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When charter management organizations take over public schools, the charters are promoted with glossy brochures, exaggerated hype, and relentless recruitment campaigns to woo students to their doors. Not much is shared about the quality of life of the children who attend them. This being the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens makes today the perfect day to share. He would find volumes to write about at KIPP.

Marita's Bargain is told from the perspective of a one-percenter. Prepare to be appalled.

KIPP, Knowledge Is Power Program, charter schools have been highlighted in Outliers by Malcolm Galdwell. According to the publisher's description, the author:

takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of "outliers"--the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different? His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing.
That sounds plausible, but the arguments Gladwell makes, especially for the success of poor minority children like Marita, leave me cold. As I read his story about this KIPP student, I wept for her and thousands of others like her. I could hardly contain my anger. If ever there was an argument against corporate charter schools, this has to be it.

From this educators point of view, Outliers is a simplistic analysis of the success of some people. The book recognizes some factors that lead to success while conveniently ignoring others, like wealth and position. The chapter entitled Marita's Bargain describes the day-to-day life of a middle school girl who attends a corporate public charter school. Gladwell makes it clear that her experience is typical of that of other students who attend KIPP. Below are some excerpts from Gladwell's telling of her story.

Marita begins:

I wake up at five-forty-five a.m. to get a head start. I brush my teeth, shower. I get some breakfast at school, if I am running late. Usually get yelled at because I am taking too long. I meet my friends Diana and Steven at the bus stop, and we get on the number one bus.
Marita's morning is typical of most KIPP students. As if it were a point of pride with South Bronx KIPP Academy administrator David Levin, he polls Marita's music class of 70 students to find that three-quarters rose before 6:00 a.m., half of those before 5:30 a.m. One boy, Jose, wakes up at 3:00 - 4:00 a.m., finishes his homework, and then goes back to sleep for a bit.

Twelve-year-old Marita is African-American as are the majority of students at KIPP, the rest are Hispanic. She lives with her mother in a one bedroom apartment in the Bronx. She went to a parochial school until her mother heard about KIPP. As Marita recalls:

When I was in the fourth grade, me and one of my other friends Tanya applied to KIPP. I remember Miss Owens. She interviewed me, and the way she was saying made it sound so hard I thought I was going to prison. I almost started crying. And she was like, if you don't want to sign this, you don't have to sign this. But then my mom was right there, so I signed it.
Marita is at school weekdays from 7:25 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.(but some students stay until 7:00 p.m); Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.; and summers 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The school day breaks down like this: 30 minutes of thinking skills, 90 minutes of English, 90 minutes of math, 60 minutes of science, 60 minutes of social studies, 60 minutes of music twice a week, and 75 minutes of orchestra once a week. Levin proudly states that students at KIPP spend fifty to sixty percent more time learning in the classroom than students in traditional schools.

Marita continues to describe her day after school:

I leave school at five p.m. and if I don't lollygag around, then I will get home around five-thirty. Then I say hi to my mom really quickly and start my homework. And if it's not a lot of homework that day, it will take me two or three hours, and I'll be done around nine p.m. Or if we have essays, then I will be done like ten p.m., or ten-thirty p.m.

Sometimes my mom makes me break for dinner. I tell her I want to go straight through, but she says I have to eat. So around eight, she makes me break for dinner for like, a half hour, and then I get back to work. Then usually after that, my mom wants to hear about school, but I have to make it quick because I have to get in bed by eleven p.m. So I get all my stuff ready, and then I get into bed. I tell her all about the day and what happened, and by the time we are finished, she is on the brink of sleeping, so that's probably around eleven-fifteen. Then I go to sleep, and the next morning we do it all over again. We are in the same room. But it's a huge bedroom and you can split it into two, and we have beds on the other sides. Me and my mom are very close.

Sometimes I don't go to sleep when I'm supposed to. I go to sleep at, like, twelve o'clock and the next afternoon, it will hit me. And I will doze off in class. But then I have to wake up because I have to get the information. I remember I was in one class, and I was dozing off and the teacher saw me and said, "Can I talk to you after class?" And he asked me "Why were you dozing off?" And I told him I went to sleep late. And he was, like, "You need to go to sleep earlier."

Although Gladwell writes profusely about how expertise in one's field is achieved after 10,000 hours of study, mentoring, and practice in one's chosen profession, he fails to mention that Levin has no education background or expertise and that KIPP hires people, many of whom are Teach for America corps members who lack education credentials, to staff its schools. They seem to think that more time and more tasks make a better educated student. In other words, the administration and staff of KIPP schools have no idea how to educate children, and students like Marita are paying the price for it.

Gladwell summarizes his observation of Marita with these words:

She has the hours of a lawyer trying to make partner, or a medical resident. . . Marita's life is not the life of a typical twelve-year-old. Children, we like to believe, should have time to play and dream and sleep. Marita has responsibilities . . . Her community does not give her what she needs. So what does she have to do? Give up her evenings and weekends and friends -- all the elements of her old world -- and replace them with KIPP.
Marita has responsibilities! Kids must be held accountable or else thier teachers will lose her jobs and the community will lose its school. Marita has HUGE responsibilities!

Marita admits to having no friends in her neighborhood since she enrolled at KIPP. Yet, knowing full well the the enormity of the price Marita must pay for her education, Gladwell gushes over KIPP:

The miracle school that transforms losers into winners is, of course, all too familiar. It's the stuff of inspirational books and sentimental Hollywood movies.
According to Gladwell, a KIPP education is a gift to kids like Marita, a bargain for the promise of a better future. How could Marita's commitment be a bad bargain? Children like Marita are lucky to have a school like KIPP.

KIPP is a national network of 99 KIPP public schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia enrolling more than 26,000 students.

KIPP schools gained national prominence when President George W. Bush appointed Rod Paige Secretary of Education. Paige was the first to give credence to KIPP, even though it was only a couple of years old at the time and had no track record of excellence. For some inexplicable reason, President Obama has chosen to follow the misguided direction chosen by his predecessor. Do President Obama and First Lady Michelle choose Marita's life for their daughters? (There is a KIPP in Washington, D.C.) Does Arne Duncan choose such a life for his children? Does Bill Gates, who funds such schools, send his children off to KIPP? NO. They all choose expensive, elite private schools for their children. That's why it makes no sense that they support corporate charter schools for our poorest children of color. The practice smacks of racism and elitism. Even if the aforementioned parents did send their children off to KIPP and insisted they adhere to the life schedule required of Marita, all day - every day, educators like me cannot support such a program. It's cruel. We need to strengthen and enrich community schools, not abandon them in favor of dreadful, misguided charters like KIPP.

In explaining KIPP's perceived success, Gladwell expounds:

The Kipp program represents one of the most promising new educational philosophies in the United States. But its success is best understood not in terms of its curriculum, its teachers, its resources, or some kind of institutional innovation. KIPP is, rather, an organization that has succeeded by taking the idea of cultural legacies seriously.
In chapters previous to "Marita's Bargain" in Outliers, Gladwell describes several cultural legacies. Among them, a rice paddy culture found in China/Asia and another, the Italian-American community of Roseto, Pennsyvania. KIPP, he says, is based on a rice paddy culture. Without going into detailed explanations here, suffice it to say, KIPP has chosen the model of the ancient, back-breaking life of the Chinese rice paddy workers for our poorest children. (To fully understand his convoluted logic connecting the rice paddy culture to KIPP, one must delve more deeply into the book.) In another chapter, Gladwell describes a culture rich in tradition, a community interwoven with intricate layers of support for its members. Roseto is a healthy, happy community with a particularly egalitarian ethos, a community which discourages the wealthy from flaunting their success and helps the unsuccessful obscure their failures. This educator prefers Roseto-like communities to rice paddy cultures. Why doesn't Gladwell? Why don't our government leaders?

If we require our most vulnerable students to pay for their education by sacrificing their childhood and community, what does that say about Americans as a people? Roseto or rice paddies? The answer is easy for me. All children deserve to attend nice schools with before and after school childcare in their own communities. They deserve a reasonable school day, week and year. They are children, after all. They deserve to be taught by professional teachers who know how kids learn. And, they deserve time to be kids, to play, to dream, to make friends, and to be free to make their own choices having nothing to do with school and tests.

This is the KIPP mantra that Levin requires students to chant regularly:

Knowledge is power
Power is money
And I want it.

Would you send your child to this school?

KIPP is only the tip of the iceberg. Many other CMO's, or corporate management organizations, exist -- robbing the education treasury of precious dollars, the teaching profession of precious jobs, and children of an irreplaceable childhood. A list of CMOs (incomplete but growing) may be found at EdWatch at Great Schools for America.

We must do right by our children -- all our children. We can do better. We have a choice. Rice paddies or Roseto?

Originally posted to annie em on Tue Feb 07, 2012 at 06:16 AM PST.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge.

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