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NCLB Outrages

KIPP pulls plans to revamp all grades at middle school

Ohanian Comment: Did the reporter forget whether this is an opinion piece or a news item? Just look at the slanted language from the get-go.

  • respected charter school company

  • reputation for building high-performing schools

  • Why is a school that can't find principals described as "respected?" Gee whiz, KIPP CEO Richard Barth is married to Wendy Kopp of Teach for America fame. Why doesn't Richard ask Wendy to launch Principal for America? Problem solved.

    Note the selectivity in naming KIPP's other schools. A few very notable failing locations are not mentioned. The Fisher family, owners of GAP, pump a lot of money into KIPP, and KIPP seems to take their concern with brand image to heart. Hence the old Cole Middle School was renamed by KIPP: Cole College Prep Charter: A KIPP Transformation School. Surely, concern with image is why KIPP bolts.

    Please note: Cole's conversion to a charter school was forced on it by the state, in accordance with NCLB requirements. And now Cole is gone. I'm not in a position to say the old Cole deserved to be saved. But surely, whether it now deserves to be obliterated is a question that should be decided by the Denver locals, whose concerns seem to have been ignored by KIPP. Corporate politicos created this mess and once again poor people get shafted.

    The old Cole had 315 students in grades six through eight in fall 2004 and 115 enrolled in the KIPP charter in grades seven and eight in fall 2005. The charter quickly went through three principals. Who knows? Maybe they didn't like the ten-hour school days and being on call 24-7. Some people do want to have a family life.

    Here's what David Levin (who is credited with starting KIPP when he was 23) told Education World when he was still a principal:

    How long a day do I put in? I typically work, I don't know, 16 to 18 hours. But for me, this is an issue. If I was the CEO of Coca-Cola, you wouldn't ask the question. No one would [ask]. The reality is that people who have executive-level jobs are working those types of hours and we applaud their efforts.

    Suggestion: If KIPP tries to open a school in your neighborhood, ask who the principal will be.

    By Allison Sherry

    Three years ago, a respected charter school company secured a state contract to take over Denver's Cole Middle School, which had been closed by state officials for abysmal academic performance.

    The charter company, KIPP, or Knowledge Is Power Program, had a reputation for building high-performing schools in poor neighborhoods, including in Denver, where KIPP's first middle school was thriving off of Federal Boulevard.
    But today, three principals and several teachers later, plans to develop a KIPP school starting with fifth-graders this fall have been pulled off the table.

    The school will close at the end of the spring.
    KIPP officials said they couldn't find a trained principal to run the rigorous program, which customarily keeps kids in school nine to 10 hours a day, with classes on Saturdays.

    Good principals are what drives KIPP's success, said CEO Richard Barth.

    "We had a challenging start at Cole," he said. "We killed ourselves to give (the students) a much better education."

    But, Barth said, without a good principal, "we're not going to go out and promise a great school."

    What happened at KIPP is a poignant example of perhaps the biggest quandary facing public education: No one has figured out how to seamlessly replicate good schools.

    Many superintendents, principals and education policy advocates say that people often try to replicate quality schools by creating a carbon copy, without thinking about the systems - and reasons - the school was good to begin with.
    Things like principal quality, teacher dedication, a personalized environment for students, a sense of responsibility among the adults in the building about whether the students succeed.

    "Educating young people at a very high level of excellence is difficult," said Bill Kurtz, principal of the Denver School for Science and Technology, one of Denver's highest-performing high schools. "It's a different product than putting out a cheeseburger or a hamburger ... This is the most complex franchising opportunity."

    State Board of Education members approved KIPP in 2004 as a "transition" school for existing Cole kids. Normally KIPP starts with one grade and adds a grade a year.

    Cole Middle was shut down for poor performance on state assessment tests. Only 2 percent of the school's seventh-graders were proficient in math.

    A history of success
    KIPP, awarded the contract because it had a record of boosting achievement, also has schools in Washington, New York and Houston.

    Rico Munn, who represented Denver on the state board at the time, is disappointed that KIPP didn't fulfill its promise.

    "It was my view that KIPP would come in and understand the challenges ... and hang in there for the long haul," said Munn, who heads regulatory agencies under Gov. Bill Ritter. The historic brick building will eventually become a Denver Public Schools K-8 school in 2008.
    Patty Lawless, an organizer for the parent advocacy group Metro Organizations for People, said that in the process of closing Cole, the board ignored the desires of parents and students.

    A parent group studying which charter should be chosen didn't even pick KIPP as its second choice. Parents didn't feel that KIPP's emphasis on finding a strong principal and starting from fifth grade fit the Cole kids.

    "They (the parents) got royally mistreated through the whole process," Lawless said. "It's not acceptable. We'd like some accountability."
    Catalino Zubia, who has a daughter at KIPP Cole, said she opposes the closure.

    "There are many kids in the neighborhood who need this," Zubia said. "It's also bad because they promised."

    Principals in pipeline
    Barth said his organization is going to be "going deeper" to expand programs in cities where it already has schools, including Denver.
    KIPP will groom good teachers to be principals. This means, he said, strong KIPP schools will be much easier to replicate.

    Only about eight people a year go through its principal training program, which includes an institute at Stanford University and shadowing a KIPP principal. The current principal at Cole, Rich Harrison, has not gone through the training.

    The roughly 40 remaining eighth-graders at KIPP have, in the past couple of weeks, hung up high school acceptance letters in hallways.

    Harrison, who is also the English teacher and school admissions counselor, said he's been too busy to focus on the school closing.

    "I don't have time to think about that," said Harrison, the school's third principal. "We have CSAPs and we're getting kids set up for high school ... I think we're going to finish on a strong note."

    Staff writer Allison Sherry can be reached at 303-954-1377 or asherry@denverpost.com.

    — Allison Sherry
    Denver Post


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