Wednesday, August 24,2010, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (who has no education credentials) announced the winners of Race to the Top, an education lottery with a prize of $4.35 billion to be shared among the winners. Those selected to share the prize are the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island. Delaware and Tennessee were winners in the first round as well.
What kind of an education will billions of dollars spread around here and there buy for our children? Certainly not an equitable one.
What kind of education will all those billions buy?
Before answering that question, perhaps an answer to this one is appropriate. What do other states get — many of which condescended to the teacher-bashing, extortion-like demands of Duncan and the Billionaire Boys Club? They get nothing, nada, zilch, zip, squat, nil, zero, scratch. And what about all those students in all those schools in all those 41 states that didn”t win? They get nothing, too.
So, what does a billion dollars sprinkled here and there buy?
Much of the funding will go to corporate charter schools owned by the Billionaire Boys, further depleting the resources of already cash-strapped non-charter public schools in states that did win. It”s a lose-lose situation for children everywhere unless one considers a corporate charter school education the one we want for our children.
In his book Outliers (2008), author of best-sellers The Tipping Point and Blink, Malcolm Gladwell observes and lauds the education provided by one such corporate management organization (CMO) as tells the story of a middle school girl at the first KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Academy in New York City”s South Bronx. While Gladwell praises the work of KIPP, as do other rich and powerful people, professional educators are horrified by what is being considered a great education. Much of the Race to the Top funding will be awarded to CMOs like KIPP.
Outliers is a simplistic analysis of the success of some people. The book recognizes some factors that lead to success while conveniently ignoring others. The chapter entitled Marita”s Bargain describes the day-to-day life of a middle school child who attends a corporate public charter school. Gladwell makes it clear that her experience is typical of that of other students who attend KIPP.
This is Marita”s story through Gladwell”s lens:
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.
As if it were a point of pride with South Bronx KIPP Academy administrator David Levin, he polled 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 the 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. In other words, the administration and staff of KIPP schools have no idea how to educate children, and children 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 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.
How could Marita”s commitment be a bad bargain? According to Gladwell, a KIPP education is a gift to kids like Marita, a bargain for the promise of a better future.
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 schools in Texas. For some inexplicable reason, President Obama has chosen to follow the misguided direction chosen by his predecessor. Would President Obama and First Lady Michelle choose Marita”s life for their daughters? Would Arne Duncan choose such a life for his children? Would Bill Gates who funds such schools send his children off to KIPP? My guess is no. That”s why it makes no sense to support corporate charter schools for our poorest children of color. The practice smacks of racism and elitist classism. Even if I did see those particular parents sending their children off to a KIPP charter school and requiring them to adhere to the life schedule they have required of Marita, all day every day, I still could not support such a program. It”s cruel. Real educators could never support KIPP. We need to strengthen and enrich communities, not abandon them.
KIPP is only the tip of the iceberg. Many other CMO”s, or corporate management corporations, exist — robbing the treasury of precious funding needed by neighborhood schools. A growing list may be found at Great Schools for America.
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 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. Professional educators prefer Roseto-like communities to rice paddy cultures. Why doesn”t our government?
It isn”t difficult to figure out why the Billionaire Boys favor rice paddies over happy healthy, thriving communities. They want to enslave us. They want more money. They can”t get enough.
But, what about our government? 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?
So, I”m asking you, President Obama, and you, Congress. Roseto or rice paddies? Are you righteous or racist?
We must do right by our children — all of our children. We can do better. We must. We have a choice.’