Jun 21 2011

Expulsions from New Orleans Charters

The most compelling argument for charter schools is that they serve as places where educational innovations can be tested.  After a small charter school, or even a charter network, proves that it is able to be successful on a small scale, they could share what they’ve learned with the regular public schools so everyone can benefit from their research.

The KIPP schools are examples of charter schools that have demonstrated success in getting standardized test results and also in getting students into college.  Politicians love KIPP.  In one presidential debate, I think between Gore and Bush, each of them talked about KIPP in response to a question about education.

So the promise of charters is that they will reveal their inner workings so that regular public schools can benefit from the successful research the charters have conducted on their own students.

Since they do a lot of unique things at KIPP, it’s not easy to isolate which thing had the most impact on student achievement.  Here are some things that we know they do:

1) Longer school days.

2) Longer school year.

3) School on Saturday.

4) Selective enrollment though a lottery.

KIPP critics point to number 4 while KIPP defenders reference research reports that say that the students who enter the lottery but do not get into KIPP have less success than the students who enter the lottery and do get in.  KIPP critics point to other research that refutes it.  KIPP defenders point to the first three things as more important in getting the success they do.

But there is a fifth thing they do differently.  I’ve reported on this before, and a report gets published here and there about it.  It’s the issue of attrition.  In my post ‘KIPPs atrocious attrition,‘ I’ve already written extensively about this and about the implications of it.  We know that many kids who enter KIPP do not make it though to the end.  What we don’t have a good sense of is how this attrition occurs.  Do kids opt out because the work is too demanding?  Does KIPP somehow counsel students out?

I recently read a report from a program called Research On Reforms, which investigated several charter schools in New Orleans, including KIPP Central City Primary, which serves children in kindergarten through 2nd grade.  The report shows that charter schools have a disciplinary consequence that is not available to regular public schools — easy expulsion.  It seems that they can just write their ‘zero tolerance’ rules right into their charter.  Regular public schools are handcuffed by things like the law, which makes it extremely difficult to expel a student.  This report has obtained copies of the handbooks to reveal how the schools treat expulsions.  Here’s a paragraph from the KIPP primary school handbook.

So, as you can see, they say that three suspensions results in an expulsion.  This is pretty harsh.  These are just 5, 6, and 7 year old kids.  Now I don’t have their expulsion statistics.  Perhaps this is just a bluff or something that deters misbehavior so well that they never have to resort to expelling anyone.

But it brings up the issue of ‘tough love’ which is a big component of all the KIPP schools.  Perhaps this is the secret ingredient of KIPP — tough love bordering on corporeal punishment.  I’ve heard stories of kids being sent to ‘the doghouse’ (isolated from the rest of their classmates, including at lunch) for weeks at a time.  I also read about having kids who misbehave wearing signs that say ‘miscreant’ on them.  Though these are extreme, maybe this significantly contributes to their success.

I’ve always thought that teachers and schools are often too limited in what sorts of punishments they can give.  It seems odd to not be able to stop a kid from throwing away his own education, yet a lot of school districts don’t even have real suspensions anymore — in New York City, they are nearly always given the type of suspension where they have to temporarily attend a different school.  If tough love is the secret, then they should come out with it and maybe that could influence education policy.  Right now the implications that it is just the hardworking teachers that make the difference is causing other schools to get shut down for not being able to match KIPP’s success.

I’ve known the two founders of KIPP, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin for nearly 20 years (I was Houston ’91 and they were both Houston ’92).  I like them both.  About 10 years ago, I almost worked for them as a Chess teacher.  Even more recently, I had emailed Dave Levin since my wife, who is a social worker, was looking for school social work jobs and he got back to me about 3 minutes, which I really appreciated.  If either of them should see this post, I hope they understand that my critique of KIPP does not mean that I don’t like them personally.  They are some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met.  When they were teachers, they were great teachers.  And for the kids that make it through their schools, they do come out with a greater chance of having a successful future.  These are things to be proud of.

I just don’t like what KIPP has come to represent in the current destructive education reform movement.  I feel like Mike and Dave are victims of their own success.  First they needed to highlight their successes and they developed good PR.  Then they were on Oprah and met Presidents and have become celebrities.  They also have a lot of funders so they have to keep highlighting the successes they have.  Certainly it is not their job to point out their own weaknesses — like their attrition.  But what I wish Mike and Dave would realize is that they have the power now to really influence politicians and lobbyists like Michelle Rhee.  If Mike and Dave were to issue a statement saying that they fully agree with Diane Ravitch’s recent Op-Ed in The New York Times — that even they have not found a way to overcome poverty without doing things that regular public schools are not permitted to, it would completely deflate the likes of Rhee.  They could also stop claiming that it is just their hard working teachers since this fuels the current teacher witch hunt.  I’m sure that they do a lot with all their private funding to help with some of the effects of poverty — tell everyone about that so we can stop putting all the blame on teachers.  It would take a lot of guts to do that, but it’s not impossible since these are two very gutsy guys.

Here is a link to an article from The Washington Post with similar themes.  Read the comments too.

27 Responses

  1. dcchillin

    “The most compelling argument for charter schools is that they serve as places where educational innovations can be tested.”

    I disagree. The most compelling argument for charter schools is they can serve as a better option for some students with a horrendous neighborhood school. They are not a solution–they’re a choice for students and parents who don’t have time to wait for the years and years it will take their neighborhood schools to improve.

    Let’s improve our public schools, but let’s also give some students a choice to attend a better school. I’d rather some high-need students attend a high-performing charter (like Thurgood Marshall Charter in Anacostia) and become college-ready than force all to attend schools like Anacostia and Ballou High School.

    I’ve worked in a high-performing charter, and yes, my school did expel some disruptive kids who were making it difficult for their peers to learn (or bringing drugs or weapons to school), and I’d do it again in a heartbeat to preserve a school culture where hard work and good behavior are the expectation for all. To attend a charter school graduation (like I did last week) and see all the students who might have become high school dropouts but instead are graduating ready for college is enough to convince me that charter schools serve an important function.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Where to begin? First of all I want to thank you for your honesty. There is not enough of that from the ‘pro-charter’ side so I really appreciate it and I really hope that you will continue to engage in this debate with me as we get down to the core of what the big issues are.
      Let’s look at your statement:
      “I’ve worked in a high-performing charter, and yes, my school did expel some disruptive kids who were making it difficult for their peers to learn (or bringing drugs or weapons to school), and I’d do it again in a heartbeat to preserve a school culture where hard work and good behavior are the expectation for all.”

      I always suspected that the pro-charter people thought this way to justify what they’re participating in, but I also figured we didn’t hear much about it because those people knew, deep down, that they shouldn’t be saying this. Instead, they would claim that they don’t really expel disruptive kids. I’m not sure yet, since we haven’t gotten into it enough, if you are just very honest or if you have the inability to recognize how what you’ve said is extremely revealing and, in my view, frightening.
      But the big thing is that you are being honest, and that’s a good start, since that’s what I’m asking for from more of the charter advocates.
      You see, I’m not saying KIPPs should shut down. If they want to create a free private school that has a zero-tolerance discipline system since they can’t deal with the disruptive kids who are bringing down the kids who ‘want to learn,’ I’m OK with that as long as they are HONEST ABOUT WHAT THEY ARE DOING.
      If they informed the parents before they even entered the lottery that they do not have the skills nor do they plan to develop the skills to deal with disruptive kids, that would be something that might discourage kids who are probably going to get thrown out anyway from even applying. I say this because the stigma of getting kicked out of a school that you got into by winning a lottery really destroys a child’s self-esteem. You can’t even succeed when you win a lottery!

      If your leaders could be as honest as you have been, and everyone knew that you expel the disruptive kids rather than help them, then maybe the regular public schools who now have a disproportionate number of those disruptive kids, and their teachers, can be given a break when they are unable to get the same kind of test scores that you do.

      I’m thinking of the much bigger picture than you. You see a percent of kids getting better educations than they would have, and I can appreciate that on the small scale. But when your leaders try to lie and say that they don’t expel disruptive kids, as you just admitted without even a bit of guilt (“and I’d do it again in a heartbeat”? I assume you mean the beat of someone who actually has a heart) then politicians believe that the KIPP model is something that can be scaled. Race To The Top money is denied to any state that has a charter cap.
      Let’s take this to the logical extreme. Let’s say that 80 percent of schools are turned into KIPPs with this easy expulsion policy. What happens to the remaining schools? What happens to the remaining kids? It’s just not American.

      • I disagree that all disruptive students are expelled from schools that have the ability to expel. I would argue that if a child with a history of behavior problems leaves a school with discipline issues and enters a well-run school (charter or otherwise), their behavior may improve. I think it is entirely possible that a child with behavior problems is able to succeed in a highly structured environment. It may be the case that there are students with problems who leave the schools, but I believe there are students who have success in a charter environment despite past difficulties in other schools. I don’t know how the numbers break down, but I’m sure their existence is worth mentioning.

        Two things. First, perhaps I’m splitting hairs and you would agree with what I’ve said. Second, it’s a valid point that charters have options at their disposal that traditional public schools don’t, including the threat of expulsion.

        I’m not necessarily disagreeing, but I think there’s a lot of nuance to this discussion. I’m interested in your thoughts.

  2. dcchillin

    The other thing, Gary, is: how many KIPP schools have you been in? Have you actually met the kids and parents in KIPP schools to hear what they have to say? Have you seen the teachers teach? Have you seen the school culture? I think your criticisms would be easier consider if you really knew what was going on in KIPP schools rather than relying on studies and statistics.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      I don’t need to see a KIPP school. I’m sure that it looks great there, as would any school that can easily kick out the disruptive kids without a shred of remorse.

      • Heather

        I know many, many, many schools that would still be terrible, no matter how many “disruptive” kids they kicked out. I wish you could acknowledge that there is a difference in the school model that has nothing to do with expulsions.

    • Phil I.P.C.

      “yeah gary why don’t you rely on anecdotal evidence instead of hocus pocus ‘facts’”

      lol

  3. Heather

    The worst behavior I ever saw from students was at a charter school. I had students who got in daily fights, walked out of class constantly, used profanity against teachers, etc. I accepted a teaching job at a charter school thinking that the parents who applied to a special school would have better behaved children, and that unruly children would be expelled. NEITHER WAS TRUE.

    One thing you don’t understand, and really I didn’t either, until I saw it first hand, is that charter schools attract a student who is failing in their current school. Such children have worse behavior, learning disabilities, etc.

    I’ve never worked at a Kipp school. But nothing you have written thus far mitigates their success. Children entering Kipp are way below average, and in many places, 8th graders at Kipp are the highest scoring kids in the city. You can’t explain that away.

    • KIPP has an involved enrollment process, including behavior contracts and parent agreements. Those tools are going to act as a barrier to children and families who are struggling already.

      I work at a real public school that receives a number of students expelled from KIPP every year. We not only have to deal with whatever issues KIPP wouldn’t, but also the real emotional damage that comes from expulsion. The time these kids need takes away from what we can give to all of the other children at the school.

      So ultimately, I don’t really care what results KIPP comes up with. Given the hours they have and the absolute, test-first, think-last pedagogy their system promotes, I don’t think the results are even surprising.

      I do know that those results come on the backs of overworked educators who get to support KIPP whether they like it or not.

  4. stateofhope

    Maybe the highest scoring 8th graders but what about the fact that although 89% enter a four year college only 33% had obtained a degree after 6+ years from their date of entrance. That rate 33% is much lower then graduate rates for 4 year colleges nationally which, I think is in the mid 50s. So what is happening in between those amazing assessment scores and college graduation?

    • dcchillin

      Two things:
      1. KIPP students are almost exclusively low-income students. The college graduation rate for low-income minorities is about 8%. Low-income students face myriad challenges that make college graduation extremely difficult. So I would say that KIPP certainly has work to do to improve, but quadrupling the rate of graduation is very impressive.

      2. The sample size so far is small and of the first KIPP schools (I’m guessing that over time, KIPP has gotten much better at figuring out what it needs to do differently to get kids college-ready.)

  5. dcchillin

    I don’t want to make it seem like my school kicked people out at the drop of a hat. We did everything possible to keep every kid (gave them many chances, had behavior interventions, behavior contracts, multiple parent meetings, etc.) and when we did lose a kid, it was excruciating for everyone on staff. You seem to have the impression that KIPP schools are just looking for any excuse to kick out students, but I sincerely doubt that’s the case.

  6. dcchillin

    So just because I say I would kick out a kid who is single-handedly keeping his classmates from learning does not mean I don’t care for that kid or want the best for him…but is the better solution to keep that kid and have everyone else in his class unable to learn? Make the argument to me that that scenario is a superior alternative.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Are those really the only two options: 1) Let kid ruin it for everyone or 2) Expel kid. I think most schools do option 3, keep trying to find a way to make the student be successful. Presumably its a pretty low percent of the students who are being expelled so they should invest more resources into helping these kids. I’m sorry that you’re in the position of defending the charters like this. You’ve made it clear that ‘you can’t make an omlette without breaking a few eggs’ and you’re ok with that. The bigger issue is that most charters do not acknowledge that they really see that there are just those two options.
      Another thing I’d be interested in is if some of these kids are deliberately trying to get kicked out (which it seems isn’t that hard to do) because they are made to feel like outsiders for not fitting perfectly within the system (‘miscreants’).

      • Andrew

        It’s kind of interesting that we’re back to the problem created by inclusion. In the old days, kids would have been expelled or segregated and that would be it. Now we include every student in a normal classroom because of rules or money, but it seems that we are re-segregating via charters. Perhaps this is a lesson that inclusion should be re-thought.

        My wife comes home with a big smile on those days when “that one kid” or “those two kids” happened to be absent. The effort in dealing with kids at the ends of the bell curve in a standard classroom shouldn’t be minimized. Perhaps we need more non-standard classrooms/schools?

  7. dcchillin

    And another thought: is there any offense bad enough that should warrant expulsion from a charter? The students who were expelled from my school either had one one-strike-and-you’re out-offense (weapons, drugs) or at least eight relatively serious offenses. Again, kicking a kid out is a LAST RESORT once all other options have been exhausted.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Is that the same policy that the regular public school has? Can they expel a kid for bringing a weapon? And is this weapon a gun, you’re talking about, or is it a pocket knife?

  8. dcchillin

    And also: I would say that our current system of public schools, which is preparing roughly 8% of low-income students for college graduation, are not “American.”

  9. dcchillin

    Lastly (I think), as I said before, I don’t think charter schools are the ultimate solution. I think, on the whole, the arguments for them are better than the arguments against them.

    Just like you, I support public schools and want to improve them. If you’re curious, efforts are already underway to try to take best practices from high-performing charters and use them in public schools in Houston and Denver. See http://www.blueprintschools.org/ for more info if you’re curious.

  10. KIPP discipline is unacceptable. In some instances, it’s unambiguously child abuse, as documented in this “Notice to Cure and Correct”:

    http://www.nypost.com/r/nypost/2010/11/01/news/media/Chi%20Tschang%20Fresno%20school%20district%20report.pdf

    KIPP schools also have a high retention rate and have “demoted” children on entry, at least locally.

    A school program that has the kind of documented classroom management KIPP does has no business working with small children. Nothing in KIPP’s experience, results or knowledge base suggests they are ready for early childhood education.

  11. M

    I see that “dcchillin” is really embracing the experience of working with “high needs” students—noted: the name in which he chooses to IDENTIFY, “dcchillin” is reference to a hip hop song by rapper Wale.
    I wonder if he (dcchillin) changes his vernacular when speaking to his “high needs” students?
    Interesting that dcchillin has ZERO tolerance when the harsh realities of his “high needs” students are brought into the superior school culture of his “high achieving” school, but he is very quick to embrace and even identify with hip hop. (maybe thats the fun of teaching in “high needs” urban schools? it makes it easier to relate to all your favorite hip hop artists!)
    DCCHILLIN has no tolerance for:
    “disruptive kids who were making it difficult for their peers to learn (or bringing drugs or weapons to school)”
    Get rid of em’! they make it hard for me to teach!
    clearly “dcchillin” knows whats best for “high needs” students, he listens to hip hop after all!!
    enjoy your safari through the hood, Mr.dcchillin.

    “haters in the crowd, if you see em’ point em’ out!”- wale

  12. Cal

    “The college graduation rate for low-income minorities is about 8%. Low-income students face myriad challenges that make college graduation extremely difficult. So I would say that KIPP certainly has work to do to improve, but quadrupling the rate of graduation is very impressive.”

    But as has just been discussed, the KIPP kids weren’t disruptive enough to be expelled, had motivation, and had motivated parents.

    Go back to the public schools and pull out the similar kids–not disruptive, motivation, motivated parents–and see what their graduation rate is. It will be much higher than 8%.

    So if those kids have a, say, 1 in 4 chance of graduating, and KIPP kids have a 1 in 3 chance, that’s the real improvement.

    As far as expelling kids, let’s make it more explicit. Charter schools don’t have to accept the disruptive kids, the absentee kids, the profoundly disabled kids, and the mentally ill kids. The big group here are the disruptors. Many Title I schools have a substantial number of kids (say 20-30%) who are failing every class, could give a rats ass about school as anything other than a fun time for socializing, and suck up teacher energy, school energy, and pull in 4 or 5 students who might otherwise be persuaded to work. And despite the constant effort of many teachers and administrators, they never improve at behavior or academics.

    I understood dc to be saying that these kids should be expelled, and I agree. But KIPP, like all charters, not only has the ability to suspend and expel these kids far more easily, but they also never have to take them in the first place. They also will never be accepting the constantly absent, and rarely have to deal with the profoundly disabled or mentally ill (the parents want their kids in public schools, for the most part).

    Charter school success is profoundly dependent on this ability, and none of them seem even remotely conscious of it–and of course, I’ve yet to see an eduformer have even the foggiest understanding of this reality. Most of them think that the only thing stopping public schools from being this tough is the will to try.

    Other people tacitly accept that charters are skimming, and even approve of it. As dc says, what should be done until public schools “improve”? The motivated kids need a place to go, free of the kids who are hard or impossible to educate and often make the classroom a disaster.

    However, the “improvement” they’re waiting for is in large part based on the ability to boot disruptive kids–and since that will never happen, public schools will never improve.

    So charters will continue to skim, publics will continue to do a very good job considering their limitations, and so it goes.

    We’ll probably never get around to acknowledging this, for good reason. I’m not sure how we’ll ever get around to acknowledging that we could flip things around and get much better scale: move the trouble makers and the kids who are outside the normal distribution to small schools set up to handle them, and leave the public schools to educate the larger group, the kids that want to be there. Ideally, make the small schools for troublemakers very unpleasant, to give public schools teeth in getting kids to improve behavior.

    This will, inevitably, raise the cry of warehousing. But isn’t that, in fact, what it is? Yes, we might want to not leave any children behind. But the reality is that if public education isn’t a privilege allowed to most but not all, there’s nothing to value.

    And since it’s very unlikely we’ll ever do this, the public schools will never “improve” but will continue to educate pretty well, given their restrictions, and charter schools will continue to crow about their great results while ignoring that they dump their rejects on the very public schools they criticize.

  13. Jan Keith Farmer

    Thank you for illuminating the “charter school” myth so clearly. Rather than the leadership need for transformational change, our politicians and some reformers have rallied around simple solutions to complex problems that do not work for all students. While politicians like the improvement data and concerned parents like their “learning environment”, charter schools only work for some students. Consequently our educational system is becoming more “ability grouped” with every initiative. This should not be our aspiration as a nation.

    As a 38 year veteran of educational change as teacher, administrator, and academic; I am now teaching public school in the New Orleans area. I came here to be part of the “silicon valley of educational change” but after several second interviews with different charters I found their approach to be rigid and myopic. Well funded and well intentioned organizations like KIPP and TFA have a “false clarity” (they don’t know what they don’t know, so they think they know it) about their success and mission. They do many wonderful things and have excellent schools but they do not improve our educational system. I applaud your blog for this honest conversation.

    After facilitating transformational change as a practitioner and consultant I know we can improve education in America. We are not at a loss for existing exemplars that teach all students the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to lead a quality life. Unfortunately most charters are not the exemplars

  14. Dean at KIPP Central City Primary

    I randomly came across this blog in searching for KIPP employee benefits and I just wanted to clear up an utterly false misconception about KIPP Central City Primary that many readers might take away from the (not very well researched) information provided in this piece.

    As one of the Deans (essentially, Assistant Principal) at KIPP Central City Primary I know for a fact that we have NEVER expelled a student in our 5 years of existence. I am not saying that this occurrence does not take place at other charter schools, KIPP or otherwise, but our school leader is adamant in his belief that every single child can grow to be his or her best self given the opportunity.

    The larger issue that exists at our school, schools in New Orleans, and in our country as a whole is ensuring that every child receives the necessary support to meet his/her needs – we have children who face very serious emotional and behavioral challenges, as young as 5 years old, and we do not have many of the resources to meet the dire needs of the children who need it most.

    This is a societal problem, not one that exists merely within the confines of education.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Sounds like somebody is making excuses …

      • Jan Keith Farmer

        KIPP schools by their very policies are de facto tracked. Schools that longer hours or a Saturday requirements will attract a different population (maybe from more concerned parents or serious students) that leave a higher concentration of students in public schools that are more difficult to teach. Indeed, all charter and private school are de facto tracted.

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