Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Schools Matter: Understanding KIPP Model Charter Schools: Part 6

Schools Matter: Understanding KIPP Model Charter Schools: Part 6:

Understanding KIPP Model Charter Schools: Part 6

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 Part 5 is here (earlier excerpts can be accessed by googling the title above).


If you are a new teacher in a "no excuses" school, you may be discovering a level of Hell that you previously did not know existed.  In the excerpt below from my book, former teachers and teachers begin to recount some of their experiences in KIPP Model schools.  I would say, enjoy, but that is not the right admonition.  Rather, read a bit, and go outside and look at the sky, then continue.

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Chapter 6
The KIPP Teaching Experience
It’s like you’re being used up and thrown out.  –1160
. . . looking back on it, it just seems crazy that people are willing to do the things that KIPP requires of them without a second thought. You know, you have to have blind obedience, if that makes sense. –1184
         As noted elsewhere in this book, KIPP teachers are at-will employees, which means that the teacher or KIPP can terminate the contract at any time without notice.  While this arrangement provides a tangible motivator for teachers to try to keep up with KIPP’s expectations, it also allows KIPP to quickly replace teachers who are not producing measurable results in the form of test scores. 
This arrangement, in turn, creates higher stress levels among teachers who are already under intense pressure, and the ability to fire teachers at-will creates a negative energy that runs counter to KIPP’s advertised face of positivity and widespread “joy factor.”  Teachers report that job insecurity was a major stressor, which creates negative energy from knowing that termination might come without warning:  “I think that KIPP is kind of fueled by negative energy in some ways. You know, it’s easier to try to scare people into doing things than to motivate them or encourage them. And I think that was kind of the attitude that I ran into a lot is, you know, you’re an at-will employee, so if you don’t like it, you can go somewhere else.”
Another teacher noted that his lowest points at KIPP were related to his anxiety about job insecurity, which caused him to lose sleep:  “. . . a part of the culture among staff at this particular school, and I think at most KIPP schools, because there’s no contract, there’s this idea of you could go at any time.  You could not be re-hired next year.  You could be let go with absolutely no notice.  I felt that pressure a lot, to the point where I was losing sleep.”
         Another teacher who had worked in public schools before coming to KIPP talked about the downside of KIPP’s system of at-will teacher contracts:
. . . public schools aren’t all perfect. . . . I’m not a wholesale believer in everything that the union has done, because I’ve seen a lot of ineffective teachers get tenure and things like that.  And I’ve seen a lot of teachers not be protected when they should have been. But I believe that there is a reason for the protections that teachers have. And at KIPP, there is no such thing. You know, you're an at-will employee all the time [and] there’s no guarantee that, if you’ve been there for five years, that year six, they’re going to even ask you to come back. And they don’t have to give you any notice.

The Teaching Day
         Teachers in KIPP Model schools have long days that range from 10 to 14 hours.  It is not uncommon for teachers to arrive at school between 5 and 6 AM and to leave after 6 or 7 PM, and all KIPP teachers are on call Monday through Friday until 9 or 10 PM for homework tutoring or questions.  Some KIPP schools have Saturday school for a half-day, but most have Saturday school every other week. “And then,” as one teacher said, “there’s the lesson planning and grading” to be done as well. 
Most teachers arrive well before 7:00, in order to get their photocopies done before the children begin to arrive at 7:05.  School leaders make the rounds checking to see if rooms are ready.  At 7:20, children are signaled with a series of hand motions to line up for breakfast, and they are marched silently in single file to the cafeteria.  Children return to the classroom for “advisory” at 7:50, where they find the morning work on the board or they are handed a worksheet that may or may not be relevant to the curriculum. 
During this time of silent work, teachers check homework folders to make sure all homework has been completed correctly and that the proper paycheck deductions for sloppy or missing work and credits for correct work are made for each child.  With as many as 30 students in advisory with four subjects, each requiring written work every night, this task rarely gets completed with complete accuracy in the time allotted.  At 8:40, children get the readying hand signals once more and are silently marched to their first class. 
One teacher explained the students’ transitioning in this way:
They would move into transition, which was always a stressful time.  It’s mean to be very routinized.  They have a thing called one, two, three dismissal, where they’re given about 20 seconds to pack up.  Not about 20 seconds; it is an exact 20 seconds.  Give them 20 seconds to pack, then they have one, two, three dismissal, where the teacher raises one finger and that indicates that all students should be tracking them. 
When all students are tracking the teacher, the teacher raises the second finger, which shows that all the kids can stand.  On three, the students go to line order, which is a very specific, students line up single file.  They’re meant to have out an independent reading book at all times during this time so that during transition while they’re waiting in line, while they’re walking, they’re reading.  Everything is done completely silent.  The students line up and then leave the classroom, file out single file to their next class.
Between 8:40 AM and 4:40 PM, teachers have a plan period and a half-hour for lunch, during which time most teachers remain on duty while trying to eat.  Because lining up and marching has to be performed perfectly or it must be done again, lunch usually lasts less than the thirty minutes allotted in the schedule.  Throughout the day, teachers carry clipboards and spend their time maintaining total compliance and teaching content. 
Following the minute details of management, demerit, and punishment plans takes up considerable chunks of class time.  One teacher described the “demerit clipboard” this way:
And I really struggled with this demerit clipboard, because there was a whole, you know, each type of different demerit had a different number from one to nine. And you had to note it in a certain way. And you had to put your initials. And you had to put it next to the student’s name. So finding all of this on a clipboard that’s legal size with 30 kids on it, while you're in the middle of a lesson on the spot, so you [must] remember to record it—it can interrupt your whole lesson and derail it. I mean, some teachers can just do it quickly. At [another charter school where she taught previously], they have a barcode scanner and they just literally scanned the student’s name and the kind of demerit. And they do it instantly. I joked that they should just put the barcodes on the kids’ foreheads, you know?
The after school KIPP teacher experience looks something like this: At 4:40 students begin to get ready for home, and at 4:45 KIPP teachers march their students to the buses.  The teachers board the buses with the students to make sure everyone is settled with something to read.  Teachers leave the buses and are instructed to wave until the buses are out of sight. Teachers then walk back to the building, where they tutor children until 5:45, except on Mondays and Wednesdays, when professional development meetings last until 8PM. 
Afterwards, teachers compile data for exit tickets that provide “concrete data” that children have learned what was expected of them that day. Then teachers organize their classrooms, prepare lessons for the next day (which must be typed later and turned in to the school leader each Friday), and make sure the independent worksheets are ready for the next morning.  By 8 or 9 PM, it’s time to head home to fix dinner and grade papers.
“Trying to put your finger on every potential leak”
         One teacher, who compared his 80-100 hour weeks at a KIPP school to “sprinting a Schools Matter: Understanding KIPP Model Charter Schools: Part 6:

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