Wednesday, February 5, 2014

KIPP and character education

I had a recent discussion about KIPP prompted by Barry Swartz's Ted talk 

I  liked his idea of rules replacing moral thinking . He however did not end so well praising KIPP schools which I am sure he is unaware is an eg of 'pedagogy for the poor ' focusing on test prep - drill 'n skill - their character education is a combination of rules and incentives to comply to the rules - more about being compliant than moral character development . He spoke about respect for learning - kids need a love of learning- to become life long learners - you respect the learning of others .

I got the following response

Saying KIPP's character education is just rules & incentives is disingenuous. Here's what they write: 

"During each school day, in every lesson and every interaction, we focus as much on developing character – traits such as zest, grit, self-control, hope, love, gratitude, social intelligence and humor – as we do on academic preparation. "

Are "zest, grit, self-control, hope, love, gratitude, social intelligence and humor" considered "rules" in your book. 

A supportive review of Jay Mathews book defending KIPP

here is an article    in KIPP schools.  The article sounds great but when you solve problems using extrinsic motivation rather than allowing kids to autonomously engage in the moral act of restitution , you teach kids to think – what’s in it for me – what will be done to me – what will I get and this trumps all lessons on moral thinking and behavior

 From an interview with Alfie Kohn
Eric Gurna: Well, one of the founders, of KIPP Charter Schools was at this particular conference, and he was describing his school system and he said that his students go to school nine and a half to ten hours per day, then go home with some homework, and then come to school on Saturdays and over the summer too.

Alfie Kohn: He should be ashamed of what that does to children’s lives. This superficial criticism of KIPP schools is “that’s not scalable; you’re not going to be able to do that to enough kids and enough schools to make a difference from a public policy perspective,” so any gains they get are atypical and un-replicable. I wouldn’t send a dog to a KIPP school, the way they treat children. First of all, ask the basic questions about what makes for a great school, the kind you’d want to send your kid to. First, how much say do the kids have about what they’re learning? To what extent are they brought in on the decision-making? “How do we want our class to be?” If we need guidelines at a school level, kids learn how to make good decisions, by making decisions.

Let’s look at KIPP. Even the teachers have limited discretion about what they do. Number two, do they get the kind of great, again, interdisciplinary, team taught, student directed, project based learning, where the point is to understand ideas from the inside out, or is it all about showing better scores on bad tests? Third, when there’s a problem, do you work with kids to try to solve the problem, or do you bribe or threaten them to into mindless obedience? It’s about “work hard, be nice”, and “nice” you get the sense contextually doesn’t mean a compassionate, generous human being, it means “you do what you’re told, you obey authority without questions, or else we publicly humiliate you,” and conversely have a token economy program of the sort that was developed in mental institutions some years ago. The program itself at its core, is anti-child. The fact that they also believe that kids should be subject to it for more hours in the day and the week is unsurprising and more depressing. Are they able to pump up the test scores? I’m willing to stipulate that they can, a lot of people have challenged that, because they also cherry-pick the students and throw out the ones who aren’t going to make them look good. They say they don’t. I’ve read people who have example after example where they do, but let’s assume they don’t. Let’s assume you can turn a school into a factory, which is what this is, where you reward or punish students into doing exactly what they’re told, not questioning authority and becoming thinkers, and you make them stay there long into the night, sacrificing social, moral, emotional, artistic, physical development, all in the service of being socialized to comply with authority and get better at taking test. I am willing to grant that they can raise test scores. If they figured out a way to do this in the usual six hour a day, five day a week thing, I’d still find it horrifying, but the face that they are sucking up a lot of these kid’s childhoods by demanding extra time adds insult to injury.

Put differently, those kids who can‘t handle the ―choice 
to leave their zoned public middle school are driven out of KIPP because either they can‘t uphold the contract, or because they simply decide that 62% more school time, two to three hours of busywork nightly, and the militaristic social climate is just not for them. From

Character education the KIPP way is great - great slogans and absolute obedience 
Knowledge is power and power is money and I want more of it

Molly Stern – comment from Bridging  differences
Thank you for pressing the issue on discipline in KIPP schools. I worked in a KIPP school in Brooklyn for almost a year. I resigned midyear in large part because of the discipline issues that you are bringing up in your letter. I also had major concerns about how the administration was treating teachers (the teachers in the school where I worked unionized the year that I was there), though that is another issue. Though I worked primarily in a KIPP school in Crown Heights, part of my job required that I regularly visit the other KIPP schools in New York, particularly KIPP Infinity which is supposed to be a shining example of the KIPP model.

It dismays me that Mr. Witney did not acknowledge the existence of public shaming in KIPP schools. I experienced forms of public humiliation every time I was in a KIPP school. A few examples that I have personally seen in KIPP schools (none of which were particularly extreme in the context of how the schools were run) are students being forced to stand outside of a group and "track the wall" (stare into a corner) for talking out of turn, students being given demerits from their "paychecks" publicly for things like lack of "self control" (there are actually character categories in which kids receive demerits and some teachers call out those categories as they're giving demerits), kids being forced to sit on a bench at the end of the day and face the wall doing nothing (this was called Wall Street), and whole groups of students being punished by being forced to sit silently at lunch or in class for extended periods of time because of the actions of one or two students with statements like, "Well because so-and-so decided to speak out of turn, now we all have to sit here silently." Even when all students were behaving in exactly the way that was expected of them and therefore no shaming tactics were being employed to control students, I was still horrified by the amount of time that students in grades 5 through 8 were forced to be silent and were not allowed to express themselves spontaneously.
I could go on about other things that I found to be oppressive, but I'll leave it at that. I hope that Mr. Witney at least addresses the disciplinary practices that are widely acknowledged and used in KIPP schools as opposed to avoiding the issue by talking about how KIPP schools that are functioning well feel.