book by Jim Horn, Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys Through ‘No Excuses’ Teaching, focuses on the experiences and perspectives of dozens of former KIPP teachers who have become critics of the chain and many of the principles it is based on, including the Teach for America program that supplies KIPP with many of its teachers.

The book’s title is a reference to “Work Hard. Be Nice” the book-length puff piece authored by Washington Post education reporter Jay Matthews about KIPP’s founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levine.

In a review of Work Hard, Be Hard that is excerpted on Diane Ravitch’s blog, education professor Julian Vasquez Heilig writes that screaming at students is accepted teaching practice in KIPP schools:

Why does KIPP encourage and/or allow these practices? Horn writes, school leaders relayed that ‘because of cultural differences, black students are accustomed to being screamed at…because that’s how their parents speak to them.’ A KIPP teacher characterized the worst offender at her school as a ‘screamer, swearer and humiliator.’

“KIPP might also argue that they are the beneficiaries of widespread support in communities across the nation. It is very clear that KIPP benefits from powerful influential and wealthy supporters in government, the media, and foundations. Their no excuses approach to educating poor children has resonated with the elites in society and they have showered the corporate charter chain with resources for decades. So it may be surprising to some to read the counternarrative from KIPP teachers that is quite different than what you typically read in the newspapers, see in documentaries like Waiting for Superman, and generally experience in the public discourse. I proffer that the KIPP teachers’ counternarratives in Journeys should be required reading for all of KIPPs influential supporters.”

So what is the disgruntled KIPP teachers’ counter-narrative? For one, the model seems to create lousy working conditions for the purpose of encouraging high teacher turnover. One former teacher says, “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone who wanted to be a teacher for the long-term…It’s exhausting. It’s demoralizing.”

And this is where Teach for America comes in. “Without a constant infusion of new teachers to replace all those who burn out,” Horn writes, “KIPP would have to shut its doors… The role of Teach For America and programs based on Teach For America’s hyper-abbreviated preparation are crucial, then, for the continued survival of… KIPP.”

In short, the new book offers a devastating critique of the KIPP business model at a time when KIPP and the Department of Education appear to be aiding each other in trying to keep critical information out of the public debate through redaction.

PDF icon KIPP redactions 137.84 KB
PDF icon KIPP redaction list 45.7 KB
PDF icon KIPP 2013 990 1.93 MB
PDF icon KIPP 2012 990 1.82 MB

There’s a reason why so many people oppose having charter schools in Washington state.

Dora Taylor

Post Script:

More on KIPP

How KIPP charter school handles special ed/IEP students

kipp girls

Leonie Haimson posted this in 2012 and I have linked to it several times over the last few years.

Because I seem to be on a roll about KIPP charter schools, I decided this is an appropriate time to post this on Seattle Ed.

“At KIPP, I would wake up sick, every single day”

At KIPP, I would wake up sick, every single day. Except on Sunday, ’cause that day I didn’t have to go to school.  All the students called KIPP the “Kids in Prison Program.”

A few months ago, Class Size Matters met with a former KIPP student who lives in the Bronx and her mother to hear about their experiences at the celebrated charter school. What follows are excerpts from this interview.  The girl’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

Mom: Students who are accepted to KIPP and who have IEP’s [individualized education plans] do not get the correct services or help to be successful.  The school would rather make it difficult, leaving the parent frustrated and forcing her to remove her child. The principal always invited me to take my child out if I did not like the way she was being treated.

My response was always, “She has a right to be here just like any other child who went through the lottery system.  She will stay until she finishes.”  My reasons for her to continue were because the curriculum was good and I knew that she could benefit academically from the rigorous demands, but sometimes they went to the extreme and she suffered for it.

At the very first, I saw the way they were talking to some kids in the line as they’re going in. They’re like (shouting) “Oh you know you’re not supposed to come in here with those!” And I’m saying to myself, it doesn’t have to be like that – they were screaming at them. I said to myself, you know, I really have to find out about this school. So I decided that I was going to be very active.

Well, that’s where my problems started. Because then it became war. I wasn’t welcome there, and I noticed it. Because I used to pop up unexpectedly and I would hear these teachers really being mean! And they would say, “You can’t be here, you’re interrupting, they’re in class, they’re in session” And I said, “I have a right to be here.”

One day Celeste [her daughter] was sick. She was out for three days with a doctor’s note. When she returned the teacher tells her, “Oh, take the test, it won’t be counted.” Celeste brings me the test, because parents had to sign the exams. So I said to her, wait a minute, you were out – why did you take the test? And she said, “The teacher said it wasn’t going to be counted.” And I said, “Yea, it’s counted!” So I went to the school and I said to her teacher, “I understand you told Celeste that this test wasn’t going to be counted. She’s been out for three days, you should have given her a chance to study and make up the material.” And she said, “Well, she should have had notes…she is having difficulty in science.” I said, “She was told it wasn’t going to be counted. I think you should give her a make-up.” And she said, “Well I don’t give make-ups.”

So I told the principal that I think it’s unfair.  And she goes, “Well-” – here comes the double talk – “you know, Celeste is struggling.” And I said, “I know she is struggling and I don’t think you understand. She has a right to be here just like every other kid. And you guys, as educators need to understand that there are strategies to working with these kids.” But, you see, their strategy is “We’re not working with any difficult kid. We’re here to demand, and you perform.” That’s the attitude.

You know what happens to the “difficult kids”?  The parents take them out. And nobody hears about them again. But I’ll be damned if I was gonna take her out. You know why? Because every child has a right.

I knew there was something Celeste needed help with but I didn’t know what it was. So I said to her teacher, “Do you think you could proceed with recommending her for an evaluation and stuff?” I was thinking that maybe they provide the same services as the Dept. of Education.

They said, “Well we don’t do that; we don’t have any help for her. So I submitted an application to have her evaluated with the Dept. of Ed, downtown, and they realized that she did need the help.  She started having someone to come in for a half hour every day to work with her on math, English, and whatever other problems. He was a SETTS [special ed] teacher.  He confirmed everything that I thought was going on. He said to me, “I can’t believe what goes on in there.” And I said, “Like what?” And he said, “Well there’s a lot of corporeal punishment.”

Celeste:  When my mom first told me about KIPP I was happy because they have the orchestra, and I really like music and I love playing the instruments and all of that. Towards the end of that first year [5th grade] is when I started really feeling the impact of it. They give so much homework, and I’m there for so long. I wasn’t used to it. In elementary school you get a little bit of homework and you’re there for, like, 8 hours. But there you were there for 13 hours. You do five hours’ worth of homework. And then I really started disliking the school.

I had to sit like this. [demonstrates] It’s called S.L.A.N.T.: Sit straight. Listen. Ask a question. Nod your head. Track. Track is, if the teacher is going that way you have to… [demonstrates] follow… If you didn’t do that, they’ll yell at you: “You’re supposed to be looking at me!” [points to demerit sheet] “No SLANTing.” They’ll put that on there.

If I got into an argument with a teacher, I would have to stand outside the classroom on the black line, holding my notebook out. [Stands up and demonstrates, holding arms out] I would have to stand there until they decided to come out. For 20 minutes, 30 minutes, sometimes they’ll forget you’re out there and you’ll be there the whole period –an hour and forty minutes standing. if you have necklaces you have to tuck them away so they can’t see them – or else they’ll have you write four pages of a sentence about KIPP – “I must follow the rules of the KIPP Academy” or “I must not talk” for four pages.

They would have us stand on the black line for as many minutes as they felt was right for what I did. I would never get my homework during that hour when I was outside on the line. And I’d ask for the homework, they’d be like “I’ll give it to you later”. And the next day I would come in without homework and it goes directly on my paycheck [the demerit system].

My science teacher got mad once because I sneezed. He said “Get out of class!” And I said, “No, I won’t get out of class for sneezing” And he was like, “Yes, you are.” He called the principal and I still didn’t leave. So they were like “We’re going to call your mother. So let’s go.” And I was like, “Fine.” And I just walked out. Then the teacher wrote down everything, like ‘Not paying attention.’  He would write ‘Talking’ 5 times so I could get -5 points. He was saying I had a negative attitude.

I noticed that a lot of kids left.  In 5th grade, there were about 50 students. 6th grade, I came back and there were 30. 7th grade: 20. About 10 of them were held back and a lot of them left.

A lot of the teachers left too. When I got to 6th grade, the 5th grade teachers had all changed. By the time I got to 8th grade, there were only about four teachers left that I knew. And now it’s all new teachers. None of them are there that I went to school with.

The teachers said, “We want you to be the best you can be. No attitude.” But they’re the first ones to give you attitude. They’re hypocrites.  We used to have ‘Character Class’ on Fridays where they would tell you to be open-minded and stuff. But they weren’t open-minded. They were closed. If I needed help, they would say, ‘Oh, well you have to figure it out.’

Teachers would scream at us all the time. Sometimes for things we did, and sometimes for things we didn’t. A kid would raise his voice. Then the teacher would raise his voice. Kid would raise his voice higher and the teacher raised his voice higher.  Until it was a screaming match between the kid and the teacher. And then the principal comes in, and it’s three people all screaming at each other. It would give me such a headache!

At KIPP, I would wake up sick, every single day. Except on Sunday, ’cause that day I didn’t have to go to school.  All the students called KIPP the “Kids in Prison Program.”

And now that I’m in this [district high] school I’m relieved. I’m glad I didn’t go to KIPP high school. Now, I wake up and I want to go to school. I want to see my friends. I want to see my teachers. It’s more welcoming. You walk in there, it’s like “Hey! How are you doing?”

And here is one of the comments in response to the original post:

Anonymous said…

I was a teacher at a KIPP school for 1 /1/2 years. (Not in NYC) It was the most horrible experience of my life. The teachers and students are literally in school for 11 hours a day. You basically have no personal life as it is all about KIPP.

The school has a cult like mentality with chants, rituals, and an obsessive focus on “being nice, work hard, get into college”. I saw numerous teachers experience nervous breakdowns from the extreme pressure and harassment of administration. There was a 50% turnover for staff each year. They made me chaperone a week long trip to another city to visit colleges. I had to sleep in the same room as the students. (They do NOT pay anywhere near what would be expected from a district school.)

KIPP also made me go door to door in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city that I worked in to recruit students.

The most crazy thing I witnessed was at a KIPP summer seminar that had KIPP teachers from throughout the United States present. One of the main speakers asked the audience of KIPP teachers to stand up if they were first year teachers. About 30% of the audience stood up. Then they asked teachers with 2-5 years of experience to stand up. At that time 60% of the teachers stood up. Then they asked teachers with 5-10 years experience to stand up and 10% stood up. Then they asked teachers with more than 10 years of experience to stand up. At that time I WAS STANDING WITH 2 OTHER TEACHERS OUT OF AN AUDIENCE OF 500 TEACHERS!

Submitted by Dora Taylor

KIPP charter chain and torture adviser Marty Seligman: A match made in hell?

Psychologist Marty Seligman
Psychologist Marty Seligman “whose work formed the psychological underpinnings of the Bush administration’s torture program”.

From KIPP’s own website:

(And not to fret, I took a screen shot.)

kipp4kipp3kipp1 KIPP’s innovative approach is grounded in the research of Dr. Martin Seligman and the late Dr. Chris Peterson (the “fathers“ of Positive Psychology). Building off a partnership with KIPP NYC, Dr. Angela Duckworth and the Riverdale Country School, KIPP’s character work focuses on seven highly predictive character strengths that are correlated to leading engaged, happy and successful lives: zestgritoptimismself-controlgratitudesocial intelligence, and curiosity.

We’ve integrated our own experience as educators with this research, and developed a road map to help teachers, students, and parents foster behaviors that strengthen character.

That’s right. What all those low-income minority children need is “CHARACTER”! Instead of consulting with educators, the owners of KIPP charter school went to a behavioral psychologist who focuses on behavior modification and thought control. How else to deal with grinding poverty, homelessness, health issues and hunger? Pretend it doesn’t exist and just make the kids think that everything is OK.

Talk about willful denial.

I have posted several articles on KIPP charter schools including a compendium of articles under the heading of KIPP Charter schools  along with  A former KIPP teacher comments on her experience  and  For KIPP charter schools, more computer time, less class time .

But out of everything I have read so far about KIPP, this is the most chilling.

kipp work-hard-be-niceKIPP believes in a “no excuse” policy when it comes to their students who are mostly minority and mostly African-American. See  “At KIPP, I would wake up sick, every single day” and Documented KIPP Abuser to Speak Sunday at TFA Conference: “Bringing the ‘Joy Factor’ to Your School”.

The folks at Schools Matter have been monitoring KIPP for several years and in fact, that is how I became acquainted with the KIPP enterprise.

Recently they published the post  KIPP Psychology Guru Inspired CIA Torture Program which shocked even cynical me who thought I had seen and heard all the horrors of ed reform and charter schools but no, there are no bounds to what people will do to make money off of the most fragile of our populations.

To follow is an excerpt from the Schools Matter post:

Dr. Martin Seligman is the man to see if you have questions about how to turn human beings into compliant automatons with persistent positivity.  His experiments torturing dogs in the late 1960s was seminal to the development of “learned helplessness,” whereby subjects are pacified by repeated and unpredictable electric shocks that cannot be avoided.  Google “learned helplessness” for the readily accessible history of the research.

The subsequent “learned helplessness” exhibited by torture victims is countered by another Seligman invention, “learned optimism,” which turns compliant human subjects into persistent, self-controlled, and gritty go-getters who will not let any amount of abuse or degradation interfere with beliefs in self-heroic capabilities.  

The Seligman treatment has been used by David Levin at KIPP to behaviorally neuter children and then to have the same children self-administer heavy doses of No Excuses positivity in order to maintain high test scores regardless of children’s home life marked by pathological economic conditions.


Seligman’s “learned helplessness” techniques were central in the CIA torture program, and Seligman’s assistance to the CIA to understand how his techniques work was critical to implementing torture programs.  Seligman’s payoff for his assistance came in 2010 when his Positive Psychology Center at UPenn was handed a $31,000,000 no bid contract to do work for the Army to develop what amounts to a positive brainwashing technique that was hoped to counter the epidemic of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) among returning vets.  

It didn’t work, but Seligman and his colleagues cashed the check anyway.  Meanwhile, veterans served as guinea pigs, and who knows how many committed suicide as a result of not receiving legitimate treatments.

From Salon in 2010, “War on terror” psychologist gets giant no-bid contract:

The Army has handed a $31 million deal to Dr. Martin Seligman, who once blasted academics for “forgetting 9/11”.

The Army earlier this year steered a $31 million contract to a psychologist whose work formed the psychological underpinnings of the Bush administration’s torture program.

The Army awarded the “sole source” contract in February to the University of Pennsylvania for resilience training, or teaching soldiers to better cope with the psychological strain of multiple combat tours. The university’s Positive Psychology Center, directed by famed psychologist Martin Seligman, is conducting the resilience training.

And from NY Magazine’s article Meet the Psychologists Who Helped the CIA Torture:

One of the strangest subplots here is the unwitting role of Martin Seligman, a psychologist viewed as one of the leading modern researchers on human happiness. As the Times reported, Mitchell attended a small gathering at Seligman’s house two months after 9/11 conceived of as a brainstorming session to fight Muslim extremism. There he “introduced himself to Dr. Seligman and said how much he admired the older man’s writing on ‘learned helplessness.’ Dr. Seligman was so struck by Dr. Mitchell’s unreserved praise, he recalled in an interview, that he mentioned it to his wife that night.”

The concept of learned helplessness, a psychological phenomenon in which people who face persistent adversity effectively give up and lose the capacity to attempt to improve their situations — Seligman’s original research on the subject, from the 1960s, involved shocking dogs — was put to use by Mitchell and Jessen in their dealings with the CIA, and it echoes in the report: “SWIGERT had reviewed research on ‘learned helplessness,’ in which individuals might become passive and depressed in response to adverse or uncontrollable events. He theorized that inducing such a state could encourage a detainee to cooperate and provide information.” Many interrogation experts vehemently disagree: This level of detainee mistreatment, they argue, increases the risk that the subject will simply say whatever the interrogator wants to hear, leading to unreliable intelligence.

You can come to your own conclusions about Seligman’s influence on KIPP but it’s my opinion that KIPP charter school  is not the kind of school we want in our state.

Dora Taylor

“Pre-School for All” in Seattle, student information sharing, Jump Start, Teach for America and more

red flag


I have written two posts on Universal pre-K which in Seattle is now termed “Preschool for All”; Race to the Tots: Universal (for profit) Pre-K, DFER and the suits and Universal Pre-K in Seattle: Reasons to be cautious. Now it’s time to look more closely at the two initiatives that will be on the ballot in November during the general elections and the “Action Plan” that the initiatives are based on.

At this writing the titles have not been selected for the two initiatives or a description of each ballot item. When that is determined, I will reference them in this post. For now, I will refer to the first resolution that was presented to the Seattle City Council by Tim Burgess as Bill #1 and the alternative bill as Bill #2.

The two initiatives are different in terms of four items.

1) Alternative Bill #2, which was proposed by Councilmember Sawant, states all child care teachers and staff that are part of a new business shall be paid not less than $15 per hour. In January of 2016 and each year thereafter, the minimum wage is to increase based on the Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners for the Seattle, Tacoma and Bremerton metropolitan areas.

All previously established small businesses will have the opportunity to phase in over a three year period the appropriate minimum wage as described in the paragraph above.

2) Alternative Bill #2 states that a family should pay no more that 10% of income on child care thus making it affordable for all.

3) Alternative Bill #2 would prohibit “violent felons” from providing child care in licensed and unlicensed facilities.

4) Alternative Bill #2 would require all child care teachers and staff to obtain training and certification through the Professional Development Institute, an all-online program.

As an aside Tom Stritikus, the former Dean of the College of Education at the University of Washington and former Teach for America recruit who pushed for a Teach for America five week training program within the College of Education, helped create an all-online bachelor’s degree for early childhood education before moving on to work at the Gates Foundation.

Coincidence? I think not.

Burgess’ plan, Resolution 31478, advocates for preschool teachers to have four year degrees.  The plan also supports “alternative teaching pathways” which in the past has referred to Teach for America.

5) Alternative Bill #2 would create a City of Seattle Early Care Workforce Board to recommend policy and investment priorities. The board would reflect the ethnic, racial and economic diversity of the city’s children and would include parents, child advocates and low income communities.

6) Alternative Bill #2 would require hiring an organization to facilitate communication between the City of Seattle and “facilitate the expression of child care teachers and staff’s interests in workforce development and training programs”. The selection of this organization would include involvement of child care teachers and staff.

Now, let’s look more closely at The Seattle Preschool Program Action Plan that Burgess based his proposal on and the initiatives as they are written so far.

Much of how the program is to be structured and implemented is to be developed if and when one of the initiatives passes.

As per page 22 of the Action Plan:

The City of Seattle’s Office for Education will develop an Implementation Plan that addresses all program standards outlined herein. The Implementation Plan will be included in an ordinance package to be approved by City Council by 2015.

For that reason, I am referring to the City of Seattle’s Preschool Program Action Plan for clues on what the implementation plan will be.

One of the items noted in the introduction of the Action Plan is that one of the consultants hired to create this Action Plan was BERK Consulting. BERK was also the consulting firm used to develop “The Road Map Project/CCER Local Race to the Top Application Development”.

For more on the Road Map Project as developed in conjunction with Community Center for Education Results (CCER) , see CCER, the Road Map Project and the loss of student privacyThe Road Map Project, Race to the Top, Bill Gates and your student’s privacy and A Look at Race to the Top.

Will the Preschool for All program in Seattle be taking Race to the Top money for that program?

It’s happening in Federal Way with the concomitant Common Core Standards and testing as the basis of their preschool program. With the acceptance of Race to the Top money also comes a requirement to share all student information. Is this what we want in Seattle?

As Susan Ohanian wrote in the Burlington Free Press:

Putting pre-schoolers in a race

Gov. Shumlin and congressional representatives Leahy, Sanders and Welch couldn’t make it to the October 2013 ceremony honoring the state teacher of the year, but all except Leahy were at the December press conference announcing Vermont’s “winning” a federal $37 million Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge.

Unmentioned at the money announcement was this sentence from page 352 of the 451-page application: “Our request will be leveraged with $61,999,383 of other funds.” So in an unexplained fiscal scheme, Vermont is expected to spend $62 million to receive $37 million?

But there’s a larger cost than money.

I worry about how the very real needs of the pre-K set will be met. Vermont politicos have promised to obey the federal directive to align this new program with the controversial Common Core State Standards.

This sends shivers of apprehension down my spine. The Common Core chief architect emphasized that kids must be taught that “as you grow up in this world you realize that people really don’t give a **** about what you feel or what you think.” Common Core expects all students in a class to read the same text, and here’s the chief architect’s advice to a student reading several grade levels below the complex text assigned to his class: “You’re going to practice it again and again and again and again … so there’s a chance you can finally do that level of work.”

As a longtime teacher I know that no good can come from such theories. And holding four-year-olds captive to this kind of pedagogy is child abuse.

The real winners in this Race to the Top grant seem to be managers, data collectors and assessors. At the same time the feds cut food stamps and heating subsidies, they offer money for a gaggle of coordinators and consultants. One can only guess how the job functions of a home visiting data analyst differ from those of a home visiting coordinator. There is also an expert evaluator, an expert researcher, and a contractor to manage data governance process.

On and on

Faculty members from each Vermont college with early childhood education programs will be brought on board — to make sure everything is aligned. Plus a consultant to support the colleges’ work. And on and on and on.

Consultants abound.

This whole deal looks like bureaucratic careerism, not child care. Data collection is mentioned a lot. Just how children’s lives will be enriched is not.

According to the grant application, 42 percent of Vermont children age five or younger are “high needs,” primarily as the result of being low-income. I’d like our politicos to explain just how data collection addresses the very real needs of these children.

Read the grant application and you’ll see new positions for upwards of five dozen consultants, managers, trainers, inspectors, technologists, assessors, and one graphic artist. As the grant writers admit, Vermont already has a remarkably strong and enduring commitment to the early learning and development of young children, particularly children with high needs. Kids Count ranks us No. 2 in the nation for the overall well-being of our children. 

If it ain’t broke, why let the Feds break it? 

-Susan Ohanian

For more on the Common Core Standards, see Truth in American Education and Stop Common Core Standards in Washington State.

An excellent response by a teacher to David Coleman’s remarks is Children the core of our schools.

Here in Seattle, if one of these measures passes, we will need to carefully watch what funding sources are part of the implementation plan that has yet to be written.

Health and Nutrition

Another concern of mine is ensuring that these children have a well-balanced breakfast and lunch during their time in this program. I don’t know how it is now in the Head Start program but when my dad was Director of Head Start for Southern California, he was always pleased to say that the children received two hot meals a day knowing that those might be the only decent meals they got. You can’t focus when you’re hungry.

I did not come across any language pertaining to ensuring these children are fed and fed well in the Action Plan, the Resolution or the Initiative. When I say “a good meal” I am not referring to what the Title 1 students are given for what is termed “breakfast” in the Seattle Public Schools. I saw what they were fed first hand when I was teaching an early morning enrichment class at an elementary school and what the children received could not possibly be called a healthy, well-rounded meal.

The reason so many lower income children are not learning in school is because they’re hungry, homeless, sick, or have a myriad number of other issues that are brought on by poverty.

Pre-School/Kindergarten will work only when issues of poverty are addressed.

The Involvement of the Seattle Public School District

On page 7 of the Action Plan it is stated:

The program will be provided through a mixed-delivery system, with classrooms offered by Seattle Public Schools and community providers.

The School Board of Seattle was never officially contacted about the Action Plan, the Resolution or the Initiative and yet these documents refer to the contribution that Seattle Public Schools will make to the program.

As of now, our schools are bursting at the seams. There is not enough space for the students who have enrolled in our district.

On page 15 of the Action Plan:

The City will:

Work alongside Seattle Public Schools Special Education department to meet the needs of children with Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs).

This sounds like a wonderful idea but no one has officially consulted with the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Board about this either.  SPS is financially stretched as it is, how are we to pay for the district to add more staff and time to work with these various pre-K programs that will be popping up?

There is a lot of pie in the sky with this plan that some pricey consultants have put together.


On page 9 of the Action Plan it states:

The plan calls for ongoing monitoring and evaluation to ensure we meet our school readiness, quality, and achievement Goals.


A comprehensive evaluation strategy for the program, designed with independent evaluation experts

Ongoing assessments of classroom quality, which includes making full use of existing assessment infrastructure

Use of developmentally-appropriate, performance-based assessments

External evaluations of implementation and outcomes

“Existing assessment infrastructure”…what does that mean? What existing infrastructure?

This language is vague with lots of room to fill in the blanks with costly assessments we wouldn’t want our children to go through. See A Kindergartner’s Nightmare as an example.

Program Eligibility

On page 11 of the Action Plan:

To be eligible to contract with the City to provide preschool through this program, qualified organizations will need to meet the following criteria:

They must be licensed by the Washington State Department of Early Learning to provide preschool services (or exempt from licensing requirements by virtue of being a public school or institution of higher education).

Charter schools like to call themselves “public schools” because they are benefiting by using our tax dollars, but when it comes time for transparency, they are no longer “public”. See Are Charter Schools Public or Private? Neither or Both?

The KIPP charter school chain has geared up for yet another business opportunity. See  A Model Built on Rigor, Structure Adapting to the Schooling Needs of a Younger Group of Students.

Yes people, our three and four year olds must have “rigor” as part of their pre-school programs.

KIPP has gotten its foot in the door in our state and I am sure they are rubbing their hands gleefully at the thought of bringing “rigor” to Seattle.

And who staffs KIPP? Teach for America, Inc. (TFA) recruits and they are rip-roarin’ and ready to go to, see TFA’s  Early Childhood Initiative.

Teach for America, Inc. is now staffing pre-school programs in San Francisco and the State of Oklahoma, two jurisdictions that the draft Ordinance, Version #4 regarding Universal pre-K, refers to.

They have all seen the gravy train coming down the tracks with Universal pre-K and they want a piece of the action.

It’s all about the “Data”

On page 17:

Kindergarten Transitions

The City will work with the Washington State Department of Early Learning and Seattle Public Schools and execute written agreements to:

Align practices, responsibilities, and timelines and to address data sharing, academic expectations, curriculum alignment, and professional development.

I have included a few articles within this post about student privacy, or the lack thereof, but it has now gone farther than we ever thought would happen in our state.

The OSPI has agreed to share teacher and student information with the Seattle Times.  See State Data Deal with Media Should Alarm You.

There is a push to create and share private student information and use it to track each child from pre-kindergarten through high school and beyond.

A related thread that continues to weave its way through all of this is a program called Jump Start.

According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation report titled A preK-3rd Coalition, referring to the school districts of Seattle, Edmonds and Everett,  and under the heading:

An Early Opportunity to Work Together: WaKIDS

  •  Use Jump Start to collect student data.
  • Establish a fall PreK-K Early Learning event on assessment to connect with PreK partners and share assessment information.
  • Pilot the use of electronic tablets for data collection.

Jump Start also comes up in the BERK report as a tool for parents to use under the heading of Recommendations:

 Ensure that preschool providers are aware of the Jump Start program and help connect families.


Jump Start was created by Aaron Lieberman who also founded Acelero, a for-profit company that is taking over Head Start programs and is staffed with none other than Teach for America, Inc. recruits. See A for-profit approach to Head Start.

Another line in the BERK report states under the heading:

Phase-in Plan to transition Head Start, ECEAP and Step Ahead

The City should work closely with Head Start providers to develop a phased-in plan to transition these providers into PFA providers.

What does this mean for the future of Head Start in Seattle? The BERK report also recommends including the Head Start funding into the working budget for Preschool for All.

The intent to provide pre-school for all is admirable and I hope that we can acheive this for children in Seattle but there are pitfalls to avoid.

Per the most recent proposed Ordinance that I have, there is to be an Oversight Committee. If either of these Initiatives passes, make sure that you as a teacher, parent or well informed citizen are represented on this committee either in person or by way of someone who you trust can represent the best interests of our children.

Dora Taylor









































































The Weekly Update: ALEC push back, Jeb Bush shows us how to cash in, Common Core Standards’ big oop’s, Teach for America alums speak out and more

After a short summer hiatus, I’m back with the weekly news. As my mother used to say, “There’s no rest for the weary” and from what I’ve been observing, there’s no rest for the wicked as well.

So let’s get started.


ALEC had its 40th anniversary celebration in Chicago last week but not without notice from the populace.

Jasal Noor, a great journalist who focuses on public education, interviewed Brendan Fisher, general counsel with the Center for Media and Democracy, publishers of ALECExposed and PRWatch and Julie Mead, a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin.

Protesters Condemn ALEC’s Push to Privatize Public Education

So if you look at ALEC, K12 Inc. is one of the top sponsors of this year’s meeting. K12 Inc. is the nation’s largest provider of online for-profit schools. And as one of the top sponsors of the ALEC meeting, it’s allying itself with the tobacco industry and with the oil industry and with the pharmaceutical industry, all of which are not something you would normally associate with good educational outcomes, not the sort of thing that you would typically expect of a school that is looking out primarily for kids.

One of the speakers at the ALEC gathering was none other than Jeb Bush, the “expert” on public education who has done much damage to the public school system in Florida and now wants to share his know-how with the rest of us .

From Purple Scathings:

Jeb Bush Bangs His Own Drum at ALEC Conference

Bush sure doesn’t pick unfriendly audiences, does he? And he sure operates off his own sheet of music, too.

The ugly truth he bemoans happened on his watch. Bush has failed to accept responsibility for the failure of Florida’s children long burdened under the yoke of his FCAT regime. It is time he is held accountable.

The person who has mattered in Florida education policy for more than a decade is Bush. He’s gotten everything he’s wanted save universal vouchers and parent trigger. He owns the results we are getting. Bush no longer has the moral authority to blame others. Nor does he deserve to advance policy without scrutiny.

To read what Jeb had to say at the ALEC soiree, go to Purple Scathings.

While I’m on the subject of Jeb Bush and the corruption of education policy by big money, check out this article that came out in January showing exactly how all of this works:

E-mails link Bush foundation, corporations and education officials

George and Jeb
George and Jeb

A nonprofit group released thousands of e-mails today and said they show how a foundation begun by Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and national education reform leader, is working with public officials in states to write education laws that could benefit some of its corporate funders.

A call to the foundation has not been returned.

The e-mails are between the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) and a group Bush set up called Chiefs for Change, whose members are current and former state education commissioners who support Bush’s agenda of school reform, which includes school choice, online education, retention of third-graders who can’t read and school accountability systems based on standardized tests. That includes evaluating teachers based on student test scores and grading schools A-F based on test scores. John White of Louisiana is a current member, as is Tony Bennett, the new commissioner of Florida who got the job after Indiana voters rejected his Bush-style reforms last November and tossed him out of office.

Donald Cohen, chair of the nonprofit In the Public Interest, a resource center on privatization and responsible for contracting in the public sector, said the e-mails show how education companies that have been known to contribute to the foundation are using the organization “to move an education agenda that may or not be in our interests but are in theirs.”

He said companies ask the foundation to help state officials pass laws and regulations that make it easier to expand charter schools, require students to take online education courses, and do other things that could result in business and profits for them. The e-mails show, Cohen said, that Bush’s foundation would often do this with the help of Chiefs for Change and other affiliated groups.

To read this story in full, go to the Washington Post.

ALEC chicago
At ALEC’s b-day party.

Another article about the response to ALEC’s celebration in Chicago is ALEC’s Unwelcome Party in Chicago.

Now on to the Common Core Standards.


The Common Core Standards program is being rolled out in the Seattle Public School district as we speak and is to be fully implemented by 2015. The question is, can we afford it? The cost of this program, that was dreamed up by Gates & Co., includes teacher preparation, a host of new teaching manuals, course material for students, textbooks and tests. Unfortunately, according to a recently issued report by the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University, Year 3 of Implementing the Common Core State Standards: An Overview of States’ Progress and Challenges, 32 out of the 40 states that took on the Common Core Standards can’t afford it. Oops.

Our state legislators jumped on the ed reform bandwagon to get us signed up for this program without considering the actual costs. Another good reason to keep legislators out of the realm of developing education policy and instead leave it up to educators, parents and students.

Here is an excerpt from the summary of the report:

In addition, state-level activities related to the Common Core are underway. Specifically, 39 states have developed and disseminated state CCSS implementation plans, 38 states have analyzed similarities and differences between the state’s previous standards and the CCSS, and 29 have revised or created curriculum or materials aligned to the CCSS.

Despite these many activities, states face challenges in transitioning to the Common Core. Thirty-four states find it challenging to secure adequate resources to support all of the necessary CCSS implementation activities. Additionally, 32 states report challenges in developing educator evaluation systems that hold teachers and principals accountable for students’ mastery of the standards. In the area of professional development, 37 states consider it a challenge to provide enough high-quality professional development to help teachers implement the CCSS, and 31 states said that providing all math and ELA teachers with state-sponsored professional development was proving challenging.
State education agencies are also struggling with capacity issues related to the Common Core. While most states report having adequate staff expertise to implement CCSS-related activities, fewer say they have enough staff and/or resources.

“Finding adequate resources is the main challenge looming over states’ efforts to prepare districts, schools, principals and teachers for the Common Core,” said Diane Stark Rentner, deputy director of national programs for CEP and author of the study. “Assessments aligned to the new standards will be ready to administer in 2014-15, but funding problems will likely hamper states’

Stay tuned.

tfa (2)

So much to report, so little time.

Next up, Teach for America.

As they say “The rich get richer”.

First, a word from Treme:

And from Diane Ravitch’s blog:

Why Is TFA Collecting Your Nickels and Dimes?

TFA is clearly a very successful operation. It places some 10,000 or so young college graduates in the nation’s schools each year, after giving them five weeks of training. They commit to stay for two years but some stay for three or four, and a few stay longer. Districts pay TFA $2,000-5,000 for each recruit.

According to a recent article in Reuters, TFA has assets of $300 million.

TFA has an awesome fund-raising machine. It won $50 million from the U.S. Department of Education; another $49.5 million from the very conservative Walton Foundation; $100 million from a consortium of four foundations; and untold millions from corporate donors.

This reader wondered why JC Penny was collecting donations for TFA. Another reader said that other big corporations are also fund-raising for TFA. When I went to my bank’s ATM, I was informed that I could donate $1 to TFA.

To read this post in full, go to Diane Ravitch’s blog.

And there’s more.

$20-million Walton donation will boost Teach for America in L.A.

As if Wendy Kopp doesn't already have enough edu bucks, the WalMart Waltons have decided to provide her with $20M more.
As if Wendy Kopp doesn’t already have enough edu bucks, the WalMart Waltons have decided to provide her with $20M more.

The Arkansas-based Walton Family Foundation announced Wednesday that it is donating $20 million to a nonprofit that recruits talented college graduates to teach in public schools for two years. The largest number of instructors, more than 700, is slated for Los Angeles.

The gift is a continuation of support that has totaled more than $100 million to New York City-based Teach for America over its 24 years. Walton’s cumulative contribution to TFA in Los Angeles is more than $10 million, according to the foundation.

To read this post in full, go to the Los Angeles Times.

The reality about Teach for America, Inc. is that the organization is no longer about placing recruits where there is a shortage of teachers, it’s about populating charter schools at a lower cost and replacing more highly paid and experienced teachers.

By the way, Kopp’s husband is Richard Barth, founder and CEO of the KIPP charter school franchise. KIPP staffs a large percentage of their schools with TFA, Inc. recruits.

Teach for America’s Mission to Displace Rank-and-File Educators in Chicago

Why are thousands of experienced educators being replaced by new college graduates?

TFA is a self-perpetuating organization. Teach for two years, burn out, go to law school, become a policy maker, make policies that expand TFA.

Teach for America has come under heavy scrutiny in recent months. The organization was imagined over twenty years ago by Princeton undergraduate Wendy Kopp to combat the teacher shortage in urban and rural communities. TFA was to bring recent graduates from elite universities to teach in needy schools.

The idea was pretty simple. TFA was not better for students; it was better than nothing. Providing staff in these schools alleviated overcrowding and research shows that class size does matter in a child’s education.

Twenty years later, school districts are firing huge swaths of educators due to budget cuts. These dedicated teachers lose their jobs through no fault of their own, but find themselves competing for a dwindling number of open teaching slots. One would think that at this point, TFA is no longer necessary. We have a surplus of teachers and until politicians make education a priority and fund more teaching positions, this trend will continue.

Yet in Chicago

[T]he district has committed to more than doubling its investment in the TFA program that trains college graduates for five weeks then sends them into schools for two years at a time. The Board of Education voted to increase its payment to TFA from $600,000 to nearly $1.6 million, and to add up to 325 new TFA recruits to CPS classrooms, in addition to 270 second year “teacher interns.”

This information was revealed after Chicago Public Schools announced layoffs of over 3,000 school personnel due to budget cuts.

To read this article in full, go to In These Times.

Fortunately there has been push back against this “non-profit” gone wild.


Teach for America Apostates: a Primer of Alumni Resistance

Brianna stands beside the conductor’s podium in the band hall of Chicago’s Uplift High School. An engrossed audience is packed on the risers. Mirrored sunglasses obscure her expression, and her only sign of nervousness is in the movement of her hands, clasping and unclasping before her.

Brianna was a public school student in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. In the wake of the flood, whole neighborhoods were destroyed. Approximately 1,300 people had died and hundreds of thousands were yet to return. Amid all this, she had faith her schools would weather the storm.

Instead, she found that her school was one of the many consolidated into charter schools, which draw public funds but are privately managed. Thousands of school employees had been fired (a move later ruled illegal), and many of the replacements were young, lightly trained recruits from Teach for America. By 2007, nearly half of the city’s teachers were in their first three years of teaching. TFA became embedded in the fabric of the district, and one in three New Orleans students can now call a TFA recruit their teacher.

Brianna was vexed by her young new teachers, who were adversarial and fixated on data. “Everything was taken away,” Brianna said. “And then the teachers don’t even care about you.”

Complicating matters, many of the new teachers in the majority-black district were white and unfamiliar with the community. Indeed, the replacement of veteran teachers has decreased by one-third the percentage of black teachers in the district. In the novice classrooms, Brianna saw “a power dynamic type of thing,” in which bald racial hierarchies arose where classroom management failed. The teachers focused less on building relationships, more on “numbers, numbers, numbers.”

The students returned the teachers’ animus. Disciplinary actions spiked. Brianna tells of students being cuffed by police and pulled from classrooms, of classes dwindling and incarceration rising. Today, the Recovery School District boasts an out-of-school suspension rate that’s four times the national average.

Who was this corps of new teachers, so combative in their approach? Why their obsession with numbers? Whence the startling admission, “I’m here for two years, then I’m out”?

Only later would Brianna learn that they were recruited through Teach for America, a nonprofit that places thousands of new teachers in high-needs schools every year. They come armed with five weeks of summer training, committed to two years in the classroom. Founded by Princeton graduate Wendy Kopp in 1989, TFA now has some 28,000 alumni throughout the country.

“Organizing Resistance to Teach for America and its Role in Privatization”

Now, some of those alumni are denouncing the organization. They make up part of the group squeezed into a high school band hall to hear Brianna denounce their ilk. It’s the first time many of them have heard this perspective.
The event, called “Organizing Resistance to Teach for America and its Role in Privatization,” took place during the Free Minds, Free People conference from July 11-14, in Chicago. It aimed “to help attendees identify the resources they have as activists and educators to advocate for real, just reform in their communities.” Namely, resisting TFA.

To read this article in full, go to truthout.

This is how it works. Where the ed reformers can, they change the rules about teaching certification requirements to let loose TFA, Inc. recruits into charter and public schools.

It happened in Washington State with what is termed “alternative certification”. This is not about trained professionals such as engineers, accountants or architects, going back to school to teach, this has everything to do with hiring TFA, Inc. recruits to staff charter schools or even public schools as they have in Chicago and New Orleans. In the case of Seattle, they were brought in with the anticipation of having charter schools legalized in our state.

By the way, Bill Gates provided TFA, Inc. with $2.5M to open an office in Seattle two years ago, then he bankrolled the charter school initiative last year. Coincidence? I think not.

To follow is another example of how TFA, Inc. is brought in:

North Carolina Cuts Teacher Certification Requirements for Charter Schools

Governor Pat McCrory
Another education expert, Governor Pat McCrory

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation that lets charter schools hire more elementary teachers without teaching certificates. The new law decreases the number of required elementary charter school teachers with teacher certification from 75 percent to 50 percent. That rate was revised several times throughout the legislative process, until a last-minute request by the governor brought the final number from 25 percent to 50 percent for all K-12 charter school teachers (unchanged at the high school level).

The controversial change stems from the ideas that non-licensed people can make really great teachers, and charter schools are an appropriate place to try out innovative ideas, said bill author and state Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph).

To read this article in full, go to The Heartland Institute.

For additional information about Teach for America, Inc. go to the Teach for America page on this website.

I’ve been collecting a cache of articles and information during my hiatus and will have to break down this Weekly Update into a few posts.

I will leave you with this video.

US and Finnish Educational Reform Trajectories: a comparison

Dora Taylor

For KIPP charter schools, more computer time, less class time

With the Race to the Top (RTTT) funds dwindling, charter schools are having to balance their books and keep their CEO’s well paid by cutting out face-to-face class time with teachers and instead, placing those students in front of computer screens.

They refer to this as “blended learning”. I have another word for it but I won’t use that word here.

First KIPP was replacing qualified and certified teachers with Teach for America, Inc. (TFA) recruits with five weeks of training now it’s cutting costs by adding computers and subtracting teachers. This is a trend that is, unfortunately, catching on in Seattle with the RTTT grant that will be received by Seattle Public Schools and six other districts. There will be more students, particularly those considered “disadvantaged” sitting in front of computer screens so that they can better comprehend math. A dubious undertaking at best, but some superintendents do seem to be thrilled with this approach.

rttt supe's
Renton schools chief Mary Alice Heuschel, in green jacket, celebrates the news with other King County superintendents. Next to her are Highline’s Susan Enfield and Federal Way’s Robert Neu.

Particularly Susan Enfield, former superintendent of Seattle Public Schools and now superintendent at Highline, and Mary Alice Heuschel, superintendent in Renton, both shown in the photo above. What I find interesting about these two superintendents is that they both brought TFA into their districts against the protests of their communities and now will be sitting in positions of greater political power with our new Democratic governor in office.

Coincidence? I’m too cynical at this point watching people climb the political ladder of ed reform in the last few years to believe otherwise but time, and a little more information, will tell.

Getting back to KIPP, one of the charter schools that is chomping at the bit to establish schools in our state, it does seem that profits are more important than properly educating students, particularly those with the greatest needs.

According to The Lens:

As KIPP New Orleans Schools’ large, one-time grants begin to run out, the finance committee prepared its board for a renewed push in fundraising and a drive to build cash reserves for the future.

“A significant non-recurring revenue phase out in the near term could lead us to our own fiscal cliff,” finance committee member Stephen Rosenthal said.

The committee hopes to avoid this cliff by implementing blended learning techniques involving more computer-based instruction similar to those used by other local charter organizations. The hope is to cut costs by raising class sizes, lowering per pupil expenses, and filling KIPP schools with more students—ideally reaching the point of four classes per grade.

Rosenthal said that federal consolidated grants have shrunk in response to the nation’s economic downturn. Grants such as the Race to the Top from KIPP’s headquarters, Title I, and a federal grant designed to support educational innovation can’t be renewed, leaving the charter organization seeking new funds.

The organization needs to raise at least $5 million in the next three years to ensure a 10 percent continuing surplus moving forward, Rosenthal said. This money would provide the school a cash reserve for a future with new expenses like big-ticket facility repairs.

“We need to start discussing the building of cash reserves. We must act now or go into a deficit without the revenues to support us,” finance committee member Alan Philipson said.

It seems that KIPP needs to be more concerned about how their students are doing than how much money they can raise at their next gala.

According to the Louisiana Department of Education website, the six KIPP charter schools in New Orleans have the following state report card grades:

KIPP N.O. Leadership Academy     D

KIPP Renaissance High School       D

KIPP McDonogh 15                           C

KIPP Central City Primary               D

KIPP Central City Academy (5-8)   B

KIPP Believe College Prep                B

It looks like consolidation is in order rather than placing students in front of computer screens.

I wonder what they have planned for Seattle.

Dora Taylor


Michael Feinberg’s selling of KIPP in New Zealand: FAIL

As I mentioned in a previous post, A look at KIPP, Michael Feinberg, NCTQ and Bill Gates, Michael Feinberg is in New Zealand trying to sell his wares. Fortunately, folks in New Zealand are not buying this snake oil.

Check out what New Zealand thinks of KIPP:

What this portrays is a hideous caricature of education which would be anathema to most New Zealand parents. KIPP has overall dropout rates of 30% before Year 9 – which rises to 40% (sic) for African American male children – and this would never be tolerated in a New Zealand school.

From Current News, Quality Public Education Coalition:

The charter-mongers

Tonight, Mike Feinberg will speak at a public meeting in Christchurch about the amazing success of his KIPP schools. The ‘Knowledge is Power Programme’ runs 125 schools across the US enrolling 40,000 students. It was mentioned by John Banks as the kind of programme to be encouraged here.

Feinberg’s visit has been funded by the Aotearoa Foundation, which is the local arm of the right wing USA-based Robertson Foundation. The philosophy of this new breed of ‘philanthrocapitalist’ is to use corporate giving to influence government policy, in particular towards the privatisation of public goods such as education. There is therefore a hidden agenda underlying this visit.

After 20 years of charter schools and thousands of new schools opened, the overall position of American schools on international league tables should have improved dramatically if the policy had been successful. It has not, and the USA is many places below New Zealand schools on scores of literacy, numeracy and science.

KIPP claims excellent results for its students. With a school day from 7.30am to 5pm, and several hours compulsory, supervised homework each night, plus half a day on Saturday, there is certainly plenty of time for learning. The emphasis is on learning to pass standardised tests, and on good behaviour. Concern has been expressed about the boot-camp mentality. One researcher, Howard Berlak, noted the following.

When I was there children who followed all the rules were given points that could be exchanged for goodies at the school store. Those who resisted the rules or were slackers wore a large sign pinned to their clothes labelled “miscreant.” Miscreants sat apart from the others at all times including lunch, were denied recess and participation in all other school projects and events.. . . . I’ve spent many years in schools. This one felt like a humane, low security prison or something resembling a locked-down drug rehab program for adolescents…

The dropout rate is high. Children who fail standardised tests at each year level are kept back, and many leave and return to the public system. Thus unsuccessful students are weeded out early. The dropout rate before Year 9 (age 13) is around 30%, compared to 6% at public schools.

Most of the teachers are young and lack experience. Many are graduates of the ‘Teach for America’ programme which fast-tracks teacher education. The dropout rate is very high. Typically, they leave after two years, because they work unsustainably long hours (up to 70 or 80 hours a week is common) on relatively low pay. They burn out.

KIPP schools are very well resourced with government funding and tens of millions of dollars in corporate donations. The average public school child in the US attracts eleven thousand dollars, while the KIPP schools have per capita funding of $18,000.

In his visit so far, Mike Feinberg has been surprisingly muted about the stated success of his schools. He says they are not a silver bullet but another ‘choice’ for parents. This is a very revealing statement, as the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, is also using the ‘no silver bullet’ analogy, as has the Secretary for Education, Lesley Longstone, the head of the now-rebranded Business Roundtable and the head of the charter schools NZ initiative Catherine Isaacs. This feels like subtle political management to me.

Those living in Christchurch might ask the question why, if choice is so good, it is being reduced here through proposed school closure or merger. Is this a dastardly plot to soften us up for charter schools? Are we being prepared for a new menu of ‘choice’ in education here?   Is the Christchurch rebuild going to be used to import new models of privatised education into the city?

Choice, by itself, does not raise educational standards. I am highly suspicious of models of assertive discipline in schools that treat children in ways that none of us, as parents, would treat our own.

The National Standards data released this week has revealed for all to see (teachers have always known it) that there are big educational and social gaps between our children. But is the upshot of that the need to enrol poor kids in school boot camp? Isn’t that a little dire? And does it work, anyway?

In recent years the Ministry of Education and low-decile schools have worked tirelessly to overcome the educational gaps. Here in Christchurch there are some fabulous low-decile schools and teachers that break their backs to help their students. I do not believe that the KIPP model, or charter schools generally, offer anything better for us. Not a silver bullet indeed – rather a shotgun that will fragment our high quality public education system.

KIPP Schools? No thanks we’re kiwis

Media Release – 19 September 2012

Wealthy “philanthro-capitalist” Julian Robertson has brought Mike Feinberg from the KIPP (Knowledge is Power) charter school programme to New Zealand to promote charter schools and prepare the way for the privatisation of public education.

Feinberg is speaking at public meetings in Auckland and Wellington and in reporting on his visit we hope the media will look beyond the glossy PR promotion and report accurately the obvious weaknesses of these schools as well as their alleged strengths.

Pasted below is a Q & A on the main issues we see with this proposal to privatise part of our public education system.

What this portrays is a hideous caricature of education which would be anathema to most New Zealand parents. KIPP has overall dropout rates of 30% before Year 9 – which rises to 40% (sic) for African American male children – and this would never be tolerated in a New Zealand school.

If 40% of lower-achieving Maori or Pacific boys dropped out of school by the end of Year 8 there would be questions asked in parliament and a commission of inquiry – and quite rightly so.

KIPP prefers to weed out these kids and then bask in the warm glow of the successes of the students that remain.

It’s the kids who drop out of KIPP who are the very children New Zealand charter schools are supposed to help. KIPP leaves them behind.

Background information on Mike Feinberg and KIPP (Knowledge is Power Programme)

Who is Mike Feinberg?

Mike Feinberg is the co-founder of KIPP and is a board member of the KIPP Foundation.

What is KIPP?

KIPP stands for “Knowledge is Power Programme” and uses a “no excuses” philosophy to run 125 Charter schools across the US enrolling nearly 40,000 students mainly from low-income communities.

Why was KIPP founded?

Feinberg claims public education is failing poor children in the US and says poverty is no excuse. This was music to the ears of right-wing foundations and corporate capitalists who have donated tens of millions to establish KIPP schools as well as promote the idea that the private sector should take over public education.

What is he doing in New Zealand?

He’s here to promote the Act/National government’s charter schools policy and encourage the privatisation of public education.

Who paid for him to come here?

His visit has been funded by the Aotearoa Foundation which is the local arm of the right wing USA-based Robertson Foundation. Aotearoa Foundation and the Robertson Foundation were established by American Hedge Fund billionaire and honorary New Zealand knight Julian Robertson. The Robertson Foundation is now headed by former Auckland and Oxford University vice-chancellor, John Hood. Hood is also a trustee of the Aotearoa Foundation.

The Robertson Foundation is one of the new breed of so-called ‘philanthrocapitalists’, private sector investment funds and trusts that view charity not as altruistic giving, but as just another business investment opportunity to influence government policy and the delivery of public education. And, to do so by lobbying behind closed doors, completely outside the democratic process.

Are KIPP schools successful?

At a superficial level the school results look good but behind the gloss the figures make grim reading. KIPP claims for example that 80% of the children who complete the 8th grade (Year 9) in a KIPP school go on to University compared to just 20% of children from public schools. This is highly misleading at best because the dropout rate from KIPP schools is very high particularly before Grade 8 (Year 9) Overall 30% of students drop out before Grade 8 but the figure becomes an astonishing 40% for African American males. The comparable dropout rate from public schools of the same demographic is 6%. When these dropout rates are factored in the comparative success of KIPP schools plummets. Some researchers have even suggested the rates of University attendance may be lower at KIPP schools than for the same demographic of public school students.

Why is the dropout rate so high in KIPP schools?

The dropout rate is high because the schools set rigid standards for passing standardised tests and obeying school rules. Children who fail are kept back a year and many leave to return to public schools rather than repeat a year behind their friends. In this way children of lower academic ability are weeded out. Others are expelled or given the US version of a “kiwi-suspension” when they misbehave (where the parents are encouraged to remove their child from the school).

After weeding out the poor performers and those who break their rigid rules the KIPP leaders then bask in the warm glow of the success of those who lasted the distance.

How are KIPP schools funded?

KIPP schools receive much more revenue from all sources (eg including corporate donations) per student than comparable public schools, on average $18,491 per student vs. $11,991 per student in a public school.

How are KIPP schools run?

There is some variation between KIPP schools but basically they run from 7.30am to 5pm each day with a half day on Saturday and three weeks over the summer break.

They focus strongly on teaching numeracy and literacy because these are measured in standardised tests. The schools have a very tight behaviour regime best illustrated in the following anecdote from researcher Howard Berlak after a visit to a KIPP school in San Francisco:

“When I was there children who followed all the rules were given points that could be exchanged for goodies at the school store. Those who resisted the rules or were slackers wore a large sign pinned to their clothes labelled “miscreant.” Miscreants sat apart from the others at all times including lunch, were denied recess and participation in all other school projects and events.

. . . . I’ve spent many years in schools. This one felt like a humane, low security prison or something resembling a locked-down drug rehab program for adolescents run on reward and punishments by well meaning people. Maybe a case can be made for such places, but I cannot imagine anyone (including the Times reporter) sending their kids there unless they have no other acceptable options. What is most disturbing is the apparent universal belief by KIPP staff and partisans that standardized tests scores are the singular and most important measure of a truly good education. “

Similar stories are commonplace. It’s easy to see why the Knowledge is Power programme has been dubbed the Kids in Prison programme.

What are the rules for teachers, students and parents in KIPP schools?

The rules for teachers, parents and children are here:

Teaching and learning is not so much based around good relationships between teachers and students as it is based on sets of rules to be followed.

Who teaches in these schools?

The teachers are predominantly young and less experienced. Many are “graduates” of the “Teach for America” programme which fast-tracks teacher education. The dropout rate of teachers is very high – typically they leave after two years – because they work unsustainably long hours (up to 70-80 hours per week is common) on relatively low pay.

Note: The Robertson Foundation (see above) is a funder and supporter of the US programme “Teach for America” which feeds teachers into charter schools. Here in New Zealand Julian Robertson has also been associated with the establishment of the equally controversial Teach First New Zealand fast-track six-week teacher training scheme at Auckland University. A scoping study for Teach First New Zealand was jointly funded in 2010 by the Aotearoa Foundation and The Warehouse founder Stephen Tindall’s Tindall Foundation. It seems clear that Teach First New Zealand has been specifically set up to feed unregistered green “teachers” into charter schools here.

Should New Zealanders be worried?

Absolutely. This is an all out attack on public education. Once charter schools are established they will be promoted heavily by the right wing just as they have been in the US and public education with become fragmented and incoherent as it has become in the US, UK and Australia.

But couldn’t charter schools improve education for children in low-income communities?

Charter schools have been around for 20 years and there is no reliable data to conclude they do better than public schools in any country (see earlier comments re KIPP schools) for children from low-income communities. Promoters of charter schools invariably produce data to support a claim of better education but these generally founder under independent assessment.

Earlier this year Massey University Policy Response Group did a comprehensive analysis of charter schools in the UK, USA and Sweden. Their report can be read in full under the “Research on Charter Schools” tab at

How good is New Zealand’s public education system?

The New Zealand public education system is excellent. Our state school students regularly top students anywhere in the world. In the most recent PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results for 15 year olds New Zealand was ranked fourth out of 34 OECD countries in reading literacy, fourth in scientific literacy, and seventh in mathematical literacy. Our kids are world beaters, our teachers are stunning and our public schools are outstanding.

By comparison the US, UK and Sweden (all quoted favourably by Act/National) have much weaker results because they have allowed the private sector through charter schools to fragment their education delivery.

What about our “long tail of underachievement”?

This is a huge cause for concern but the problem is not underperforming public schools, useless principals or hopeless teachers as Feinberg, Act and National would have us believe. Instead it’s primarily the economic policies which have grown the gap between rich and poor faster in New Zealand than any other OECD country in the past 27 years. Whenever this gap widens then social problems proliferate and education underachievement becomes endemic in low-income areas. For example public schools are NOT to blame when:

  • Kids arrive at school too hungry to learn
  • When children change school frequently as a result of poverty (transience)
  • Classes are too large to enable close learning relationships to develop between teachers and students

What should New Zealand be doing about the fact so many children, disproportionately Maori and Pacifika, are leaving school without even a level one NCEA qualification?

Outside of schools we need to push for government policies which take the financial burden off low-income families; feed our kids breakfast and lunch in schools each day; ensure families have warm, dry homes which are not overcrowded and kids don’t contract third world diseases. We should be also be pushing for families to have decent incomes so kids aren’t shuffled between parents, grandparents and other relations so that every Monday morning in South Auckland the equivalent of an entire primary school of children change schools. How can these kids in “transience” ever benefit from what a high quality school can offer?

Inside schools we need to increase resourcing for programmes shown to make a significant difference for Maori and Pacifika children (such as the Kotahitanga programme and the AIMHI initiatives) We also need resources to dramatically reduce class sizes in schools in our low-income communities so teacher/student relationships can be strengthened where the need to do so is greatest.

Post Script:

Yesterday the Department of Education headed by Arne Duncan just gave $5M to KIPP…for a job well done?


A look at KIPP, Michael Feinberg, NCTQ and Bill Gates

Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) is in a rush to now dumb down education in New Zealand even though New Zealand and Australia have higher international test scores than the US and the majority of other nations.

KIPP is trying to worm their way into New Zealand using the same old phrasing such as “failing schools” and “ineffective teachers” and pushing the idea of hiring “unregistered” (cheap) staff to populate charter schools.

PAA member Karran Harper-Royal

See the TV New Zealand’s program The Hard Sell of Charter Schools featuring Parents Across America board member Karran Harper-Royal and Mike Feinberg, co-founder of KIPP.

Fortunately in New Zealand they are having an open national debate on charter schools something that never happened in the United States where venture capitalists made up their minds about what was best for our students and in a stealth like fashion went about privatizing our public schools.

To read a description of the debate that is taking place in New Zealand, see: For Clearer Charter School Policy Debate, Look to New Zealand.

Here are two excerpts:

Based on her experience in her home city of New Orleans (where regular schools were replaced by charter schools after Hurricane Katrina), Karran Harper Royal of Parents Across America offers a bleak vision of the future if the partnership schools proposal goes forward in Christchurch: “Schools want the better students so their test scores stay high and they don’t get shut. That makes it difficult for those with special needs who may not be as high performing, and it’s a problem when you’re trying to find a school that will just do a good job educating your child, because schools don’t want students who are the hardest to educate…Expect families constantly moving children, schools that aren’t much better than before, expect to spend more money because you’re duplicating services, and expect companies to decide how schools should operate instead of the community.”

In the U.S., we haven’t had this national debate. Rather, openness to charter schools has slid into national policy through the “Race to the Top” program plus the charter-focused Promise Neighborhoods projects and some incentive financing structures for charter schools offered by the Education Department. Without all the social entrepreneurship folderol, a solid national policy debate on the costs and benefits of charter schools in the U.S. would be welcome. We’ll monitor New Zealand’s debate as a substitute.

Getting back to KIPP, Mike Feinberg signed up for TFA, Inc. in 1992, straight out of college, and taught for about a year. In 1994 he founded what would soon be the charter school franchise KIPP with no degree in education or experience teaching beyond his one year or so of being a TFA, Inc. recruit. He did go back later, in 2005, and gained a Masters in Education at National-Louis University, 11 years after the fact.

The KIPP co-founders and their supporters now continually talk about how their students have high test scores and exceedingly high graduation rates. That’s because they skim students and counsel out those students who do not “perform” up to their standards. See: Bay Area KIPP schools lose 60% of their students, study confirms and Study Finds High Dropout Rates for Black Males in KIPP Schools

Also at KIPP, unlike a public school, the students take an entrance exam. As reported by Caroline Grannan, founding member of Parents Across America:

After a happy KIPP parent posted on our local San Francisco Schools listserve that his daughter had “tested into” KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy, I also started the application process at that school for my then-7th-grader, to confirm whether it required a test, which it did.

KIPP says the test is used to determine the applicant’s academic grade level, not to determine who gets in. But even if that’s true, the test requirement clearly selects for students who are compliant enough to sit for a test (at grades 5 and up, kids are quite capable of refusing); for families and students who aren’t traumatized by tests and feel capable enough to take one; and for families who are motivated enough to go through that multi-step application process. And, of course, the happy KIPP parent clearly felt that his child was admitted based on her test results.

So now, let’s connect some dots.

As I was taking a look at Feinberg, his connections and his background, I came across the fact that he is on the advisory board for NCTQ.

Remember when NCTQ came into town a few years ago with their dog and pony show sponsored by the Alliance for Education, referring to teachers as human capitol as well as introducing the notion of merit pay, high stakes testing and “teacher effectiveness”? For a refresher, see The NCTQ Report: The Alliance and the NCTQ Study.

That was our introduction to education reform in Seattle. What I had noticed later is that NCTQ would go into towns and cities across the US and do the same show, and then suddenly there would be legislation or other activity working towards the privatization of our schools. For us, it was the introduction to the teachers’ union negotiations that the ed reform crowd led by the League of Education Voters (LEV) wanted to get into. They wanted to lead the charge on eliminating “ineffective teachers” and institute the notion of merit pay based on high stakes testing.

As I stated in The Battle for Seattle, Part  4:

That same year, the NCTQ came to town hosted by the Alliance for Education. All you need to do is Google NCTQ to see that their arrival in towns and cities around the US is the first shot across the bow in terms of the introduction of ed reform to that school district or state. The NCTQ is about teacher evaluations and their reports become the basis for the introduction of evaluating teachers based on student performance also termed merit pay or performance pay. NCTQ receives money from Gates by way of TR3. That year NCTQ also received money from the Alliance for Education. NCTQ and TR3 refer to teachers as “Human Capitol”. That pretty much sums up how they, including Gates and Broad for that matter, view education and educators in general.

The report that they did put everything in motion in terms of beginning the attack on our local teachers union. The superintendent was to go into negotiations with the teachers the following year and the NCTQ report was the opening salvo.

Now, let’s see who else is on this “advisory board” for NCTQ.

Wendy Kopp, CEO and Founder of Teach for America, Inc. (TFA, Inc.)

Joel Klein, previous Chancellor of NYC schools and now Rupert Murdoch’s lead man into the financial foray of “digital learning”.

Michelle Rhee,  Founder and CEO  of StudentsFirst

Paul T. Hill, Director Center for Reinventing Public Education

I am sure there are others out there who can connect a few more dots for me in terms of this advisory board but suffice it to say for now that the NCTQ reports ARE the introduction to the privatization of our schools and this organization marches into a town, city or school district and begins what they term “a conversation” which is no conversation at all because it is the beginning of a well orchestrated takeover of public schools one district at a time.

This organization waves as their banner basically the same report from sea to shining sea, which can also be found on the Gates Foundation website, BEST PRACTICES FOR TEACHER EFFECTIVENESS, and lays the groundwork for the enterprises of TFA, Inc., KIPP and others.


A former KIPP teacher comments on her experience

kipp work-hard-be-nice

KIPP is one of the charter school franchises that’s been tossed around in Seattle  by ed reformers as an option if charter schools were to be legalized in our state. I’ve been following KIPP and several articles that I have come across are listed in the right column of this blog under “KIPP”. It could possibly be the worst example of a school experience a child could have but they do market well.

I was reading a post by Leonie Haimson that is well worth a read “At KIPP, I would wake up sick, every single day”. The post is an interview that Leonie had with a former KIPP parent and the parent’s daughter who was a student attending KIPP.

At the end of the post was the following comment written by a former KIPP teacher that I wanted to share with you  today:

I was a teacher at a KIPP school for 1 /1/2 years. (Not in NYC) It was the most horrible experience of my life. The teachers and students are literally in school for 11 hours a day. You basically have no personal life as it is all about KIPP. The school has a cult like mentality with chants, rituals, and an obsessive focus on “being nice, work hard, get into college”.  I saw numerous teachers experience nervous breakdowns from the extreme pressure and harassment of administration. There was a 50% turnover for staff each year. They made me chaperone a week long trip to another city to visit colleges. I had to sleep in the same room as the students. (They do NOT pay anywhere near what would be expected from a district school.) KIPP also made me go door to door in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods on the city that I worked in to recruit students. The most crazy thing I witnessed was at a KIPP summer seminar that had KIPP teachers from throughout the United States present. One of the main speakers asked the audience of KIPP teachers to stand up if they were first year teachers. About 30% of the audience stood up. Then they asked teachers with 2-5 years of experience to stand up. At that time 60% of the teachers stood up. Then they asked teachers with 5-10 years experience to stand up and 10% stood up. Then they asked teachers with more than 10 years of experience to stand up. At that time I WAS STANDING WITH 2 OTHER TEACHERS OUT OF AN AUDIENCE OF 500 TEACHERS!

This is why TFA, Inc. has come to town in our fair city, in anticipation of populating these charter schools. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen, charter schools that is.

Dora Taylor

For more on KIPP:

From Seattle Education posts:

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