I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Charters: No Consequences For Failure

The justification for closing down public schools and replacing them with charters is that the public schools have tried and failed to serve poor, urban kids, and we have a moral imperative to try something different. The publics had their chance, and they blew it; let's try something new.

But what if what we're really doing is trying something old?
Three proposals for a Hope Act charter school here were submitted on time Friday. 
The applications came from KIPP Norcross Cooper Academy, which held a press conference to announce its bid, as well as record producer Kenny Gamble’s Universal Companies and the Benjamin Franklin Academy. 
But officials of the proposed KIPP Norcross Cooper Academy said they hope eventually to serve 2,840 Camden students in grades pre-K through 12. The academy, to rise at the former site of a city school in Lanning Square, would begin with a kindergarten class in 2014, the organizers said. 
KIPP, which stands for Knowledge Is Power Program, is a nonprofit chain of charter schools based in San Francisco. The Camden proposal calls for a TEAM Schools model, a KIPP program that has operated for a decade in Newark. [emphasis mine]
A little context: TEAM Academy in Newark may be a fine school, but, as Bruce Baker has detailed extensively, it does not serve the same population of students as its neighboring public schools. Like many (most?) "successful" New Jersey charter schools, TEAM is a "successful" charter because it serves fewer poor, non-English speaking, and special needs children. There is also strong evidence it engages in a pattern of student attrition attrition that artificially inflates its test scores.

This is a nation-wide pattern with KIPP schools. Keep that in mind as we continue:
KIPP ran a charter school in Camden about five years ago, but removed its name from the venture. Ryan Hill, who oversees the TEAM charters in Newark, acknowledged the failure, but said the proposal would be for a different model with different management.

Freedom Academy, the former KIPP school in Camden, has been told by the state Department of Education that it is likely to be shuttered before the beginning of the next school year. [emphasis mine]
Uh, excuse me? KIPP has already run a school into the ground in Camden, but they're going to get a chance to run another? They are so shameless that they are going to try to run away from their record of failure?

Apparently, KIPP's CEO, Richard Barth, already backed away in 2009:
An Apology
Last, but definitely not least, I want to acknowledge an oversight on my part. I communicate regularly to you all in hopes of doing my part to keep the network up to date on what is going on across the country. This summer I dropped the ball in sharing news with you that I share with you today, several months late. At the end of this past June, we made an official decision that Freedom Academy in Camden, NJ would no longer operate as a KIPP-affiliated school due to the absence a KIPP-approved school leader. As you may know, one year ago, due to administrative certification issues, the State of New Jersey required the Board of Freedom Academy to replace the then existing KIPP School Leader with a school leader who had not participated in the KIPP School Leadership training. We had hoped that by the end of the past school year that a KIPP-approved leader would have been identified and prepared to assume leadership of the school this summer. Regretfully, search efforts by both the Freedom Board and the KIPP Foundation failed to produce such a leader. Although the school no longer operates as a KIPP school, it is continuing to operate with the goal of offering better educational options for the children and families of Camden, New Jersey. While there is no excuse for my delay in sharing this news, I would like to offer our deep gratitude to the staff of Freedom Academy who worked through a tumultuous year and remained dedicated to the children they serve. A good number of the members of the Freedom team have found great opportunities to stay with KIPP in other cities, about which I am very excited. [emphasis mine]
Wait a minute: read what I bolded again. Barth is very slick with his language; it's very easy to read this as implying that the state would not allow Freedom Academy to have a principal who had participated in their "Leadership training."

But Barth manages to weasel out of telling the real story. According to state documents, Freedom was placed on probation in 2008 because its principal, Jeremy Esposito, was acting as the principal even though he didn't have a NJ school leader certificate. Whether he attended KIPP's little "Leadership training" had nothing to do with it.

And it looks like Esposito could have used the real training he would have received in a real administrative certificate program; by 2009, it was clear Freedom Academy had come off the rails:
Freedom Academy has been on a state-issued probationary status since late last year for numerous administrative woes after state officials found problems with financial records. The state report cited inadequate board of education supervision; improper bonus and hiring practices; poor petty cash management; and missing bid, travel and enrollment procedures.
The state’s six-figure repayment is determined by multiple problems with contracts, approvals and bids. The largest component is a $233,707 piece the state wants back because it says the school did not have supporting documentation for janitorial, cleaning services, contractors, food services and office supplies. But Moxie said these services have been with the school since it opened in 2006.
The report names the former school leader, Jeremy Esposito, numerous times in the report as a source of problems. Many of the problems the board conceded relate to Esposito’s performance, including questions about Esposito’s reimbursements, being paid more than state rates allow for food and sometimes for alcoholic beverages.
The appeal letter cites e-mail correspondence from Esposito saying the payment is to reimburse food expenses paid out of his pocket, but not all receipts have been accounted for yet.
Esposito resigned last October after eight months on the job. [emphasis mine]
But he didn't leave education: Esposito is now working at a KIPP school in St. Louis. It's telling that his resume brags on test score gains for Freedom Academy (on a supplementary test, but not on the NJASK), but neglects to mention his run-ins with the state.

Which is the point: KIPP blew it with Freedom Academy. They couldn't get a competent leader to run the school, they bailed when the state kept finding problems, the school is being shut down this year, and its students will have to deal with more instability in their lives. They failed - and yet they're being given another chance. 

Why? Shouldn't their past failure disqualify them from getting to run another school? I mean, if the justification for subverting local control of the district and turning schools over to private entities is that the old system has failed...

... why are we giving management of the schools over to people who are proven failures?

1 comment:

Deb said...

Thank you Duke!! As the people of Camden fight for their public school at Lanning Square while Norcross tries to create his own KIPP district - this is EXACTLY what needs to get out there.