Understanding KIPP Model Charter Schools: Part 5
Below is next installment from Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys through "No Excuses" Teaching. Please share widely.
KIPP and the Teaching Profession
. . . our teachers have normal lives, and many have families and children. --Richard Barth, KIPP CEO (Philanthropy News Digest, 2009)
The KIPP Foundation has no requirements for professional preparation, and certification requirements are governed by the state charter school statutes where each of the 183 KIPP schools is located. While a few KIPP advertisements state a preference for teaching credentials, no ads could be located that required anything more than what the state charter laws stipulate. The KIPP Foundation website (2015d) states,
the primary requirement for teaching at a KIPP school is a belief in a very simple concept: that we will do whatever it takes to help each and every student develop the character and academic skills necessary for them to lead self-sufficient, successful and happy lives.
The Foundation leaves it to each school to determine the qualifications required for new teachers. While many KIPP schools list two years of experience as a requirement in their ads, the necessity of replacing teachers who quit or who are fired make these requirements less applicable in real life. The KIPP website (KIPP Foundation, 2015d) points out that some schools have special programs for teachers with no prior experience.
In 2008, David Levin joined another charter school operator, Norman Atkins, and hedge fund mogul, Larry “L-Train” Robbins to found a non-profit corporation, the Relay Graduate School of Education, which focuses on preparing prospective teachers for the No Excuses charter school environment. Begun as Teacher U in 2006 by KIPP, Achievement First, and Uncommon Schools, Relay requires evidence that degree candidates can raise test scores before receiving their Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree.
In one of the first cohorts, “seven out of 110 teachers did not receive Master’s degrees because they could not show that their students had made at least a year’s worth of academic progress” (Green, 2011).The “pedagogical content” curriculum at Relay is based largely on the Doug Lemov’s (2010; 2015) text,Teach like a champion… Lemov holds an MBA from Harvard and is founder and Board member of Uncommon Schools, a charter chain that largely emulates the KIPP organizational model.
Showing steady growth, Relay has campuses in New York, Newark, New Orleans, Houston, and Chicago, with plans in 2015 to open a location in Memphis. Prominent among Relay’s philanthropic investors are the Gates Foundation, Credit Suisse, the Walton Family Foundation, the New Schools Venture Fund, and the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund. These same organizations and many others with them channel millions of dollars of tax-exempted donations through their corporate foundations to supplement the hundreds of millions of dollars in public education funds that go to KIPP each year.
When Bill Gates delivered a TED talk in 2009 on two of the world’s most pressing problems, malaria and bad teachers, he provided a copy of Work hard, be nice…, to all attendees, and in 2014 Gates told an interviewer from the American Enterprise Institute that he had concluded “the greatest cause of inequity” in America comes from “the failures of the education system” (American Enterprise Institute, 2014, p. 3). Gates’ preferred solution, for poor urban children at least, is the KIPP Model.
KIPP has an attrition rate among teachers that would be unsustainable if it were not for the large numbers of recruits from Teach for America that replace the 30-40 percent of KIPP teachers who leave KIPP each year. When David Levin and Mike Feinberg founded KIPP in 1994, it is likely that they envisioned TFA, with its two-year service contract for inexperienced teacher candidates who are heavily recruited from top-tier colleges and universities, as a prime source of new teachers to sustain, perhaps, the heroic demands and test performance standards that the KIPP Model imposes (Horn, 2010).
While former TFA corps members make up between thirty and forty percent of KIPP teachers nationally, some schools have a much higher concentration. At the KIPP Endeavor Academy in Kansas City, for instance, 80 percent of KIPP teachers were TFA corps members in 2014. Even though TFA has always attracted more applicants than it has teaching slots, the organization regularly spends more money for advertising and recruitment (Teach for America, 2007, p. 29) than it spends on pre-service training, which lasts for just over four weeks.
One would-be recruit from a few years back (Chernicoff, 2006) wrote this assessment in the Yale Daily News:
In just a few years, TFA has established itself as one of the smart-people-who-just-graduated-with-liberal-arts-degrees-and-now-have-no-idea-what-they-want-to-do-with-their-lives-but-are-pretty-sure-it-isn’t-remain-in-the-spin-cycle-of-academia-or-move-on-to-the-next-preset-hierarchy-in-the-finance-world demographic. Used to be those poor souls could only go to law school or move to New York and “go into, like, publishing or something.” But TFA positioned itself in such a way that it gets the lost souls who have an impulse to do something to help the world immediately upon graduating (para 12-13).
New TFA recruits who are not assigned directly to KIPP are commonly harvested after two years into KIPP teaching and leadership positions. As KIPP school leaders, they are given CEO power in the principal’s office to make policy and rules that were once the responsibility of public school boards.
KIPP’s teacher turnover rate became a public fact in 2008, with the publication of the SRI evaluation report San Francisco Bay Area KIPP Schools. . . (Woodworth, David, Wang, & Lopez-Torkos, 2008). SRI researchers found KIPP’s teacher annual attrition rate ranged from 18 to 49 percent at the five Bay Area KIPP schools that researchers studied:
Since 2003-04, the five Bay Area KIPP school leaders have hired a total of 121 teachers. Of these, 43 remained in the classroom at the start of the 2007-08 school year. Among teachers who left the classroom, at four of the schools they spent a median of 1 year in the classroom before leaving; at one school, the typical teacher spent 2 years in the classroom before leaving (p. 32).
While SRI found KIPP teachers committed, they also found them clearly doubtful of their capacity to continue under the stress of 60-80 hours of school-related work per week (includes 2 hours per night for Schools Matter: Understanding KIPP Model Charter Schools: Part 5: