I’ve been getting concerned lately about how TFA and TFA related organizations have been misleading the public about their successes. I know that every company tries to put the most positive spin on their results so that they can continue to stay in business, so that’s natural. But when it comes to TFA, Michelle Rhee, and KIPP, it’s not just about staying in business. The way they present their results actually affects politicians who shape public policy. If they lie about how they’re doing and these lies lead us to dangerous policies, what’s good for the organizations is bad for society as a whole.
‘Waiting For Superman’ was designed to win an Oscar, which it wasn’t even nominated for. It was also supposed to advance the efforts of the charter school movement, as it was funded by some major players like Bill Gates. It also presented Michelle Rhee as a hero, and KIPP as part of the realistic solution to fixing public schools in this country. Though there was some initial buzz, like a bunch of coverage on NBC and also a week of Oprah, the movie actually had an unintended effect. People who really know what’s going on got quite offended by the lies the movie promoted. The movie awakened the proverbial sleeping giant who then got busy debunking all the lies in the movie.
This week two major players from the movie have been revealed to be much less than they claim to be. First there was the USA today story about how one of Michelle Rhee’s greatest successes has cheated to get their results on the standardized tests. It just shows that if you scare people enough they will find a way to get the results you demand of them.
Then, today, a study was released that finally examined KIPP in full detail. Even though I know Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg and like them both, I’ve been concerned about how their PR efforts could be misleading. What the study has revealed was that part of their success comes from them booting out the kids who will bring down their numbers. The report says that 40% of the black male students who enter the school in sixth grade drop out of it before completing eighth grade there. This is a staggering number. I wish Dave and Mike would just say that this is what they do and that KIPP is not for everyone, but for the kids who don’t get kicked out, it’s a great learning environment. I could respect that. Of course statements like that would not get them as many $100 million dollar grants, so they don’t say it. They imply that they don’t do this which misleads politicians and billionaires to try to replicate KIPP with other charters. But they can’t replicate it everywhere since they can’t use the secret ingredient: Kick out (or ‘counsel out’ or have them ‘self-select themselves out’ you can use whatever euphemism you’d like) the kids who bring down the numbers.
The reason I’m happy that all these truths are being revealed is not that I wish anything bad for KIPP or Michelle Rhee, but because I hate when public policy is swayed by public relations spin. We need truth and if you are not going to just give it to us, we will find it out ourselves.