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

Monday, July 29, 2013

KIPP Conquers Camden

If you had any doubts that Camden, NJ was about to become the new center of charter school growth, lay them to rest now:
The city school district, operating under state control, has hired a North Jersey firm to assist in the opening of Camden schools this September. 
A one-year, $150,000 contract was given to the Antares Group, which is run by Mindy Propper, a former employee of the KIPP charter school foundation. 
The education management firm is expected to address staffing, curriculum, professional development and other issues in the district. [emphasis mine]
Good thing Chris Christie and Chris Cerf rushed in to save Camden from itself by doing what NJDOE does best: handing out contracts to consultants!

KIPP is, of course, the darling of the charter school cheerleaders: a national charter management chain that owes its "success" to a no-excuses ideology. Over the last couple of years, however, the curtain has been pulled back, and KIPP has had to answer charges that it "skims the cream," meaning it engages in self-selection and attrition practices that wind up creating a student body that's substantially different from the larger population. And it doesn't hurt that KIPP tends to spend more per pupil than its neighboring public schools.

KIPP is, if anything, diligent in confronting its critics, and has worked hard to bat down criticism that it has gamed the system. But every time a study is published in its favor, further scrutiny shows that KIPP most likely isn't turning water into juice boxes: their "miracles" are actually pretty pedestrian.

The real test for KIPP, as suggested by Diane Ravitch, would be for them to take over an entire urban district, where they'd be forced to educate all children, and not just the ones who happened to acclimate quickly to KIPP's demand for docile compliance from its students. I've suggested before that KIPP should offer to take over Camden, a district that is now under state control. So far, they've begged off...

Except now it seems KIPP is conquering Camden - under their own terms.

When the Education Law Center brought suit against the state for allowing KIPP to come into Camden, they pointed out many of the conditions for KIPP's new "Renaissance School" were defined in a way that would allow KIPP to engage in cream-skimming once again.

Fortunately for KIPP, they have powerful friends in South Jersey: the new schools will be built under the aegis of Democratic boss George Norcross, who confiscated land next to his hospital that was supposed to be the home for a public school and made it the site for KIPP's expansion.  Norcross's brother Donald, a state senator, has pushed through an amendment to the original Urban Hope Act that looks to put the project back on track - but the mostly cosmetic changes to the law all but ensure KIPP will be able to engage in practices of self-selection and attrition while spending more per pupil than the public schools in Camden.

And now, to help facilitate all this, a former employee of KIPP will take charge of the district. So what do we know about Mindy Propper?
A partner with KPMG Consulting and BearingPoint for nearly two decades, Mindy provided strategic and tactical guidance to global financial institutions including GE Capital, Chase and DeutscheBank formulating and implementing new service offerings, global operating systems and post merger business integrations. Mindy served as Chief Operating Officer for The LEAGUE (now part of The Points of Light Institute), an innovative web-based nonprofit focused on educating and empowering students to measurably improve their communities. Subsequently, Mindy joined the foundation supporting the charter school network, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) to build a team focused on providing seamless support to the network’s regions and schools enabling growth and sustainable performance. 
And so another businessperson - with no practical experience, training, degrees, or certification in running schools - is coming into a poor urban area to run a district with no accountability to the local citizenry. To be fair, Mindy Propper does have some experience with charter schools in New Jersey: she is the Board Chair for People's Prep*, a charter high school in Newark. The charter got a $350,000 grant from Mark Zuckerberg's Foundation For Newark's Future, indicative of Propper's connections to the Montclair-based school reform cabal (more about this later).

So it's clear that Propper is a charter cheerleader. This, if you'll remember, was all part of the plan cooked up by a couple of Eli Broad-paid interns "fellows" at the NJDOE:
So, who's coming up with the big takeover plans?

The intervention proposal, which was obtained by the Courier-Post, was written by Department of Education employee Bing Howell. 
He did not respond to a phone call and email seeking comment. 
Howell serves as a liaison to Camden for the creation of four Urban Hope Act charter schools. He reports directly to the deputy commissioner of education, Andy Smerick.
Howell’s proposal suggests that he oversee the intervention through portfolio management — providing a range of school options with the state, not the district, overseeing the options. He would be assisted by Rochelle Sinclair, another DOE employee. Both Howell and Sinclair are fellows of the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation. [emphasis mine]
Kinda like Old Faithful at this point. The proposal calls for the usual round of school closings, because instability is just so freaking great for kids living in difficult conditions. But here's the part that's going to raise eyebrows:

• Control the school board by taking away members’ ability to vote for at least six months, plus adding three state-appointed members. Place all hiring and firing decisions in the hands of the state Board of Education
• If a superintendent vacancy happens during state intervention, the commissioner would recommend a replacement with confirmation by state board. 
• Increase charter schools and attract charter management organizations such as those run by the KIPP chain. Send Camden students out of district to choice and vocational schools. 
The proposal also calls for passage of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a proposed corporate tax credit scholarship bill. This would be used to send children to religious schools and private schools, including boarding schools.

Howell also said the state should partner with Teach for America, Knowledge is Power Program and The New Teacher Project . The three programs have or had links to Broad Foundation board members Wendy Kopp (TFA), Richard Barth (KIPP) and Michelle Rhee (formerly of TNTP and a TFA alumna). [emphasis mine]
Keep in mind that this scheme was hatched more than a year ago, and that includes identifying KIPP as a "partner." The last year and a half has been spent clearing the decks in Camden so the school system can be transformed into a "portfolio" district, with locally unaccountable charters taking the place of public schools under local control - and KIPP has been a key part of the plan.

Remember: it was the Camden school board that originally put the brakes on KIPP's plans for expansion into Camden. But after both Norcross and KIPP itself put the pressure on, everyone eventually fell in line. Now the state runs the district, and the Camden charter industry will be free to do what they do best: segregate the kids, set up land grabs, and get their boyfriends cushy jobs.

Last year, I laid out a bet for one of the state's greatest charter cheerleaders, the Star-Ledger's Tom Moran. Tom swore that the new KIPP school in Camden would be "serving every kid in the neighborhood"; I told him I'd wager a steak dinner on whether that turned out to be true.

My mouth is already watering...

I take mine medium rare!

* ADDING: Here's a curious report from Jon Pelto about another member of the People's Prep board, Adam Goldfarb. How does one serve as the Chief of Staff to the CT Education Commissioner and serve on the board of directors for a Newark charter school? Apparently, no one in Connecticut finds this odd.

ADDING MORE: I am remiss in not restating an important point: KIPP failed in Camden once before. Back in 2009, when the going got tough, KIPP backed out of Freedom Academy, and left it wither away, eventually getting scooped up by the Democracy Prep network out of New York (KIPP may engage in selective student practices, but they are pikers compared to DP).

I really need to state this every time I write about this topic: KIPP already tried and failed in Camden. No excuses?


Unknown said...

When will they be breaking ground for Kipptown TfA dorms?

kandylippincott said...

"...will be serving every kid in Camden." The part that hasn't been mentioned much is the kids are the main course. The Donner Party would be proud of the skilled techniques employed. yum yum
Kandy Lippincott

Unknown said...

This makes lots of sense! Let's get someone who has no, zero, nada, experience or degrees in education to fix the poorest preforming district in the state! Camden kids can be the ultimate in the Broad Experiment!

Gee Jazzman, the next thing you'll be telling us is that Mindy Propper lives in Montclair! Wouldn't that be something!

ad77 said...

The Broad team is circulating the wagons to make sure a "Broad" superintendent is picked to run Camden. After all, Cerf can't risk another Jersey City situation. Well worth the $150 of taxpayer dollars!

And after a year, when the Broadie (who is Oh so dedicated to education) to is over his head, he'll get an offer from some Aerospace company (Like the former Broad commissioner of Louisiana did) or maybe some other big money company, and leave!

Notice that the Broadies never stay too long......is there any Broadie that actually stayed in a position and made substantially great turnaround changes?

And Jazzman - you need to do an update on that marvelous turnaround plan by Broadie Miles for $7000 a day in Paterson. The contact must be up by now - so please up date us on all the good news!

Mrs. King's music students said...

Except for Kandy (above), notice how many Camden school teachers are not exactly rushing to the defence of this BOE??? It's not because we think charter schools can do a better job, and definitely not because we think the state will stay the course. The only thing we know for sure is they can't do worse than the admins they've sidelined. Come on...if they come to work at all in the next 2 years, they're already ahead of our last superintendent. How can anyone defend that?