Thursday, March 22, 2012

"At KIPP, I would wake up sick, every single day"


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?" 

19 comments:

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 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!

Anonymous said...

Of course we would never hear about this in the Bloomberg controlled media or from the public school haters.What is really interesting is the turnover in students. Imagine if a public school had the right to eliminate the discipline problems or the children who were struggling academically.
The charter school mania is a farce 1

Dr. Mary said...

Wow! I was a teacher with a first-year KIPP school the previous school year, and I'm now an adminstrator with a totally different charter school network that competes with KIPP in my region. I echo the experiences that you all had. The sad reality is that I am going on 2 years of working like a dog, being treated very poorly and with blatant disrespect along with the teachers I currently coach, and trying to serve effectively in a climate of fear, intimidation, and retaliation. I also researched charter school legistlation, policy, and practice as a doctoral student. I am very interested in really breaking down what happens in charter schools, and what parents and educators can do to make informed choices when it comes to charter schools. I'd love to assist charter schools that really care about the children and not about making money and names for themselves as education superstars--I hope they exist. It's the overall setup of charter schools that creates conditions that are, unfortunately, conducive to all types of abuses and less-than-desirable environments for students and staff...

Anonymous said...

I have worked in public and now charter schools I have to agree that charter schools are the biggest lies on the planet, they do force kids out who are not "on par", they do have cult like mantras and the kids & staff get sick all the time because it is a pressure cooker in there. this is not education, it sucks! A teacher has no rights and they live in a climate of fear the kids do too. The school starts at 8 ends at 4 then theres more school "afterschool" till 5:30 its insane

Anonymous said...

The biggest reason for the failure of students is POVERTY. Parents are working 2-3 jobs just to get by and dont have the time and/or energy to keep on top of what is happening with their children. We need universal daycare and child care with great care takers and all the children start school with what is needed to succeed.

Anonymous said...

Lies lies lies, I Go to KIPP NYC COLLEGE PREP, and its all good, they motivate you to go to college, they do give u "hard Work" But its better for our future, because they are making us ready to confront the real world. im in the highschool and i want to go to college already, im soo happy!! and KIPP IS WAY BETTER than other high schools because in order to pass the regents students need to earn a least a 75 or higher, not like other schools where students need 65 or higher, in Kipp we are being made to be the best of the best... i respect the statement of the mother, but its not kipp fault that her kid couldn't handle the "program" also her statement is "phony" , im a latino student with struggles on the language, but in kipp im motivated and it works because im in honor roll and principals list.

Kipp is one of the best school because is fighting for our rights as minority...

Thank you, and have a good Night :)

James McDaniels said...

The previous comment by a KIPP student is hopefully by an imposter. This "KIPP student" did not capitalize "i" in most cases, did not know to put an apostrophe in "im" misspelled "so" and had numerous other capitalization problems within their comment. If this IS a KIPP student, it doesn't speak well for KIPP's educational program.

Anonymous said...

I worked at a KIPP school for over a year and saw exactly what the first writer saw. Teachers were bullied and harassed by the school leader living in fear if they spoke up. Students with special needs were not accommodated. The turnover with staff is huge. Two teachers had nervous breakdowns over the stress. Students were under constant control and no freedom of expression. Chants and a cult mentality permeated the school. KIPP robs children of their childhood. Most KIPP teachers in our building were not qualified. Student achievement was very poor. It was a nightmare, beware.

Anonymous said...

Its funny how a KIPP NYC college prep student tried to stand up for his or her school, and he or she is criticized for punctuation and grammatical errors. James McDaniels your pure comedy! You make all these negative comments about the school seem true. As a parent, reading these comments completely changed my mind about this school. Your acting as if this KIPP student is a robot machine, who needs to be perfect. The point is that he or she is trying to give this school a good rep. and you just made that student feel stupid, more than likely, for trying to stick up for his/her school. It's funny how instead of agreeing with the student(of course trying to persuade everyone that this school is good), you publicly bash a student who obviously thinks highly about this school. Honestly, for all those sick of KIPP charter schools,a less strict but challenging alternative recommended would be Democracy Prep Charter Highschool. Also located on 133 street, challenges the students academically, but also gives them a chance to build a better character that will help then to succeed in college. And of course, if ever a Democracy Prep student were to ever try and defend their school, instead of having all of their flaws pointed out, they would be thanked for bravery and respect. James, overall I hope your comment was only a joke. Due to the fact that your comment made a joke of this school, this student, and of course yourself.

Anonymous said...

It's funny but all this comments looks like is the same person. If I'm not confortable in a place, I just leave cause you not force against your will to remain, there is something called freedom if you don't know. all my respect to you if ressist all that for that long.

Anonymous said...

This is really sad to hear. I taught at a KIPP school for two years, and although it was extremely challenging, it was two of the most rewarding years of my life. I currently live in NYC and teach at a similar high performing charter school, although I did apply to KIPP NYC and wasn't offered a position.

I am so sorry to hear that this child and parent's particular situation was such a frustrating one. It's important to note that there are over 125 schools and although they are all part of KIPP as a whole, you might be surprised at how different each school is, with its own culture, rules, discipline system, etc. As someone who has worked at one and visited several across the USA, I can personally attest to this. As such, it's unfair to judge the entire KIPP network based on this one testimonial of one school.

Some of the KIPP schools have certainly struggled. There are thousands of failing public schools as well, but it's important to note that there are many wonderful public schools that are serving their communities and their students. And in the same vein, there are over 120 KIPP schools and while there are some that are struggling to serve their students, there are many KIPP schools (and other charters), who do justice to their communities and provide an excellent education to students who would otherwise be attending failing public or charter schools.

KIPP certainly does have some failings, but it also has many successes. I invite you to look at the research. The one wonderful thing about KIPP is that they are very self-reflective and are aware the issues their organization and their individual schools face. They are consistently doing research and self-reflection to work towards improving their schools.

I also believe that no school, including KIPP, provides a "one-size fits all" approach to its students. The extra homework and strict discipline system is meant to create a warm but firm environment that helps kids who come to KIPP several years behind grade level meet grade level and eventually exceed it. Although I am deeply committed to KIPP's mission, I do believe that this approach does not work for all students, as it would be ludicrous to assume that all students have the same needs. This is why it's important to both improve our public schools AND our charters, so that families have several great options to choose from and can find the school that best suits their student.

Great educators and leaders should be working to find solutions to improve all schools for our nation's children, not pointing fingers at public schools or charters and playing the blame game. That certainly isn't a student-centered practice.

-Sarah

Anonymous said...

I'm 100% agree with Sarah, because my son going to KIpp HS and indeed he started in 5th grade at Kipp Academy when he started kipp his reading level was like a 2nd grader thanks to effort and dedication of all kipp staff my son have improve so much actually he is in honor roll and doing great, and as well he have an {IEP} I'm so proud to be a kipp parent, my son never ever have being bullied by any one, all I personally have to say is, thanks heaven for Kipp and all the teachers that one or other have touched the life of my child.

Anonymous said...

The student did say he struggles with the english language, as he is latino. Stop the critism and respect his right to comment.

Anonymous said...

I think you should shut the hell up

Anonymous said...

As a KIPP alumni and current KIPP teacher at the exact same KIPP school, I can say that I am shocked to read some of these comments. I would like to address some of the concerns brought up in the blog post and subsequent comments:
1. Sure the work is extremely tough for teachers, but ask yourselves if we did not work hard then who else would?

2. Cult like rituals? If you mean songs like "read baby read" then I again ask you to ask yourself how different that is from a school song in college?

3. Long hours? Somewhere along the way we put the needs of the teacher ahead of the student. If you do not see what is wrong with that then please just stop reading. Longer hours means more instruction and practice. Lebron James practices 10 hours a day. Gee, I wonder why he is arguably the best NBA player?

4. Regarding the "how long have the teachers taught at KIPP" argument, consider this: I have seen numerous tenured teachers in the public school system who simply hand out worksheets and kick back. Longevity does not equal quality.


No school is perfect, but KIPP does not settle. KIPP schools and leaders are constantly looking for ways to get students to and through college. Tons of research go into the methods used at KIPP schools and I would be more than happy to provide examples if asked. KIPP may not be liked by every student and parent that walks through the doors, but KIPP does provide every opportunity for the child to succeed. It is unfortunate that the government that so many people relied on failed them. Perhaps because very few, if any, policy makers were ever teachers themselves and even less attended public schools in the neighborhoods they "serve". Other charter schools may be great or may be horrible. That is the nature of a charter school. There is a certain level of independence when creating the curriculum and culture of a charter school. I do not think the negative experiences of a few speak to the overall experience of a KIPP student/teacher.

KIPP changed my life and the lives of my peers. Plain and simple. Tell me how many students at your local public school in the Bronx can say that.

Anonymous said...

This blog post and comments are really sad. One does not need much to see the propaganda and the bias.
Discipline is never the problem, and of course giving your life to your work (others) is never easy.
Good luck to all.

Anonymous said...

Look no further than the contributors below to get an understanding of who trully is behind this story.

Anonymous said...

James, I guess you people have no limits. You will attack schools, parents, and even kids to justify your bias towards charters. If you really want to write about how horrible charter schools are, why don't you start with the failing co-located UFT charter in East NY. Conflict of interest maybe.

Anonymous said...

I interviewed at a KIPP school. Horrible. I have never been treated so unprofessionally.