KIPP Charter School: The Violence of Bootstrapping

“From Teach for America to the KIPP charter schools to instructional innovations at colleges and universities, we have proven strategies ready to go to scale.” — Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, February 9, 2009 speaking before the 91st Annual Meeting of the American Council on Education

The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) is, according to its promoters, a “nationwide network of open-enrollment college-preparatory public [charter] schools in under-resourced communities throughout the United States.” KIPP schools have been heavily promoted in the monopoly media as the key to “closing the achievement gap”. Particular attention has been given to a book celebrating KIPP by Washington Post writer Jay Mathews. The book is titled after the KIPP program theme: Work Hard, Be Nice.

KIPP began in 1994 when Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg completed their Teach For America commitment and launched a program for fifth graders in a public school in inner-city Houston, Texas. Early on, Doris and Donald Fisher, co-founders of Gap Inc., took the lead in bankrolling efforts to replicate KIPP across the U.S. At least $150 million in private funds have been given to KIPP by known supporters of eliminating public education such as the Broad Family Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Robertson Foundation, and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

Although promoted as an open enrollment school, any family wishing to have its children attend KIPP must undergo a home visit by school personnel, where the family and student(s) are instructed in what is required by the KIPP program. Students and parents must sign a contract agreeing to KIPP methods and aims. Even with these selective methods, researchers found that only 60% of originally enrolled students completed the program in one San Francisco KIPP school. Sara Mosle, an education writer for Slate Magazine, found that “the academic program at KIPP is relentless in its back-to-basics focus: a boot camp that runs nearly 10 hours a day, from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m., not including transportation and homework, and half a day every other Saturday…. There is a lot of rote learning and test prep,” at KIPP, she said.

According to education researcher Jim Horn, KIPP adopts the motivational methods of psychologist Martin Seligman. Horn notes that Seligman’s methods are also used by CIA interrogators, who use his method of “learned helplessness” to control “terrorists.”

Reports of KIPP Abuse and Cheating

Between April and June 2008, parents of children attending KIPP Academy Fresno Charter Middle School (California) filed multiple complaints with the Fresno Unified School District about practices at the school. Even though the District passed the complaints to the KIPP Board to investigate, the Board had no authority to demand answers or to make personnel changes and, therefore, advised the District to take charge of the investigation.

Following an investigation, a 64 page Notice to Cure and Correct report was issued on December 11, 2008 to the general counsel for San Francisco-based KIPP schools. The principal of the school has since resigned (though his name is still listed on the KIPP website), but no charges have been filed against him or the school. The school remains open.

Similar complaints have been made against a KIPP school in Fulton County, Georgia. Although released more than three months ago, no major news outlet has carried the story of the Fresno KIPP report detailing abuse and cheating, nor does the Atlanta Journal Constitution, in covering the Fulton KIPP case, mention Fresno.

Below are excerpts from the report. Note the names of many of witnesses were blocked out in the report. The complete report can be downloaded from here.

Alleged Abusive of Students

Witnesses saw Mr. Tschang (the school’s principal) “pick up a student off the ground, hold the student by the neck against a wall, and then drop the student.” When asked about this incident Mr Tschang stated, “I don’t remember picking up and dropping a student, I do remember shaking a kid.”

Witnesses report Tschang push another student’s face against the wall and saying, “Put your ugly face against the wall, I don’t want to see your face.”

Another student reported witnessing Mr. Tschang “draw a circle on the ground and force a student to stand in the circle for two hours in the sun during the summertime.”

A student at KIPP from 2004 to 2007, stated that in the 04-05 term he saw “Mr. Tchang pick students up and drop them. If a student wasn’t sitting correctly he would pick them up by their shirt, move the chair, and drop them on the floor.”

A student said that in December of 2007, Mr. Tschang told him to get on his hands and knees and bark like a dog.

Students who were late to school “would not be allowed to eat their meals provided by the state.” Student (name deleted) stated that Mr. Tschang told her, “People who are late don’t get to eat.”

A parent reported that Mr. Tschang took a student’s “glasses away from him because” he “was constantly adjusting his glasses.” The student is totally dependent on his glasses and cannot see without them. “Mr. Tschang admitted to taking (name deleted) glasses away.”

“Several students stated that students are not allowed to talk or socialize at all during school hours.” When asked about this policy, Mr. Tschang stated, “If parents are not happy with the school program, it is a school of choice. They are free (and indeed encouraged) to remove their kids from the school. There are plenty of other public school options for their children.”

A parent “confronted Mr. Tschang about yelling at her daughter who was a student at the school.” She reported that she told Mr. Tschang she did not appreciate Mr. Tschang yelling at her daughter. Mr. Tschang responded, “well next time I won’t yell, I will ask you to leave the school.” Mr. Tschang told the investigator, “my thought on this is if a parent or child is not happy with our disciplinary methods; to get the results we do, discipline and structure is a part of the way we instruct; you can’t have it both ways. This is a school of choice.”

It was reported that Mr. Tschang put “the entire 5th grade class into a two stall bathroom and kept them there for 20 minutes. …

Mr. Tschang admitted that he did ask students to go into the bathroom and figure out a way to solve the bathroom vandalism issue.”

“Mr. Tschang put a garbage can on a student’s head. Mr. Tschang admitted to putting the garbage can over the student’s head because the student, (name deleted), had been clowning around.”

“A 5th grade class had their behavior tested by being left unattended in the cafeteria where a video camera recorded their actions. Mr. Tschang told the investigator that this was an exercise to ask the students the question, “What are you doing when no one is watching?”

“A common complaint from students was that teachers were not letting student go the bathroom.” One student reported that “there was a student in Ms. Sosa’s class who urinated in his pants because he was not allowed to use the restroom.” Student who started with the Charter School in 2004 and just graduated in 2008, stated, “They would not let us use the bathroom during classes. Parents heard about this and they had to have a meeting to get hem to alow us this, to allow us to go to the bathrooms.”

Alleged Irregularities in Standardized Testing

The report indicated that “tests were stored in a location where students and parents had access to the tests;” two years in a row, the Charter School failed to abide by mandated testing procedures, and the testing coordinator failed to report testing irregularities for the 2005-2006 STAR testing session; “the school adopted a policy that students were required to check their answers again and again after they had finished their tests and were not allowed to do other activities”; “teachers recorded students’ answers during testing, reviewed students’ tests, and told students which page to correct”.

In a staff meeting in May of 2006, staff were told by the principal that the legal and ethical guidelines for testing were, in fact, only guidelines that could be ignored.

Alleged Efforts to Cheat the National School Lunch Program

“Vincent Montgomery was the Charter School’s Chief Operating Officer from February 2005 to April of 2006. He told investigators that Mr. Tschang would ask him why the school was losing so much money on the school lunch program and instructed Mr. Montgomery to count students as present whether they were there or not. Mr. Montgomery disagreed because he thought that this practice was illegal.”

Suspension and Suspension Procedures

Throughout the school years from 2004 to 2008, the Charter School failed to abide by the California Eduation Code grounds and procedures for suspension of students.

The report found that a student was “left outside without supervision for three hours for a minor infraction that occurred during breakfast.”

Witnesses report “students being forced to stay in small rooms near the school’s office for hours or even entire days withou supervision”. Parents “of suspended studetns were frequently not notified of the suspensions.”
Students were routinely sent home for non-serious offenses like talking in class, chewing gum, and bringing a mechanical pencil to school.

The report also found that “students were routinely transported from school without their parents being notified.”

Work Hard, Be Nice, Or Else

While several corporate charter school supporters — including Jay Mathews — have attempted to hide these crimes or present them as anomalies, still insisting KIPP schools as the “most successful public schools” in the United States, the crimes reported in the Fresno Unified School District report are consistent with what Mathews himself chronicles in his book celebrating KIPP. With apparent approval, Mathews speaks of how the KIPP founders Levin and Feinberg loaded children into a windowless U-Haul trailer for a local field “lesson” and how Feinberg smashes a chair through a plate glass window in front of children who failed to be silent during a movie (see Jim Horn’s essay review).

3 Comments KIPP Charter School: The Violence of Bootstrapping

  1. Beth September 2, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    I have been teaching at school for over ten years, first at district schools, then at KIPP. I have switched schools once because I did not agree with the administration’s treatment of students. However, this is not the norm. It is not part of the KIPP methodology. Public schools all over the country are run by crazy people. KIPP is not an exception. The school culture depends on the school leader. I have been extremely happy working at KIPP and send my own child to a KIPP school. Overall, the program is fabulous, but any parent considering sending a child to a charter school should read the school charter and visit the school unannounced before making a decision.

  2. Reyna March 12, 2013 at 4:24 am

    My Kids are both in Kinder and 1st grade at a KIPP elementary in Hunt. Park., ca. The school disciplinary structure is mentally and psycologically abusive to children. They are based in a color type of procedure where if child gets yellow or red they miss one of their recess. Children ages 4-7 are in school from 7:45am-4:00pm with only two 20 minute recess breaks. They have no PE. Some examples of child getting a red or yellow include; child turned head around, child playing with shoe lace, child files their folder with corner slightly sticking out, child did’nt do criss-cross sitting position, etc…etc…many times children are not aware as to why their color changed because “some” (not all) teacher didn’t take the time to explain (refection). One teacher told the parent that she withheld her son from recess and art classs as a punishment and did not reflect with the child (kinder student )because the child was quiet when asked if he knew why his color changed. This atmosphere is not healthy for children in this age range. Yes, academically, school is doing well but at what price? School leadership only cares for high test scores. Children are being deprived of “simply being children”. When an issue or concern is brought up to leadership they tell all parents “you have a choice to go to another school”. In other words, its our way or the highway. It not all candy and lollipops.

    Note to all parents: Not all KIPPS are same. Like Beth mentioned it all depends on the leader. The leaders in this school and all teachers are very young and none are parents.

  3. E. Rat July 10, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    Thanks very much for keeping the report online and available for download.

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.