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When Julie O’Connor of the Star-Ledger called to ask me about a Newark KIPP charter school that got amazing results, I told her I had no information or knowledge about the school. I suggested she should consider three possibilities: 1) it is indeed a wonderful school; 2) it is not enrolling the same proportion of students with disabilities and English language learners as the public schools; 3) check the attrition rate over time. I directed her to Bruce Baker and Mark Weber, who have studied charter school performance in Néw Jersey (I have not). I published O’Connor’s comment and Baker’s response in the previous post. What follows is Mark Weber’s response.
Jersey Jazzman (aka Mark Weber) is a teacher in Néw Jersey and a graduate student at Rutgers, working with Bruce Baker. He posted two other responses to O’Connor and “the KIPP Propaganda Machine,” referenced below in his first paragraph.
Here is the opening of Weber’s analysis:
“I really don’t want to keep debunking this past Sunday’s big, fat, wet kiss from the Star-Ledger’s Julie O’Connor to the TEAM/KIPP charter school in Newark — see here and here. But O’Connor has given us such a perfect example of reformy propaganda that it really does merit further deconstruction.
“O’Connor’s love letter to TEAM/KIPP is based on a collection of received truths:
“Urban public schools suck (and suburban schools aren’t that great, either).
“We’ve spent too much already on district schools.
“Charter schools are awesome because they “prove” that poverty can be overcome in our schools; they are also “doing more with less.”
“To make her case, O’Connor gives us several talking points, clearly pre-digested by TEAM/KIPP for her easy consumption. Among them:
“One KIPP elementary school even outscored Montclair kids in 2013, a much higher income group.”
“In a city where almost half the students don’t graduate, nearly all its kids finish, and a remarkable 95 percent of them go on to college.”
“At last count, nearly 10,000 families were on a waiting list to get their children in.”
“There are others, and I’ll get to them in due course. But let’s take these three for right now. Are these points of data factually correct? Yes, absolutely.
“But are they true? That’s an entirely different question.”
“The master propagandist never puts a piece of data before the public that isn’t factually correct. Why would she? Facts are not malleable in and of themselves, but their application certainly is. And what O’Connor has managed to do here is tell a story that is certainly “factual,” but leaves out so much critical information that it can hardly be called “true.”
In the remainder of his post, he explains how facts can be used to misrepresent the truth.
Here is my take, for what it’s worth. The charter school in question seems to have good results, even after the exaggerations are stripped away. What we don’t know is whether the school excludes the students with the most severe disabilities, whom the public schools are obliged to accept. We don’t know if it “counsels out” the students who are trouble-makers, whom the public schools are obliged to accept. We can assume that KIPP spends more per pupil than the district public schools (KIPP often receives multi-million dollar gifts from foundations, corporations, and the U.S. Department of Education.
For these reasons, I long ago issued what I called “The KIPP Challenge.” The challenge was for KIPP to take over an entire impoverished district and show what it could do if it were tasked with the same expectation that public schools must meet: educate all children. Educate the children with the full range of abilities. Educate the children who don’t speak English. Educate the children just released from the juvenile justice system. Educate the gifted. Educate the kids who are turned off by school. Educate them all. No exceptions. No excuses.
The last time I wrote about The KIPP Challenge, a number of KIPP advocates reacted angrily, said this was not its purpose. But if KIPP wants to be considered a model for urban education, then it should indeed take on an entire district and prove that its good results are not enhanced by cherry-picking, skimming, or attrition.
Until it does accept the Challenge, it should not boast about its outcomes or claim to be superior to public schools that do accept all children. I am willing to be convinced. But, first, meet the Challenge.