Transparency At a Charter School- Clearly a Beautiful Thing (also see blog dated 2/19/2009)

As I was researching a number of items in relationship to previous blogs on college graduation rates and student mobility as it relates to school test scores and year over year turnover of students and staff, I stumbled on a FAQ within KIPP.   I began reading the document to see exactly what was going on at KIPP Fresno that would require specific answers on the KIPP website.   Above is the full document.  I respect KIPP Foundation for being open about this situation and allowing this to be publicly reviewed on line – this takes courage to be critically viewed by outsiders.   It is my hope that not only KIPP Foundation, but all charter school organizations learn something valuable from this document – never should children and teachers have to be subjected to so much mediocrity and actual violations to get charter schools up and running to raise test scores.   There seems to be something so counter intuitive here to what charter schools are about.   I would like to know how Mike and Dave resolved this situation (besides getting rid of the principal) and what steps they have taken to avoid KIPP from ever having to face this at other charter schools in their system.

Although I did not have my ridiculous charter school experience related in a previous blog with KIPP, it is interesting that there are some similar situations and more interesting is that both charter schools are non-union, which is why most of these shenanigans are allowed.  My anecdotals are based on my own experiences with another charter school system and conversations with teacher colleagues and friends who have also taught for yet other schools, unrelated to KIPP or my charter school.  I am open to commentary from others to this blog of situations where charter schools do not operate as noted since I am positive there are many great charter schools out there – I have subbed at some.  Unfortunately the urgency to open and propagate charter schools has left oversight in the dust, as can be seen in this one unfortunate example.

I will do my best to relate my experiences with a charter school to what I have read in the above document and anecdotally comment on the possibility that a child and/or parent may be exaggerating in some instances.  It is clear there were a group of parents focused on an ouster of this principal so allegations can be made that are in fact false, but from the mouth of babes, many a pot of sludge is stirred.  In other instances  I observed, worked through, etc. similar situations as charter schools are not ‘regulated’ in the sense one might think.  As an example here, the school governing body was not able to work with KIPP and/or FUSD to solve some reasonable problems.

I faced a somewhat different battle. Some of the parents on the school governing body where I taught were enamoured with the school principal and so often allowed for his peculiar behaviors and made excuses, as long as it benefitted their child in some manner. Ultimately I believe there were forces beyond anything I was experiencing and I was not aware of as the  then principal moved ‘laterally/somewhat upward’ in the charter school organization at the end of that school year. Without anything more than a gut feeling, I suspect my principal was moved much in the way the principal above was ‘moved’ to salvage anything which could be salvaged at the school (teachers, teacher morale, students, etc.).  I have kept the documentation of e-mails I sent to the charter school corporate offices in the event something comes out about my past  principal and anyone has the gall to say they ‘never saw it coming’.

P. 2 of 63 in document – second paragraph                Sadly, most charter school boards are either not aware or sufficeintly informed of their role and responsibilities to he school.  It is easy for both the principal and the charter school organization to use this lack of information to manipulate situations at the school.    It was nice to see that FUSD decided to have the charter school board properly trained so they could do their job in the best interest of the students.

P. 2 of 63 in document – third paragraph     It is unfortunate that even when the charter school board wanted the principal to address and take action about specific situations, the principal was not held accountable. In addition the FUSD could not assist the charter school board to hold the principal accountable.   Since the principal is in some way a part of the charter, the KIPP foundation would not remove the principal as it would effectively collapse the charter school.  There is clearly something missing in the ed code that would allow this principal to continue when the charter school board asked for his removal, the NAACP visited the school and had concerns and the charter school foundation would not dismiss the principal in spite of all the attached documentation.  This is  one example where charter schools are ‘differently’ accountable than regualr public schools and it is often portrayed as the charter school being a ‘school of choice’  so they can behave outside the frame of normal expectations at a public school.

p. 2 and 3 of 63     Where the parents are concerned about psychological punishment by the principal and/or school, I would have to say there is something wrong with the parents. The parents should have immediately pulled their student if this was their concern.   In addition, when CPS had to respond about an issue of  suicide threat, that would have been another indication the parents needed to remove their children from the school.  I hold the parents accountable for indulging the principal and KIPP foundation in some how manipulating them to keep the kids in the school.  It is not uncommon for charter schools to deploy psychological rebuttals to parents indicating the schools superior moral compass for what the parents are not willing to tolerate and the parents are ‘shamed’ into keeping the kids at the school.

p. 3 of 63   Where the teacher indicates upon interview she witnessed the principal violating ed code, it is likely the teacher was ‘manipulated’ not to say anything. Since charter schools are non-union, principals and charter school foundations ‘hide’ around this idea of being a school of choice so they are some how not beholden to ed code.   It is disappointing that the teacher did not (1) report this in writing to the KIPP Foundation and make a police report (2) resign her position as teacher.  By not taking action, the teacher in essence condoned the behavior.  Again, charter schools work at manipulating teachers to go along, especially new teachers who may not be familiar with ed code or have reason to question what the principal states.  Most charter school organizations have summer training that is somewhat cultish and works at convincing teachers their principal is their ‘friend’ and the work of the charter school is of great moral conviction and so you must buy in or you don’t ‘belong on the bus’ to quote Jim Collins in  From Good to Great 

  • ISBN-10: 0066620996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0066620992
  • Although Jim Collins wrote a version for non-profits (of which charter schools generally are), this is perhaps the bibical text of charter schools and crosses the boundaries of business with education in many ways that are impractical.  Making teachers feel ‘special’ for being selected for the specific charter school bus denies the fact that ANYONE can, and often is easily replaceable.  It is false pretense used to inculcate the value of charter schools and why teachers unions are evil.

    p. 5 of 63    While I would be willing to bet many of the childrens complaints here are exaggerated (taping to chair, slamming student to wall), I do have to say I have witnessed some pretty unsavory behavior from teachers and principals in the name of ‘tough love’.   I have been party to the line up and marching the playground until the line is straight.  I believe it is some form of corporaal punishment.  Again, when I brought it to the attention of superiors, it was made abundantly clear to me charter schools are schools of choice and this is for the childs own good.   I was shunned for my dissension.  If the parents do not agree, they can take their child to the ‘shoddy’ public school down the street.

    p. 6 of 63    Item 2     I have seen this and similar other manipulations used on inappropriate student behaviors.  If students did not wear a belt with their uniform, they were given a piece of rope to hold up the pants.  I have seen students have to wear their shirts inside out or borrow a specific shirt from the office that in some bold color indicates they have violated the ‘uniform’  code or some other infraction.

    Item 7      Review the comments I made above on p. 5 of 63.  While students may have exaggerated the length of time out in the sun or in line up, I have witnessed as much as 30 minutes.

    p. 7  of 63  Item  1   in 2006/2007, Item 2    2007/2008,  p. 8   Item 5 and 6         See comment above on p. 3 of 63

    p. 7   of 63 Item 8  See comment on p. 2 and 3 above

    p. 7   of 63 paragraph 1          KIPP chose to ‘incorporate’ the relevant ed code into the charter.   It is a positive to see they were willing to incorporate the ed code, it is sad that they were able to apparently skirt the ed code.

    p. 9   of 63 Item 1      I have seen a group of students sent to a bathroom to evaluate an incidence of vandalism.  I do not believe the students were in the bathroom for more than a few minutes, however, the students who committed the vandalism were required to remedy the problem.   I do not believe the number of children who went in the bathroom were more than 10.

    p. 9   of 63  Item 2   See comment above on p. 3

    p. 10  of 63 Item 4    Please take a look at    Staying at school until 10 or 11 PM is in the eye of the beholder as punishment or transformative.

    p. 10 of 63  Item 5    I have had this related to me as happening at other KIPP and other charter school systems.

    p. 10 of 63  Item 6     This often occured at my school and what the principal ‘wanted’ was what happened, independent of comments from the charter school board or teachers.   Teachers were often talked to in ‘private’ by the principal if they did not support his particular point of view for any reason.

    p. 10 of 63  Item 7    See comment above on  p. 3 of 63

    p. 11  of 63  paragraph 2, 3 and 4  See commet above on p. 2 of 63

    p. 12 of 63  paragraph 2   See comments of p. 2 and 3 above

    p. 12 of 63   Item 8    This is a fairly common form of behavior modification used by charter schools.  I have observed this and had it referred to as ‘in house’ suspension.

    p. 13 of 63   Item 10  This is common at charter schools. Students may use facilities between classes, at lunch and breaks. Most often this is because there are many problems which occur in bathrooms when students are out of class.  I have never been in a situation where I had to deny a child the right to use a bathroom, however, I have heard from other teachers they view using the bathroom during class time a privilege, not a right.  Note at the end of this item the teacher indicates they tried not to have students ‘miss instruction’ which is typically code for not being out of class. It is difficult to imagine doing 50 minutes of direct instruction.  In addition, I have found that charter schools do not seem to have adequate bathroom facilities. At the school I taught at, the visiting district speech pathologist wanted to report us for having a poor quality staff bathroom, as if we had control over a building we were renting from the district.

    p. 14 Item 11  Most principals have this issue at charter schools.  It is not specifically an age issue as much as an experience issue.   See notes above on p. 3 and the author Jim Collins  From Good to Great.  This book endorses getting the right people on the bus which is code for ‘get people who will not question authority and don’t know better about what they are being asked to do at a charter school’.   More often then not, charter school teachers are recently graduated teachers who may not have even completed teacher .  It s very difficult to get experienced teachers to tolerate violations of ed code and human rights.  I find it positive that this principal called a spade a spade – he is definitely one of the few. In addition, older, more experienced teachers tend to be married and/or have children and responsibilities outside their job which means they can not be seen as ‘committed’ to the long hours required at charter schools.  I had a principal try to get me to understand that the mere fact I was questioning anything meant I was not a ‘believer’ and was letting down my colleagues.

    p. 14 of 63  Item `13   Ed code violation. I don’t understand this at all. Considering we can’t have peanuts in classrooms, it would seem any one would realize that medication could affect some one in a negative manner.  Perhaps the KIPP training at this school was insufficient.

    p. 15 of 63  Item 14  See comments of p. 10  Item 4 above

    p. 15 of 63 Item 15   I believe all schools, charter or otherwise are responsible for their own books – which is supposed to be the advantage.  Each principal is in charge of their school and budget and the principal is encouraged to do what is best for his school.  Perhaps in this instance, the principal went above and beyond.

    p. 15 of 63  Item 16   This could well be an exaggeration. All teachers and principals have had interactions with parents that were so inappropriate (on the parents end of the conversation) that the parents have to be warned to not yell, not use foul language, not threaten, etc.  If the parents do not comply and they have been warned, it is common practice to hang up the phone until the parent can get a grip.

    p. 15 of 63  Item 17  Please see my blog  “Is This Part Of The New TRANSPARENCY” on April 17, 2009. You can make your own opinion about how administrators handle the N, G and R words.

    p. 15 and 16 of 63  Item 18   Again, it is apparent KIPP did not do adequate training regarding the ed code and/or use of common sense.

    p. 16 of 63  Item 19  This is common at charter schools. The food would get in the way of instructional minutes.

    p. 16 of 63  Item 20 second paragraph   I have observed teachers and administration not accept work that was not done in a specific, designated manner. The student could be given a zero or reduced grade for no name, heading, date, etc. I have not seen an assignment ripped up, rather it was returned to student and they were told to re-do assignment for the sake of learning or for partial credit.

    p. 17 of 63  Item 22   Exaggeration by parent.   Responsible parents know report cards go out shortly after school is done and not receiving one means they need to contact the school, not assume the school is making sure the parent is checking their mail.  In addition, it is common for students to raid the mail and make report cards or other notices disappear if they know it will cause problems for them. Some schools require parents of students with poor grades to come to the school and sign for receiving the report card.

    p. 17 of 63  Item 23  Please see my blog  “Is This Part Of The New TRANSPARENCY” on April 17, 2009. You can make your own opinion about how administrators handle the N, G and R words.

    p. 17  of 63 Item 23 third paragraph – Can be exaggeration by parent. A responsible parent would do things in writing and make sure their childs work was collected. Considering teachers at KIPP have cell phones so students can call until fairly late in the evening, it seems the parent and student were not being responsible.

    p. 18 of 63  Items 24 and 25    Please see my blog  “Is This Part Of The New TRANSPARENCY” on April 17, 2009. You can make your own opinion about how administrators handle the N, G and R words.    At least there seems to be consistencty between what administration is saying and doing at KIPP Fresno.

    p. 18 of 63  Item 26   Most schools require a student to be in either another teachers classroom or the office where there is supervision for extended periods of  time out, especially if student is upset and this is what is causing the disruption.  Giving a student time out is normal and reasonable so students who want to learn can be focused. Teachers are often asked about putting a student out because the student is missing instructional time and it is up to the teacher to ‘control’ all aspects of the class.  Teachers are expected to control situations that are often beyond all reason.

    p. 18 of 63    Item 28  This would seem to be a student exaggeration of distance. Furthermore, what on earth is a principal doing shuttling kids to school, much less a female.  This may be part of KIPP   ‘whatever it takes’ and hopefully the parent(s) authorized the principal to drive the kid in his car and saw that he had adequate insurance.  In any event, if you need to bring the child to school, dropping them off anywhere short of the school parking lot is dangerous.  This should have been a reason for the parents to remove their child from this school.

    p. 19-21 of 63  South Park Episode   Again, this seems to be a lack of training by KIPP and lack of principal/teacher knowledge of the ed code.

    p. 22 of 63   Glad to see the principal was encouraged to take further education/child development classes.  I believe the classes would be effective for this individual if they were in person and not on line classes.  At this point, I would also question why this principal did not have these classes under his belt for his administrative and teaching credential unless, because charter schools can hire who they choose as administrators, he was not an educator by formal training.

     p. 23 of 63   Suspensions and Suspension Procedures based on data from school years 2004-o8        In this particular situation, it seems The KIPP Foundation dropped the ball on so many levels one can not begin to count.  This situation occurs when charter school corporations are busy opening new charter schools and quality goes out the window.  In addition, I have heard the following expression used to explain how charter schools work:  It is like doing engineering repairs on a plane while it is flying in the sky – you have to be careful!  See above comments on p.2 of 63 regarding school board

    p. 24 of 63   Various suspension issues that violated the school charter    2004-2005 – I have observed students marching the yard and standing in line at the school I taught at, however, never for more than 1/2 hour.  No matter how short the time, this is in effect, corporal punishment .   School year 2005-2006   please see comments above on p. 3 regarding teacher manipulation.  I would imagine this teacher either was afraid to complain, did not have anyone at KIPP Foundation to complain to or did not entirely realize the issues.   I would imagine this teacher was written off at the end of the year and is no longer with KIPP for not supporting her principal, in spite of her knowing right from wrong.  2006 -2007   See my blog of April 17, 2009 called Is This The New TRANSPARENCY?   It is common that parents or school board at charter and/or public schools are never made aware of this type of situation as it affects the ‘numbers’.   2007-2008  Items 2-5   I have observed similarities of these themes except for children being sent home for the day for not snitching.   Item 5 specifically was true at the school where I taught as the principal never seemed to know what end was up.  Due to the inconsistent standards for disciplining students, the behavior on any given day could swing high and low depending on the principals whim.  My principal did not want students to miss instructional minutes so would tolerate all but the most egregious behavior from students and expect teachers to get on with teaching.

    p. 26-28  Law/Charter Violation     This seems to be a situation where KIPP was just not on the ball and doing their work at the Foundation level.  The fact that these situations went on year over year for four years is a complete lack of  professionalism by KIPP  and very much what I observed within the charter school system I worked for.  Anything ‘wrong’  was always noted as ‘teething pains’ and a learning experience rather than the charter school system having the courage to do what was right/correct for students and teaching staff.

    p. 29 of 36  Board Composition Issues  Fact 1- 4

    I dealt with these issues at the school I taught at. It was often difficult to get a full board for a meeting and people were ‘appointed’ by the principal rather than elected by the parents of the school.  I was the teacher representative on the board and specifically related to Fact 4, heard my own principal state similar things about parents on the board when he felt they were not supporting his wishes/desires.

    p. 30-31  Credentialing    It has been my experience that charter schools can hire people with a variety of credentials and credentials per se, do not matter.  Case in point, a college professor with a PhD in the sciences  was asked to teach science with me. The professor questioned the arrangement and the university he worked for was willing to ‘validate’ his experience so he could teach at the middle school level. My charter school organization had no issue with this.  Likewise, my charter school organization hired a practicing attorney on sabbatical to teach, again, without credentials.  How this was able to fly under the CDE radar is still of great amazement to me. Both of these teaching colleagues were outstanding; unfortunately they were never made aware of what they were getting into and both left before the middle of the school year.    These two examples were only at the school I taught at – it is quite possible that these circumstances were much more common throughout my charter school system and I was not aware.  There is a rather odd relationship between charter schools and credentialing.  Charter school principals have been given wide lattitude on who they hire to be the right people on the bus.  What is more egregious to me is that the charter school organizations, in this case KIPP were not in the professional practice of reviewing credentials, which are online and anyone can review with the DOB and SS number of he applicant.  CDE may be slow on processing credentials and performing matriculation as they themselves struggle to keep up with the laws, legislation and practices, however this is no excuse for the charter school organization to hire inappropriately, especially when these schools are stating they are trying to ‘change’ education malfeasance.

    In addition to all the general credentialing issuesand  demonstrating a teacher is highly qualified, there are issues where by legislation allows a teacher to teach off credential as long as it is less than 50% of their teaching load.  Charter schools benefit from this practice in two ways. (1) School districts /charter school organizations were allowed to select how their teachers in middle school are credentialed. Choice A is by subject matter and you either have BA/BS in subject area and passed CSET or Choice B where all middle school teachers up to Gr 8 can use the equivalent of  a general credential with emphasis in a specific subject area by passing through so many units of course work.  Choice B was most often selected when Choice A was demonstrated to be difficult to fulfill, particularly in the areas of math and science.   (2) Since the ‘haziness’ surrounding the issue of credentialing changed daily (see blog  CLAD, CBEST, CTEL (not Rotel),CSET, SDAIE, BTSA, HOUSSE Points, social security windfall and STRS….published March 1, 2009) and charter schools basically fly under the radar, less than 50% of the teaching day could be interpreted in a number of ways, especially with block scheduling.  Less than 50% of the teaching load could be broken up in many fashions and when teachers and teaching assignments change year over year at most charter schools, the data gets ‘lost’, confused, massaged, etc. in hopes no one will notice and less people will complain as long as test scores go up.

    p. 33 of 63  Criminal background check issues     I am laughing hysterically as I type this. The security detail at the charter school I taught at was none other than the men of ‘Your Black Muslim Bakery’ in Oakland, now even more famous for the assasignation of Chauncey Bailey.  When I expressed to my then principal  (in a school staff meeting with all teachers present) these people made me feel ‘ishy’ which is my word for strange feeling, I was  later counseled privately by my then principal that I needed to learn how to deal with and serve the members of the community for which I was teaching (code for, you are a white racist woman).  The charter school organization that oversaw our school was well aware of this interesting security detail, however, felt that this was the most appropriate group of individuals to protect children in K-8 at a public school.  I did try to bring this to the attention of  Jaxon Vanderbecken and Nanette Asimov at SF Chronicle, however, they were not interested – it was not really news.  I can assure you the security detail at my school was not fingerprinted, so, I guess, one might say fingerprinting is in the eye of the beholder, in spite of what the ed code states.   Since I was new to N. CA, I was not aware of who ‘Your Black Muslim Bakery’ was and, truth be told, I bought food there.  When I later realized what was the ‘what’, I realized the ‘ishy’ feeling was apparently my sensitivity to the behavior of released felons, not actual issues of racism.

    p. 43 of 63   State Mandated Testing     Item 6 on p.44 and Items 10, 12, 13 on p. 45  are the same issues which I experienced at my charter school.  Since test scores are the all important factor in charter school success at this time, everything is done to improve scores within ‘reason’.  I sat in a staff meeting where the wink, wink/nudge, nudge was given to our RSP teacher (way to young to understand she had a right to say no) openly so that she would talk to parents of our special needs students about opting out of taking the tests since it would be so stressful.  I was absolutely appalled that the principal at this school was so open about his deceit and yet this is what charter school organizations expect.    Even after I had told my colleagues and principal in a staff meeting I would need some one to give me a break about every 45 minutes due to health issues (and doctors note), this was not done and in one e-mail I literally had to explain I had urine and blood running down my leg.   My principal wanted my students to hold their heads up and review their answers for any remaining time during the test. I sent multiple e-mails asking if the students could put their heads down and rest and was responded to each time with, “No, have them re-check their answers”.  What surprises me is that it took the KIPP organization so long to get on the ball with this school and then to feel comfortable with the test results after the fact.

    p. 49 of 63   Right to Privacy   Giving out a students home phone and address to anyone other than teaching staff is inappropriate and against the law.    This was often done at school so that parents could call other parents to remind them of a school board meeting, etc.  Often times parents at charter schools do not realize that the rules which apply to regular public schools also apply to charter schools and so this manipulation is done as a slight of hand. 

    page 49  of 63Item 1 and page 50 of 63 Item 6 Sadly, the issue of inappropriately touching a female student should have been dealt with in a manner requiring suspension, not merely an apology letter. Again, anything to sanitize the numbers.

    page 50 of 63  Item 7   At my school, the annual school survey of parents  was done when we had a big Saturday school gathering/bar-b-que or some other major event to get as many parents as possible to respond.  The surveys were directly related to the bonuses both teachers and the principal recieved so these were golden. We were asked to give away practically anything to get parents there to fill out the surveys……..It was definitely a pay to play scheme since bonuses were tied to the survey numbers.

    page 53 of 63  Transferring Students Off Campus Without Parental Permission     This section of the document is confusing and appears to at least, in part, have a cut and paste from the previous section……

    page 55 of 63   Copying Writte School Materials (copyright laws)   This is so common it is actually unbelievable.  I was asked by my principal to specifically copy a teachers edition of a science program for a teacher who was going to possibly adapt the curriculum for another school in our system.  I asked if  this other teacher could ask for a professional copy (most textbook companies, etc. will send one teacher copy for review) and was told, “No, it would take too much time and to just do the copying”.    Any consumable materials are supposed to be purchased each year. If you do not use all the consumable material, the logical instinct is to copy what you need from one book for the next year. This is a standard practice, including copying from text books when there are not enough at a particular school.  This is not surprising, nor sadly all that irregular for teachers who rely strictly on textbooks and consumable materials for teaching.

    page 58 of 63  Failure to Report Alleged Sexual Abuse

    This is again extremely common as it would hurt the school numbers.  I had a situation where some male students were calling a female Double D. At first I thought it might be the name of a singer/professional actor and then realized what the reference was to.  When brought to the attention of the principal I was told I was expecting too much from teenagers and give them a warning.   Further into the year we had a spirit week event.  One of the events was a dance contest called ‘Strut Your Stuff’.  One of the female students (Grade 8) did a simulated pole dance. I kept hoping the principal would shut it down – he let it go.  I wrote an e-mail to him after the fact expressing how humiliating and embarrassing it was to me and how inappropriate to be showing middle school students. He told me he was ‘uncomfortable’ shutting it down and just wanted to let it end itself.  Those were obvious public examples of sexual harassment. There were multiple episodes of less obvious sexual innuendo, touching, etc. that were not dealt with as anything more than teenage behavior between teenagers.     The paperwork and documentation is time consuming, however, all people in education are mandated reporters.  It is sad that schools let these episodes persist and escalate before taking action.

    page 62 of 63  Failure to Comply With District Investigation      Item 1 –  clearly the numbers would have been telling if the real information got out.  Hopefully our new U.S. President in 2009 will finally get schools to be transparent……. 

    I respect and admire the KIPP organization for making the document posted at the top of this blog public.  Perhaps they had no other choice – I am not sure.  Sadly, for each school ‘caught’ there are many which are not monitored or reviewed until a large group of parents take action.  Charter schools are most often able to drift under the radar by the mere fact of the title charter school.   Most people, even those who work for charter school organizations, understand they are in fact, public schools.  I look forward to the day when real numbers are reported on websites from charter school organizations so parents can make educated choices.  Currently, most, probably all  (I have reviewed a ton both in CA and other states) charter schools post the statistics they want marketed and what will best represent their school(s). 

    Tansparency – Clearly a beautiful thing when it happens.  I believe some wise person once said, “The truth will set you free”.