The Privatization of Education:

KIPP, educational philanthropy and the leveraging of a New National Educational System under Race to the Top

 

     Readers who have been following the privatization of education, city by city, as it virulently eats up public subsidies and swallows entire school districts whole, are aware of the entire growing philanthropic movement in education which is spurring the growth of KIPP and other similar non-profit EMOs, and this, many would say, is really a philanthropic undermining of the whole notion of public schools.  Why?  Look at Kenneth Saltman’s new book (The Gift of Education: Public Education and Venture Philanthropy (Education, Politics and Public Life, Palgrave Macmillan (March 2, 2010) for a full discussion and analysis, but here, reader are some important facts to consider. 

     What I will describe has been an ideological undertaking hatched in the back rooms of Wall Street in an effort to back hand the public.  Schooling has now been transformed into a business plan and an ominous one at that, if one is interested in safeguarding anything public.  The whole plan goes under many names: Charter Management Organizations, Profile Schools, the Diverse Provider Strategy and more.  It is an idiomatic and thus ideological undertaking now, a Machiavellian Race to the Top in an effort to convince an unsuspecting community that public schools, the teachers, the unions, along with the students who inhabit them are cretins, or philistines in need of remediation or rehabilitation.

     You see, many charter “providers” (which is the rhetoric they use to refer to themselves (think health care ‘providers’) when they are not at cocktail parties roaming around the dark corners of the insincere language of charity and philanthropy, trying to impress their investors or their friends), are looking for the new financial bubble “they can believe in”.  So, in this financial setting, they refer to themselves as ‘turnaround artists’, and they know that the city’s looking to host them are financially broke and cannot get start-up funds without appealing to the ‘turnover’ artists and ‘hard money’ for beginning costs.  They know that when this start-up money is not available through private channels, many charters increasingly turn to philanthropic organizations for capital.  These philanthropists in turn then get to call the shots, sit on the boards, parade onstage at media events and of course make any and all of the decisions regarding education.

     The lack of financial support for charter schools coupled with the 2007 recommendations contained in Tough Choices or Tough Times, released by the National Center for Educational Excellence (NCEE) (which we might remember put out A Nation at Risk in the 1980’s with a similar impetus for privatization reforms), provides a new impetus for leveraging philanthropic funds towards the vision of a newly conceived public policy of a ‘reformed education’, favoring the eventual corporate governance of schools through charter schools.  Tough Choices or Tough Times is quite forthright in what they see as a new national educational system:

The schools would be funded directly by the state, according to a pupil-weighting formula as described below. The schools would have complete discretion over the way their funds are spent, the staffing schedule, their organization and management, their schedule, and their program, as long as they provided the curriculum and met the testing and other accountability requirements imposed by the state.

No organization could operate a school that was not affiliated with a helping organization approved by the state, unless the school was itself such an organization. These helping organizations — which could range from schools of education to teachers’ collaboratives to for-profit and non-profit organizations — would have to have the capacity to provide technical assistance and training to the schools in their network on a wide range of matters ranging from management and accounting to curriculum and pedagogy.

The competitive, data-based market, combined with the performance contracts themselves, would create schools that were constantly seeking to improve their performance year in and year out.

 

Executive Summary: students from low-income families and other categories of disadvantaged students would get substantially more money than schools with more advantaged student bodies and this would ensure that these students would be served by high quality school operators. It would be very hard for low-quality school operators to survive in this environment (Tough Choices or Tough Times, 2007)

     The non-profit and for-profit EMO movement, eagerly placed and all ginned up, waiting to compete for several rounds of Race to the Top money clearly is geared towards this vision put forth by the NCEE Report, Tough Choices for Tough Times; basically the idea is the creation of a network of contract schools that would replace the current public school system and charter schools are designated to serve as the chief vehicle for the research, development and realization of this vision with for-profit, non-profit and other organizations running the schools.

     Interestingly, according to MediaTransparency, an organization designed to trace financial interests in foundations and the media, the Fishers, Eli Broad, The Bill and Melinda Foundation, and Wal-Mart are just a few of the large philanthropic players that subsidize the large EMO, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program); interestingly, they also were part and parcel of the NCEE’s, Tough Choices or Tough Times.  According to a source in their 2005 report entitled Philanthropy the Wal-Mart Way, Wal-Mart graciously:

…gave a string of grants totaling nearly $3 million to the national Knowledge is Power Program, which recruits teachers to create public college prep charter schools in underserved communities. The gifts included donations to 21 such schools around the country’.  Steve Mancini, a spokesperson for the Knowledge is Power Program said that “The Walton family, and particularly John Walton, is building a kind of quiet revolution in public education (Berkowitz, 2005). 

     A quiet revolution it seems to certainly be, for there is virtually no media coverage of any critical proportion on the issue in any extensive way, neither on the left or the right.  Not surprisingly, the public seems truly unaware of the enormous changes and transformations in public education that is currently underway all over the nation and the efforts towards new ends that are being leveraged and realized on the part of a few wealthy actors with philanthropic funds through the subsidization of ‘public’ charter schools; call them the “seed men”. 

     Thanks to the internet, more information is being made available but news in the mainstream corporate media is still almost invisible.  For example, a list of philanthropic contributors for all KIPP schools can be found on-line (Coleman and Pearlstein 2008). 

     But times are changing and as the screws get tightened those teachers, parents and students in urban school districts, such as New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Houston, Texas and Philadelphia (the list could go on), they are taking a cold stare at the reality of vanishing public schools and many are becoming more and more aware and familiar with the new privatized school system that is growing up in the age of the Second Great Depression. They’ve no choice; their public schools are failing, their cities are on life support and the charter courtiers and hucksters have been lying in wait for many years, ready to seize this moment of economic disaster and like the moral alchemists they are, turn it into hard cold profit, the good old fashioned American way.  It’s capitalism, after all, and disaster economics is just another business opportunity; make a lemon out of lemonade, they argue.  What they don’t tell you is they own, distribute and grow all the lemons.

     Not surprisingly, time after time the Walton Foundation emerges as a philanthropic knight in shining armor when it comes to subsidizing KIPP schools.  But they are by no means alone.  There is, or course, Eli Broad.  One can never forget the largess of the charter billionaire and his managerial club for CEO’s, the new decadent principals that you might see suited up shaking hands with students as a “typical” day begins. Yet it seems the philanthropic funds given to KIPP from wealthy foundations cannot come in fast enough, for KIPP has captured a unique spirit that combines American individualism with corporate entrepreneurial values that are part and parcel of neo-liberalism as an ideology and practicality and this appeals to many of the philanthropic interests that are silently financing KIPP schools.

     This article wants to take a look at this one EMO (educational maintenance organization), the non-profit called KIPP, or the Knowledge is Power Program, for KIPP, although it states it is unique, is typical of what Americans will most likely see replace public education as compulsory corporate education; a now mandated non-profit or for-profit education.  I want to take a cursory look at the funding of KIPP and its business plan, which education unfortunately has now become — a mere business plan by high rollers with few morals, rolodexes of coin operated politicians willing and able to do their bidding and tons of cash, the currency of power.

Who funds the EMO KIPP

 

     In light of all the lack of corporate media coverage over education let alone EMO’s, ‘exactly who funds KIPP schools and why?’  The answer might be found in a subtle perusal of an article in April of 2009 published in the L.A. Now website.  This is an on-line site specifically created and written by L.A. Times staff writers.  They report that:

Local KIPP leaders are relying on philanthropy to pay for their extras and also to help front the start-up costs charter schools face. Charters are independently run public schools that are exempt from some provisions of the Education Code (Blume 2009). 

L.A. residents Bruce and Martha Karsh have pledged $3 million to help KIPP LA reach its goal of expanding to seven elementary schools and seven middle schools over the next five years, the organization announced today.

The Karsh gift comes a year after a $12-million pledge from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.  Bruce Karsh heads Oaktree Capital Management, an international investment firm. Martha Karsh is an attorney with extensive experience in nonprofits. Their family foundation has made gifts and pledges totaling more than $50 million to support education (ibid).

     Philanthropists like the idea of replacing public education with contract schools and the majority of KIPP’s philanthropic donors are republicans who embrace fundamentalist free market ‘values’, as many would call them; this is a chance for them to enhance their reputations, appear to be concerned about and engaged in reforming public education while slowly and silently replacing what they refer to as failed public bureaucracies – public schools — with a new public educational model beholden to philanthropy and eventually increasing privatization and profit. At the same time they receive large donor tax breaks from the IRS and parade in public as benevolent actors in the post-modern Guilded Age.  

     Of course, to be fair, this is only one point of view. Ask the Pisces Foundation and the Fishers (owners of The Gap clothing store) who founded it, and they’ll say, “The Foundation seeks to leverage change in public education—especially in schools serving disadvantaged students—through large, strategic investments in a small number of initiatives focused on bolstering student academic achievement. Pisces focuses its education giving on efforts to promote high-quality charter schools” (Pacific Charter School Development Website).

     Either way, one thing is for sure:  without philanthropic funds KIPP would not be able to compete with traditional public schools in the areas it serves.  So it is being subsidized and this is the point, for it reveals the role of the entrepreneurial class, and the government and how they work in tandem to subsidize for profit-enterprises and non-profit institutions of education with public funds.

KIPP, philanthropy and the ‘blueprint’ for the radical transformation of our nation’s school system

 

       KIPP initially sought to expand nationwide after proving its success in Houston and the South Bronx.  Yet at the same time KIPP founders were slowly being convinced by powerful elite forces interested in replacing the traditional public school system that instead of a heady national expansion, focusing on one demographic area would give KIPP longevity, credibility and eventual permanence and growth while serving as a model to compete with public education – basically carving out or targeting a market.  According to a report published by Philanthropy Roundtable Magazine entitled “Growing Up Fast; Will Houston’s charter school expansion revolutionize urban education?”, authored by Jay Mathews and found at KIPP’s website, the national expansionary plans adopted by KIPP came under critical scrutiny when:

Shawn Hurwitz, a friend of Feinberg’s, proposed an alternate idea. Hurwitz, the president of Maxxam, a real estate development company, thought it would make sense to focus much of KIPP’s growth in one place-and Houston presented an attractive opportunity. HISD is the largest public school system in Texas, and the seventh-largest in the country, with bellwether demographics that make it a leading indicator for national trends 20 years from now. Moreover, the city has long been friendly to reform. Before he was named Secretary of Education, Rod Paige was superintendent of HISD; the current superintendent, Abelardo Saavedra, was a fellow at the Broad Superintendents Academy

Linbeck, Hurwitz, and Feinberg took their findings to the KIPP: Houston board. They all agreed. Expansion was necessary. The board members began to think seriously about how to expand the charter network. Once again, they relied on the advice of Leo Linbeck.

Linbeck …… holds two undergraduate degrees from Notre Dame, a master’s degree in structural engineering from the University of Texas, and an MBA from Stanford. Today, Linbeck is the CEO of Aquinas Companies, LLC, the parent company of eight values-driven enterprises; under his leadership, the family-owned business grew from annual revenues of $40 million in 1994 to $550 million in 2007. Linbeck also teaches in the business schools at Rice and Stanford. His specialty: managing rapid growth in small businesses.  (Mathews 2008).

     The plan that the powerful forces concocted in broad sunlight was plain and simple: build a blueprint for the future growth and expansion of KIPP schools right in Houston, Texas that would serve as an educational beacon and bellwether to highlight exceptional educational excellence and thereby serve as an empirical argument against traditional public schools in favor of eventual privatized, retail contract chains. The philanthropic money would be looked at as ‘seed money’ to develop the idea on the ground as well as ideologically in the public’s mind, all in favor of privatized radical reform.  As the article goes on to recall:

Linbeck first met Feinberg and Hurwitz when they asked him to build an elementary school for $5.5 million. He told them he didn’t think they needed one. “You’re building this elementary school, but you have no idea what goes into an elementary school because you haven’t run one yet,” Linbeck told them. “And yet you have this middle school and its doing great, but it’s in trailers. Why don’t we build you a middle school, and put the elementary school in trailers until you’ve figured out exactly what you want?” What they really needed, Linbeck concluded, was to build a middle school for $2.5 million.

Start with what you know, Linbeck explained. That way, the elementary school could experiment with different class sizes, different schedules, and different teaching styles, just as they had done with the middle school. Linbeck encouraged them to take advantage of their flexibility before locking themselves into an expensive building that would limit further experiments. Feinberg and Hurwitz thought about it, and agreed that Linbeck’s idea made a lot of sense.

Ultimately, they did exactly as Linbeck advised-not least because, as Linbeck later discovered, “they didn’t have $5.5 million.” KIPP would start with what it knew (middle schools), and then, as KIPP gained experience, build up (high schools) and build down (elementary schools). Barbic was likewise impressed with Linbeck, and asked him to begin building schools for YES as well (ibid).

The article in the Roundtable goes on to detail just how much KIPP was able to tap into financially:

KIPP: Houston has also secured commitments of $10 million from both Houston Endowment and the Gates Foundation. George Grainger, a senior grant officer at Houston Endowment, points out that while the Endowment has been funding K-12 projects for many years, it has only recently come to see that it needed to reconsider its education funding strategy. Its new approach involves investing in a small number of large-scale efforts. Only then, Grainger believes, will the Endowment significantly increase the number of low-income and minority students from Houston who go on to college.

The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation has been among the most active and engaged of the donors to both expansion programs, particularly under the leadership of its Texas program officer Lori Fey (rhymes with “high”). The foundation has long supported national school leadership programs like New Leaders for New Schools and teacher programs like Teach For America. When Dell began to consider supporting charter schools in Texas, KIPP and YES were among the four charter school networks that received its first grants. Those grants have continued, and are now directed towards the expansion efforts. To date, the Dell Foundation has given $7.1 million to YES, as well as $3.8 million to KIPP:Houston.

One of the newest contributors to the expansion program is the El Paso Corporation, which plans to contribute $400,000 in 2008 to support KIPP’s expansion. According to Bruce Connery, vice president for investor and media relations, the company’s involvement began when a former El Paso executive served on the KIPP board and suggested the schools might be worth the company’s support. El Paso CEO Doug Foshee (pronounced “Fo-shay”) toured KIPP and agreed (ibid)

     According to the Roundtable report, in the city of Houston alone between 2006-2008, private donors have given more than $90 million dollars for a super-charged expansion of KIPP and YES (another KIPP educational program) in the city.  And that’s just in Houston!  Within a decade, the two programs expect to use that money to create a school district within the current public school district and by 2017, they intend to be serving a total of more than 30,000 students annually—roughly 15 percent of all public school students in the Houston Independent School District (HISD).  

     This is the ‘takeover’ plan that has been conceived in coordination with many interests and it will require a massive expansion effort and huge sums of money; that’s where the philanthropy comes in and then of course Race to the Top.  In ten short years, KIPP and YES plan to build, staff, and launch a total of 55 new charter schools—42 KIPP schools, 13 YES schools all, they say, without diminishing the quality of the education provided. It is a philanthropic initiative never before witnessed in the realm of charter schools with implications for the growth of both charter schools nationwide-and for large urban school districts everywhere (Ibid).

The KIPP business plan

 

     The academic success of KIPP is often deemed to be owed to its virtual fanaticism as an organization dedicated to kids and its mandatory parental involvement, among other things. But it is important to understand that when assessing any claims KIPP makes as to academic performance that these claims are tied to how well students score on state mandated standardized tests (NCLB).  This is important, for these tests are the subject of much educational, political, and social controversy and debate over their adequacy as adequate assessment measures in so far as many say they fail to test little but rote memorization and regurgitation (FairTest 2009, Weil, 2001).

     Once again one is reminded of John Dewey and the ghost of the debates that raged in the 1920’s and 30’s over the role of education.  As Dewey noted:

no one thing, probably, works so fatally against focusing the attention of teachers upon training of mind as the domination of their minds by the idea that the chief thing is to get pupils to recite their lessons correctly (Dewey, 1933).

     Therefore it seems that basing any assessment as to quality education and educational tactics and strategies on an outdated factory style test model is wrongheaded for the simple reason the tests do not test problem solving and critical thinking skills (Weil, 2001).  Given this, any analysis of student achievement can only point to these test state standardized test scores as academic achievement indicators, for this is all that is available.  This is saddening but true, not just for KIPP’s claims, but for all educational achievement claims, as noted.

 

Serving up a boot camp as education: we train animals we educate human beings?

 

     One thing is known for sure about the KIPP success story is that the academic program at KIPP is relentless in its back-to-basics focus: it can be called 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.  This means there is a lot of rote learning and test prep, day in and day out to meet the state standardized test requirements.  Furthermore, teachers, parents and students have to commit in writing to certain pre-ordained ‘decisions’ about the aspects of the KIPP program.  In fact, all KIPP schools require a Commitment Form be signed by teachers, parents or guardians and students.  The form includes a ‘teacher’s commitment’, a ‘parent or guardian commitment’ and a ‘student commitment’; all three parties must sign.  According to one such KIPP school commitment form, the teacher’s commitment requires:

 

We will arrive every day by 7:15 A.M. (Mon. – Fri.)

We will remain at KIPP until 5:00 P.M. (Monday – Thursday) and 4:00 P.M on Friday

We will come to KIPP on appropriate Saturdays at 9:00 A.M. and remain until 1:05 P.M.

We will teach at KIPP during the summer.

We will always teach in the best way we know how, and we will do whatever it takes for our students to learn.

We will always make ourselves available to address the concerns of students, parents, and colleagues.

We will always protect the safety, interests and rights of all individuals in the classroom.

 

Failure to adhere to these commitments can lead to our removal from KIPP.

 

The parent commitment requires:

 

We will make sure our child arrives every day by 7:30 A.M. (Mon. – Fri.), or boards a bus at the scheduled time.

We will make arrangements for our child to remain at KIPP until 5:00 P.M. (Monday – Thursday) and 4:00 pm on Friday

We will make arrangements for our child to come to KIPP on appropriate Saturdays at 9:00 A.M. and remain until 1:05 P.M.

We will ensure that our child attends KIPP summer school.

We will always help our child in the best way we know how, and we will do whatever it takes for him/her to learn. This also means that we will check our child’s homework every night, let him/her call the teacher if there is a problem with homework, and try to read with him/her every night.

We will always make ourselves available to support our child’s education at KIPP TECH VALLEY. This also means that if our child is going to miss school, we will notify the teacher as soon as possible, and we will read carefully all the papers that the school sends home to us.

We will allow our child to go on KIPP field trips.

We will make sure our child follows the KIPP dress code.

We understand that our child must follow the KIPP rules in order to protect the safety, interests, and rights of all individuals in the classroom.

We, not the school, are responsible for the behavior and actions of our child.

We will always protect the safety, interests and rights of all individuals in the classroom.

Failure to adhere to these commitments can cause my child to lose various KIPP privileges.

And the student commitment goes on to pledge:

 

I will arrive at school every day by 7:30 A.M. and remain at KIPP until 5:00 P.M. (Monday – Thursday) and 4:00 pm on Friday.

I will come to KIPP on appropriate Saturdays at 9:00 A.M. and remain until 1:05 P.M.

I will attend KIPP during the summer.

I will always work, think, and behave in the best way I know how, and I will do whatever it takes for me and my fellow students to learn. This also means that I will complete all my homework every night; I will call my teachers if I have a problem with the homework and I will raise my hand and ask questions in class if I do not understand something.

I will always make myself available to parents, teachers, and any concerns they might have. If I make a bad choice, this means I will tell the truth to my teachers and accept responsibility for my actions.

I will always choose to behave in order to protect the safety, interests and rights of all individuals in the classroom. This also means that I will always listen to all my KIPP teammates and give everyone my respect and support.

I will follow the KIPP dress code.

I am responsible for my own choices and behavior, and I will follow the teachers’ directions.

 

Failure to adhere to these commitments can cause me to lose KIPP privileges (KIPP Commitment to Excellence Website).

All parties to the ‘commitment’ or contract, not only must sign, but there are penalties for violations of commitments.  As Mosle observes:

     Parents or guardians, too, must be hardy souls at KIPP. They have to sign a contract saying they agree to KIPP’s exacting schedule, which serves, intentionally or not, to eliminate kids from less involved or determined families. While KIPP does have outreach efforts to broaden its applicant pool, only the most determined parents are likely to respond to such overtures and sign KIPP’s demanding contract. This dedication suggests a higher value on education within these families, and thus kids better able or willing to learn. And the weakest students, not surprisingly, get disproportionately winnowed. In KIPP’s schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, the worst-performing kids have dropped out (or been expelled) in greater numbers in the higher grades; the result has been to inflate the schools’ grade-to-grade improvement (Mosle 2009).

  Steven Wilson, a self-described school entrepeneur describes it this way:

Teachers, who often began at seven in the morning and worked into the evening, carried cell phones and pagers to field questions from students about home work.  Parents had to check homework every night, or they would see their child expelled from school.  In Houston, students who misbehaved were ‘porched’ – required to wear their uniforms inside and out for days or even weeks, not to speak with other students, and to study in separate areas under a banner that read, “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch (Wilson 2006).

     As to teachers who dedicate themselves to KIPP and the KIPP philosophy of excellence and hard work, Sara Mosle, again writing in 2009 in Slate noted:

As a result, KIPP teachers typically work 65-hour weeks and a longer school year. Recognizing that students need more out-of-school aid to supplement their educations, the program also requires its staff to be available to students by phone after hours for homework help and moral support. For this overtime (which represents 60 percent more time in the classroom alone, on average, than in regular public schools), teachers receive just 20 percent more pay. Unsurprisingly, turnover is high. The program has relied heavily on the ever-renewing supply of very young (and thus less expensive) Teach for America alums, whose numbers, while growing, are decidedly finite. Indeed, it’s unclear whether KIPP would exist were it not for TFA (and its own philanthropic investment in recruitment and training, which has not come cheap) (Mosle 2009). 

Analyzing the findings: Enron bookkeeping

     In the most comprehensive look at KIPP schools to date, Richard Rothstein in his book co-written with Martin Carnoy of The Economic Policy Institute and professor at Stanford University The Charter School Dust-up, raises some essential points for an analysis of KIPP schools and an evaluation of their claims to higher student achievement among the most disadvantaged of the disadvantaged.

     To begin with, Rothstein acknowledges KIPP’s claim to fame in the area of education is that it is able to boot test scores for the most disadvantaged of the urban students it serves.  KIPP claims test scores for their students, typically black and Hispanic and from inner urban cities, is remarkably higher than those of similar students in typical public schools.  Rothstein argues that this claim by what he calls “charter zealots”, is often exaggerated.  To prove his hypothesis he conducted an examination of these claims.  His findings were revealing. 

     To begin with, he concluded that KIPP students are not representative of students in regular public schools in disadvantaged communities as KIPP claims. Thus the comparison is dis-analogous.  Take the case of Baltimore, where Rothstein reports that:

     KIPP claims at its school in Baltimore, entering fifth graders in 2002-2003 had pre-KIPP (fourth grade) median national percentile ranks of 42 in reading and 48 in math.  KIPP did not desegregate these scores by socioeconomic status, but the school is 100% black.  The Baltimore City School System reports that, in the spring of 2002, its black fourth graders had a median national percentile rank of 36 in reading and 34 in math.  Thus, entering students in the Baltimore KIPP school were more proficient in reading and math than typical black fourth graders in Baltimore.  In this respect, students at KIPP-Baltimore are not typical of Baltimore’s black students overall (Carnoy et. al. 2005, 53).

     Rothstein found the same disparities when he looked at the widely touted success of the KIPP Charter School in South Bronx, New York.  Here, KIPP students were found to be unusually high performing before they entered the school.  Rothstein found that the reason might be owed to KIPP’s reputation for academic success and the fact that this drew many higher performing students to its shores, where parents sought to enroll their children to escape failing public schools (ibid).  The great escape California just authorized.

     Rothstein also heard arguments that traditional public schools are more likely to recommend that their most troublesome students and underachievers attend KIPP schools, not necessarily because they could profit from the KIPP program, though this was often the case, but also due to the fact that school test scores would rise if the most troublesome underachievers were taken out of the test sampling and placed in other schools.  If true, this would go to the heart of KIPP’s claim that it educates the most disadvantaged children. 

     Yet Rothstein’s study seemed to undermine the claims that schools were systematically referring their most troublesome students to KIPP in an effort to boost their own test scores.  In fact, what he found was that teachers were suggesting to the most educated and sophisticated parents that they take their children out of traditional public schools and referred them to KIPP.  He even found one fourth grade teachers who mistakenly thought KIPP was a ‘gifted’ program and encouraged her most talented students and their parents to consider the KIPP School.  He also found that principals encouraged the most motivated and involved parents of children to apply to KIPP schools.  And in Houston, the home of the first KIPP School that had celebrated success and the object of the NCEE’s research study, the same themes were echoed by teachers in district schools who reported that they referred their students to KIPP who were above average (ibid). 

     It is important to note that this did not lead Rothstein to conclude that KIPP was involved in actively recruiting a more advantaged student body from traditional public schools, but the inference that can be drawn by those that study such practices is that ‘creaming’, as it is called in the educational world, is unconsciously built into the system of referral itself; this conclusion seems inescapable.

Therefore, as Rothstein suggests:

If KIPP Bronx (and other KIP schools) truly do attract the most talented or advantaged fourth graders in their communities, KIPP resolves this policy dilemma no differently than New York city itself does by operating schools like Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx High School of science that admit only students with high test scores.  Nor is the KIPP solution different from that of New York City and many other urban districts that create magnet schools to attract children with more motivation and parental support than typical children in disadvantaged communities.  These magnet school serve the most motivated children well, while leaving zoned public schools with a more difficult job because their enrollment concentrates disadvantage more intensively (ibid).

     Assuming that Rothstein’s analysis is correct, the consequences and implications of the study on public policy are inescapable: KIPP schools, rather than serving the ‘most disadvantaged’ of the ‘disadvantaged’, serve the top end of the ‘disadvantaged’.  Perhaps this is part of KIPP’s national and regional educational plan – to serve the most highly motivated of the ‘sub prime kids’ by creating a national retail chain of KIPP schools that target the ‘best of the worst’. The problem, as Rothstein notes, is the lack of data and this lack of data, as indicated earlier, is due to a lack of transparency, reliance on inauthentic testing measurements and a failure to disclose vital information to the public by these non-profit and for-profit EMO’s.

Drawing implications

     Given all this, it is not hard to understand how this effort to start up KIPP type schools would certainly mirror the recommendations made by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supported report, Tough Choices or Tough Times, published by the NCEE.  KIPP now remains the beneficiary of philanthropic funds not made available to for-profit EMOs; and the philanthropic foundations that have made hundreds of millions of dollars available to organizations like KIPP certainly have not done the same for traditional public schools.  This fact alone should ignite a host of questions on behalf of the public and the understanding that philanthropy comes with a price, purse strings of power, and that price could be the complete transformation and transfiguration of the U.S. educational landscape not seen since the industrial revolution.  It could mean, or perhaps does mean, the wholesale privatization of education.

What should students learn and can we create public centers of legitimate education or do we need the gross largess of the billionaire club?

     In evaluating standards and the notion of what a public school should do, Kathy Hytten harkens back to John Dewey’s debate with Walter Lippmann for suggestions and advice.  She voices the need for sound critical thinking instruction in schools:

We must encourage students to develop questions that are individually and socially meaningful, and to take initiative in answering them fully.  We also must help them to see the connections between classroom learning and a larger moral vision of social betterment.  Dewey believes that the key to social progress is found in using our minds well.  The only way we can do this as adults is if we practice thinking critically in schools.  This necessarily involves conceptualizing educational practices that are premised upon social involvement, responsibility, engagement, critique, and an ethically committed sensitivity to others and to the world around us.  Though we often say we value these ideas, what we do in schools, particularly in a climate of high stakes testing and accountability is not typically consistent.  Consequently, student disengagement and passivity are all too prevalent.  While Dewey’s perspectives on the importance of thinking critically make practical sense, and resonate with contemporary calls for more engaged learning, we have yet to take seriously his passionate call for a change in how we think about thinking.  His works thus still provide a valuable, largely untapped resource for rethinking how we educate democratic citizens in an ever-changing world (Hytten, 2001). 

If she is right, and I could not agree more (Weil, D., 2009-2010), can charterizing the public school system be the answer?   Of course not, it will be democracy’s worst nightmare, hollowing out childhood and education and spelling nothing but regimentation, disillusionment and suffering among students, teachers, classified staff and parents.

     One thing is for sure, a completely brand new school system is quietly emerging in the United States and plans are underway to radically transform the nation’s educational system, as was most notably done recently on a wholesale level in New Orleans. The real question in the whole debate over EMOs and charter schools, profit or non-profit, boils down to whether the public will be informed and involved in the decision making over public policy, the management of these charter schools, the curriculum, testing and financing when it comes to issues of the education for their children or whether these decisions will rest in the hands of a few wealthy philanthropists, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, politicians beholden to campaign contributions, politically charged think tanks and Wall Street financiers. 

     The answer to these questions and many others will be born from the struggle over our nation’s educational agenda and promises to open up a new chapter in the long fought battle for the right of American citizens to demand a school system that can give students and their teachers time and resources to deeply explore ideas, to make meaningful connections, and to imagine possibilities; a school system that sees, as Dewey so ardently argued for “knowledge operating in the direction of powers to the better living of life.” (Dewey 1933).  This is our challenge.

References

Berkowitz, B.  “Philanthropy the Wal-Mart way. Will the Walton Family Foundation become a $20 billion tax-exempt opponent of public education?”  (August 1, 2001) Thomas Fordham Institute  Website:  http://www.edexcellence.net/detail/news.cfm?news_id=19

http://mediatransparency.org/story.php?storyID=88 Bill Berkowitz

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Website “National Research Study on Charter Management Organization Effectiveness to Be Led by Mathematica Policy Research and Center on Reinventing Public Education.” (March 17, 2008).  http://www.gatesfoundation.org/press-releases/Pages/charter-school-management-research.aspx  

Blume , H.  “Charter School Firm to Open More L.A. Campuses.” Los Angles Times (April 29, 2009).  Website:  (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2009/04/one-of-the-nations-most-highly-praised-charter-school-operators-has-landed-another-huge-donation-to-open-campuses-in-the-l.html.

Carnoy, M., R.Jacobsen, L. Mishel and R. Rothstein  The Charter School Dust – Up Examining the Evidence on Enrollment and Achievement Washington D.C. and New York, New York:  Economic Policy Institute and Teachers College Press, 2005.

Coleman R. and M. Pearlstein “Who Funds the KIPP Schools?”  (2008) Website:  http://d2route.wordpress.com/2008/08/25/who-funds-the-kipp-schools/

Dewey, J.  (1933/1998).  How we think.  NY:  Houghton Mifflin Company.

FairTest  Boston, MA. Website: www.fairtest.org

Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools Website:  http://www.floridacharterschools.org/public/charterschoollawandcompliance.asp

Hytten, K. in Weil, D., Kincheloe, J. Standards and Schooling in the U.S. (2001) ABC-CLIO. Santa Barbara, CA

KIPP Commitment to Excellence Website:  http://www.kipptechvalley.com/commitment.pdf

Mathews, J. Growing Up Fast; Will Houston’s Charter School Expansion Revolutionize Urban Education?”   Philanthropy Roundtable Magazine (May 5, 2008) Website: http://www.kipp.org/08/pressdetail.cfm?a=486

Mosle, S.  “The Educational Experiment We Really Need: What the Knowledge Is Power Program Has Yet To Prove.” (March 23, 2009)   Slate.com.  Website:  http://www.slate.com/id/2214253/pagenum/all/

National Center on Education and the Economy. The Skills Commission. Tough Choices or Tough Times   Website: http://www.skillscommission.org/pdf/exec_sum/ToughChoices_EXECSUM.pdf  (2007)

Pacific Charter School Development Website:   http://www.pacificcharter.org/funders/Philanthropists.htm

Saltman, K. The Gift of Education: Public Education and Venture Philanthropy (Education, Politics and Public Life, Palgrave Macmillan (March 2, 2010

Weil, D., Kincheloe, J. Standards and Schooling in The United States: An Encyclopedia ABC-CLIO 2001. Santa Barbara, CA.

Wilson, S., Learning on the Job. When Business Takes on Public Schools.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 2006.