Apr 01 2011

KIPP’s Atrocious Attrition

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.

You’re busted.

15 Responses

  1. stateofhope

    Thanks for this Gary,
    Really important stuff that you have been bringing up here this past few posts.
    I think: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/28/nyregion/28winerip.html?_r=3&pagewanted=1, raises an additional problem with the Chater School Industrial Complex, KIPP for example, actually narrowing the field of educational possibilities by having a monopoly on “success” even when the data doesn’t back that monopoly up.

  2. Gary – excellent post. Your critique makes a lot of sense. However, sometimes I feel like too much effort is spent saying why this or that doesn’t work and not enough time doing what actually does work. Politicians and billionaires grab onto KIPP and TFA and Charter Schools because they’re grasping for any bit of success. Maybe it’s just a publicity issue, but there isn’t a whole lot of success in poor areas in regular public schools, or if there is, the success stories aren’t getting out. It’s important to point out dishonesty and call out positive spin, but equally important is to point to success and say, this is what we’re doing and look at the success we’re having. It’s one thing to criticize an organization, but if you don’t have a successful replacement, the critique is less persuasive. We all just want a successful education system, it shouldn’t matter where that success comes from.

    • Wess

      Except it DOES matter where that success comes from, if it comes from giving up on kids.

    • NYeducator

      …”this is what we’re doing and look at the success we’re having.”

      You’re making Gary’s point, Asa. KIPP does NOT say what they’re doing. Thankfully, others finally are.

  3. Amelia1

    Interesting study, though sadly the results are unsurprising. Even without seriously slimming their population, however, charter schools already cater to a self-selecting group of students; those with parents who care enough to enter a lottery- those with parents at all!

    I’m entirely pro-charter, without believing for a second that charter’s are an answer to our nation’s increasingly dire education crisis. Organizations like KIPP serve a wonderful purpose by providing a college-prep and resource rich environment for kids who would otherwise never encounter one, and that is not to be discounted.

    However, their focus (and need to focus) on test scores means that test-taking skills and simple memorization drills are valued over analytical thinking, and their assumption that all kids are destined for college is just wrong. This latter part, I think, is a serious problem with the way our education reform movement is taking shape, and speaks a lot to why charter schools are so all-or-nothing in their willingness to kick out underperforming students.

    My friend wrote an excellent post on the issue here:

    http://twoyearsattheblackboard.blogspot.com/2011/03/mr-ns-curmudgeonly-rant-about.html

  4. Stuart Buck

    The cited study on KIPP attrition is bogus; it doesn’t even have student-level data, and it just looks at enrollment patterns at KIPP schools vs. public school DISTRICTS, which is a completely invalid comparison.

    For the real facts on KIPP, look at this recent Mathematica study that looked at individual students (something Miron wasn’t able to do). KIPP attrition is no different from surrounding public schools. http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/pdfs/education/KIPP_middle_schools_wp.pdf

  5. Stuart Buck

    Sorry, I misstated that: when Mathematica did an actual study that looked at actual kids, they found that KIPP has LOWER attrition for black males than other public schools do.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Are you saying that in the regular public schools black males students have a higher than 40% attrition? How could that be? They can’t kick / counsel them out. I’ll look at the study sometime and find the flawed reasoning when I get a chance.

      • Stuart Buck

        You’re assuming that Miron’s “40%” finding has any merit whatsoever.

  6. David Rutherford

    I’ve read the PR book on KIPP, and Gary’s post helps me understand my uncomfortable feeling when reading it. KIPP is having some success (though beyond longer school days for students and teachers, they don’t say what it is), and we should be looking closely to see where that success comes from so we can use it in our public schools. But they step over the line when the message is that they are the panacea for public education. The basic reality is that they work for a subset of students in public schools, not for all of them. I want to see a KIPP school that steps in, takes the ENTIRE population of a local school, removes the ability to counsel them out, and places the full range of educational regulations on them that other public schools must follow. Give them time, and let’s look at their successes – and failures. I think that’s a part of what Gary is suggesting. The PR covers up the real comparative data, which makes it impossible for us to learn what we need to learn to help all students, not just the ones who make it through the lottery. KIPP is doing something right, but we can’t know what that is until we compare apples to apples. Is that how you see it, Gary?

  7. Heather

    “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.”

    You are assuming that the 40% were kicked out or counseled out. On what basis do you make that assumption? I can see a lot of 13 and 14 year olds voluntarily leaving when faced with hours of homework every evening and mandatory summer school.

    You wrote that kids can’t be counseled out of public schools. Sure they can! I personally saw a principal counsel an unruly boy into applying to a charter school.

    Kids can’t be kicked out of ANY public or charter school without due process, and “counseling out” only works if the parents are okay with it.

    Face it – KIPP is taking kids that traditional public schools can’t educate and succeeding with them.

    • I can see a lot of 13 and 14 year olds voluntarily leaving when faced with hours of homework every evening and mandatory summer school.

      And this is an implicit form of ‘counseling out’. Moreover, it’s cherry-picking.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

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