Is public school for sale? This is the topic of Bill Moyer's recent interview with Diane Ravitch. On this week’s Moyers & Company, she explains, ”I think what’s at stake is the future of American public education. I believe it is one of the foundation stones of our democracy. So, an attack on public education is an attack on democracy.” She has become the nation's fiercest opponent of charter schools and the movement to privatize our public schools. While Ravitch gives an overall view of the public school crisis, it seems prudent to look at the most revered charter school network, up-close and personal -- KIPP. What is KIPP like? How much has it cost students, parents, teachers, communities, the country and our democracy? Let's take a look at KIPP.
KIPP celebrates its 20th anniversary this year (2014). KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, is a national network of 141 charter schools now serving over 50,000 students. For comparison, think of a school district the about the size of Seattle Public Schools spread out across the country. In the early 2000's, with virtually no track record for excellence, KIPP gained national attention when it was praised by then Secretary of Education under George W. Bush, Rod Paige. Charter schools were clearly on the agenda, and KIPP was chosen to be the flagship charter management organization. KIPP Foundationwas formed to support KIPP schools shortly thereafter. KIPP has been thriving off private charity and public dollars ever since. In addition to the per pupil expenditure provided by the government to all public schools, KIPP schools receive millions more in public support.
Now may be the opportune time to reflect on the darling charter school network of the reform movement. As KIPP leads the charge to the tipping point that will signal victory to the billionaire bullies on a quest to privatize our public schools, shouldn't we ask hard questions about KIPP? Are we sacrificing the quality of life of poor minority children in order to promote an education regime we wouldn't want for our own children? Are we pouring millions of dollars into a school network that cheats children out of childhood? If KIPP is the model to which all schools should aspire, will millions more be invested into all other public schools? What is the moral and financial cost of KIPP?
A Little Background on KIPP
This is a chant students are required to repeat in unison at KIPP. What lesson are they learning?
Knowledge is power
Power is money
And I want it.
Ready for a field trip kids? Pile in!
Shamelessly promoting KIPP schools in Work Hard. Be Nice, author Jay Mathews regales us with tales about how co-founders Michael Feinberg and David Levin, originally Teach for America corps members, began their careers by lying about their credentials to get teaching jobs. Soon, they courted low-income Hispanic parents to enroll children in their two KIPP classrooms by promising “field lessons” to students. When Levin and Feinberg finally did take their students on a field trip at the end of the school year, half of them were transported to an amusement park in a U-Haul type van – that's right, the kind of truck that has no windows or seats; the kind of truck used to move furniture. The two faux teachers hadn’t raised enough money for transportation so they stuffed students into a moving van and trucked them to the park.
While professional teachers would likely have lost their licenses for such outrageous conduct, Levin and Feinberg suffered no consequences. Their blatant disregard for what is best for students is a tradition that continues at KIPP today, even as it is hailed as a model school and receives millions and millions of foundation and tax dollars to scale-up the program. Is KIPP worth the cost?
A Bargain for KIPPsters?
Before examining the financial cost of KIPP, spending a moment to assess the toll exacted on its students may be warranted. A day in the life of a KIPP student (KIPPster) has been well documented. For example, in Outliers
Malcolm Gladwell tells the story in a chapter called “Marita’s Bargain," explaining that poor kids need longer school days accompanied by hours of homework, Saturday school, and year-round school in order to succeed. Many rich people agree with Gladwell's assessment that KIPP is a bargain for kids living in poverty . (I have written about Gladwell’s view on KIPP in an open letter to President Obama
.) Privileged people seem to have peculiar and perplexing perspectives on what is best for underprivileged minority children. From Outliers
about a young KIPP student:
She had the hours of a lawyer trying to make partner, or a medical resident. All that was missing were the dark circles under her eyes and a steaming cup of coffee, except that she was too young for either.
Marita’s life is not the life of a typical twelve-year-old. Nor is it what we would necessarily wish for a 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. . .
It should be noted that neither Levin or Feinberg, nor co-conspirators Richard Barth (KIPP Foundation) and his wife Wendy Kopp (Teach for America), who supply KIPP with leaders and teachers, send their kids to the neighborhood KIPP school. Perhaps their lottery numbers just never came up. Or, could they prefer that their own children have time to "play and dream and sleep"?
Among other troubling features of KIPP are its preferences for apartheid as demonstrated by segregating poor black and brown children into separate schools, for totalitarian corporate governance, and for implacable treatment of teachers, but these are topics for another discussion.
To say that the KIPP philosophy is amoral would be an understatement. To say that KIPP management has no sense of what is best for children would be euphemistic. To say that most KIPP staffers are not educators would be the truth. KIPP has created 50,000 "Marita's" this year, many as young as six years old -- that's 50,000 stolen childhoods. Is that too dear a price to charge children for what should be their right to a free and equitable education? If the billionaire bullies, who are perpetuating this farcical charter scheme, had to compensate poor children for the misery they've caused them, they'd all be paupers.
KIPP by the Numbers
What about the money? What does Kipp do with all those millions of extra dollars that traditional schools do without? An examination of KIPP 990s submitted to the Internal Revenue Service reveals some puzzling answers while posing some interesting questions.
- KIPP Foundation, headed by Richard Barth, became a tax exempt corporation in 2007 and has amassed net assets of more than $31 million
- KIPP NYC, David Levin's enclave of charter schools in New York City has accumulated nearly $18 million in net assets.
- KIPP, Inc., Michael Feinberg's charter empire in Houston, Texas has net assets of over $22 million.
Not to mention assets belonging to the hundred or so other KIPP schools. Much of KIPP's assets come from the generosity of Uncle Sam -- that is, you and me. For example, KIPP Foundation was awarded a $50 million grant
from the U.S. Department of Education in 2010. That's in addition to other government grants and to the millions KIPP gets in per pupil expenditures each year. KIPP also receives millions from private charitable foundations. Except for the fact that it is supported by government funds and some quirky governance rules made specifically for charter schools, KIPP is a private corporation. It is called a public school only because some elite politicians and businessmen say it is. Assets that would normally be owned by the public have fallen prey to private organizations like KIPP that are formed, not with the altruistic ideal of a great education for kids, but with the greedy aspirations of acquiring more wealth for their already wealthy benefactors. If KIPP is indeed a public school, as its originators proclaim, who owns it? How and why have its assets grown so substantially in a relatively short period of time? Why isn't more of the wealth spent on supporting its students instead of its management? Has Seattle Public Schools (or any other school district) accumulated assets so quickly?
Salaries and Such
Michael Feinberg, David Levin, Wendy Kopp, and Richard Barth are collectively paid nearly $2 million annually for their contributions to KIPP.
- Michael Feinberg works 30 hours a week for KIPP Foundation at San Francisco for $196,117; 50 hours at KIPP, Inc. in Houston for $216,865 for a total of 80 hours and $412,982 annually.
- David Levin works 30 works hours a week at KIPP Foundation in San Francisco for $175,000; 50 hours at KIPP New York City for $243,189; 5 hours at Uncommon Knowledge and Achievement for $50,000 NYC; and an unspecified amount at Relay Graduate School of Education NYC for a total of 85 hours+ and $468,189+ annually.
- Wendy Kopp works for Teach for America (also Teach for All, Teach for China, and Broad Center for Management of School Systems) supplying uncertified corps members to serve as teachers at KIPP for which she is compensated $468,452 annually. KIPP schools would not be sustainable without the overworked, underpaid faux teachers provided by TFA. Wendy's a busy girl and extremely well-compansated for having zero education credentials.
- Richard Barth works 60 hours a week at KIPP Foundation in San Francisco (while living in New York) and is compensated $374,868 annually. He, too, has zero education credentials.
All are members of various other education organization boards that promote the reform agenda. One might wonder when they
sleep. One might also wonder if the commute from their homes in New York City and Houston to the KIPP Foundation in San Francisco is a regular one for Richard, Mike, and Dave. Or, do they just phone it in? Barth, Levin, and Feinberg aren't the only ones at KIPP taking home big, fat pay checks. Many KIPP employees make more than $100,000 a year, but sadly, only a piddling are teachers. And, what are all those $25,000 donations to individuals all about? Does Seattle Public Schools pay their staff comparably?
Disney Swan and Dolphin Hotel (top) and Red Rock Hotel and Casino have served as accommodations for KIPP teachers and leaders during training times.
Over the past six years, since receiving tax-exempt status, KIPP Foundation has spent nearly $16 million on travel. You are probably thinking, "WOW! That's more than $300 per KIPPster! They can go on several great trips doing field lessons each year. And, they can travel in real buses, trains, and planes." Sadly, that is not the case. Millions of dollars are spent each year accommodating KIPP faux teachers and leaders at exclusive resorts: Opryland Hotel and the Disney Swan and Dolphin Hotel in 2012; Rio Suite Hotel and Casino in 2011; Marriott in 2010; Hyatt in 2009; Scottsdale Fairmont, Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas, Chicago Hilton in 2008; and Marriott, Palmer House, Fairmont, and Red Rock Casino in 2007.
In recent years, KIPP Foundation has hired Mathematica Policy Research
for consulting and research purposes. In the world of education reform, Mathematica provides the best research money can buy. KIPP started out small offering only a half-million-dollar contract in 2009 and then another in 2010. They upped the ante to a million in 2011 and sprung for a whopping $3,000,000 contract in 2012. From the KIPP website:
In 2013, Mathematica released the second reportfrom their multi-year study of KIPP middle schools. This report represents the most rigorous and in-depth research on KIPP to date. The report stated that the magnitude of KIPP’s achievement impacts is substantial.
KIPP also pays out millions in consulting fees which are usually neatly hidden away on their tax returns as "Other" expenses. According to 2007 KIPP Foundation 990s here and here, David Levin was being paid a six-figure salary as co-founder of KIPP Foundation, another six-figure salary for consulting with KIPP Foundation, and yet another six-figure salary for acting as superintendent of KIPP schools in New York City. Nice work if you can get it, especially for the man who grades students on character. In 2008, form 990 was changed to merge the five highest paid professional contractors with other contractors. Since other contracts for construction, technology, and, apparently, travel are usually higher than professional fees, it's difficult to say whether the practice of consulting for your own organization continues or how widespread it is.
KIPP Foundation does give grants to its schools. After all, its mission is to support KIPP schools. Often times, funding provided to the schools goes to pay consultants as well. It is taxing to figure out how much of the KIPP budget is spent on consulting, but it is safe to say that it is much more than is spent directly on KIPPsters.
As Diane Ravitch points out in the interview, charter schools market themselves as public schools when they depend on tax dollars for support, but claim to be private corporations when an audit looms near, often escaping scrutiny. Nevertheless, not all KIPP schools have escaped as some audits have revealed. David Levin has had an aversion to audits since 2007 when the New York Daily News
reported that an audit showed his charter had spent $68,000 on staff retreats.
A Bronx charter school spent nearly $68,000 on "staff development" retreats in the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, a scathing new audit shows.
Although officials at the KIPP Academy Charter School insist the trips were educational and paid for by private donations, state Controller Thomas DiNapoli said his office couldn't verify the claims because of sloppy bookkeeping. DiNapoli questioned why the high-achieving school - part of a national franchise - would splurge on trips to the Caribbean.
"Money intended for education should be spent on education," DiNapoli said.
KIPP still spends big money on retreats and travel and such, but management takes care to make sure the spendy good times don't make headlines.
KIPP is only one charter network. There are many, many more, but they all operate in much the same way: declare public schools to be failing; shut them down and replace them with charters; bust teacher's unions by churning unlicensed teachers in and out every couple of years; teach to the test; test, test, and then test some more; evaluate teachers based on student test scores; collect tons of student data; repeat.
All KIPP schools have not been listed and/or updated on EdWatch -- they keep springing up like Starbucks. To glean more information about KIPP through 990s submitted to the IRS, you may first look up the KIPP school you are interested in and then visit GuideStar or Foundation Center Online to access financial documents.
So, Are Our Public Schools for Sale?
Now more than ever, our public schools face the ultimate threat that could spell doom. The week following the Moyers-Ravitch interview hailed the United States Supreme Court decision on McCutcheon v. the Federal Elections Commission.
Five conservative justices gutted the the already fragile campaign finance law
to allow the mighty rich to handsomely bankroll more candidates. In the future schools board elections will likely be fraught with big money allowing the billionaire bullies to fund candidates who will be more than willing to close public schools and replace them with charters. This phenomenon is already happening across the country and gained national attention in 2011 when former President George W. Bush campaigned against Emily Sirota
in Denver, Colorado. According to Emily
, who entered the race by hosting a pizza picnic and going door-to-door to solicit contributions as she talked to neighbors, she was flabbergasted when money from big oil and big banks flooded into her opponent's campaign coffer.
So, are our public schools for sale? At this point, FOR SALE is an euphemistic term. For sale implies that we, the public, have made a decision to sell. For sale means we own something of value, and we don't want it anymore so we are willing to sell it; that we will consider all offers and sell to the highest bidder and maybe even make a profit on the deal. Turnarounds and closures resulting in the creation of a charter school do not involve the public in any kind of meaningful discourse. Our public schools are being given away as fast as reformers can shut them down and open a charter in their place. The public collects nothing in return except disillusioned students, displaced teachers, and broken communities. We lose a little bit of democracy each time a transaction is made without public participation. Our public schools are not being sold, the public is being sold out.
Isn't it time for reformers to recognize that charter schools aren't working -- that the cost is too great. They are harmful to poor, minority children and novice teachers. They are harmful to our democracy. They bleed money away from public schools. Isn't it time for reformers to take stock and say, "We were wrong. We have no business in education." Literally.
Below is the dynamic interview with Bill Moyers and Dianne Ravitch plus the web-extra which has even more intriguing information. In closing Bill asks the toughest question, and Diane responds with the bravest answer. Watch the entire interview to know what we're up against, and then join in Network for Public Education to get involved.
BILL MOYERS: When you were in the Bush administration, Assistant Secretary of Education, you were critical of public schools. You were beginning to say, "We should have choice in education."
Public Schools for Sale?
And you were with all those conservative think-tanks for a number of years, thinking through these issues. And then you come out so strongly, having changed your mind. Was there a moment, an experience, an "aha" drama that turned you around?
DIANE RAVITCH: Well, there wasn't a single moment. And it wasn't in a flash that it all came to me that it was all wrong. In the early 2000s, after No Child Left Behind was enacted, starting about, well, 2005, 2006, I realized No Child Left Behind's not working. And, from that point forward all the misgivings I had began to come together. It was a process really of years of saying, "I was wrong." And in these times, in this society, it is so unusual to have somebody say those three words, "I was wrong." And, it didn't happen overnight, but I was wrong, and I'm going to do the best I can for what time remains for me to try to set things right.
Web Extra: Public Schools for Sale?
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