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Parents KIPP, shame on you!

We just can’t let this pass without comment.  Friends of Dave linked to this rather disturbing missive on KIPP by one Mr. AB:

It’s hard for me to say this. As a Teach For America teacher, I feel espirit-de-corps-bound to laud you as a great example of what’s right with “The Movement.” But as a public school teacher, I feel an even greater onus to label you the worst thing for public education since Plessy vs. Ferguson. KIPP, you are re-segregating our schools, a sliver at a time. Sorting out families, students and teachers not by race but by predilection for success, always taking from among the best and always leaving the dregs.

At first I thought that your self-selective academies were tolerable because they held up models that real public schools could emulate. Now I realize that your academies are unreplicable so long as you exist. The things that make you successful, such as supportive families, curricular options, extended days, a superior staff of young, life-less teachers —gosh, did we really need a whole new line of schools to prove those are they keys to achievement— are currently out of reach for us but they are not impossibly distant. However, KIPP, your academies are only pushing them farther and farther away.

We can change the union contracts. We can acquire curricula that meet the needs of our students. We too can create a culture of achievement among students and staff. But we cannot do this when you siphon off our most invested families, most participative students, and most dedicated teachers.

What disturbs us about these remarks isn’t that KIPP is accused of stealing away the best students (they don’t, as pointed out in the comment thread).  Where we have issues with these thoughts are kind of expressed in the next to last paragraph:

Thanks to you, more children, those fortunate enough to have parents who will attend your meetings and lucky enough to be selected in your lottery, now have that opportunity. (emphasis added)

So who is the blogger in question really upset with?  The parents.  In spite of what this blogger alleges, it’s not as though KIPP targeted these kids and abducted them under cloak of darkness; they are only at a KIPP school because that’s where the parents want them to be.  But the blogger isn’t so foolish as to blame a parent for rationally selecting a better option.  So instead let’s blame…the overachieving school!  Curse you, KIPP! 

One other thought from the fifth paragraph:

Certainly, you take only a handful. But a handful is all we need.

Riiiiight.  How long have you had a complete hammerlock on the whole enchilada?  We can discuss funding and curriculum issues, but when it comes to enrollment, lower income families have been compelled to send their kids to your school because they didn’t have the means to go elsewhere.  Suddenly, KIPP appears on the scene and has become the bane of your existence. 

The more we look at this, the more astounded we are: an innovative, high-achieving school program is berated for…being an innovative, high-achieving school program. 

UPDATE–Eduwonk weighs in.   

To Mr. AB’s point — which is well worth reading because it illustrates an important debate — the idea that we restrict the choices that parents have in the alleged service of the greater good just doesn’t fly in a society like ours. One inescapable theme of the last 40 years of school reform is that if unsatisfied parents can walk, one way or another, they will. What’s different now is that low-income families can increasingly walk through ideas like vouchers. That ought to discomfort public school supporters more than it apparently does. Essentially, saying that a good public option like KIPP is skimming the "best" families so we shouldn’t have it, is saying to these families that they should forgo something that might be in the best interest of their kids because of a potential abstract good for all kids. That’s not exactly how you build brand loyalty and it’s not what we ask more affluent people to do and not what they do. To beat a dead horse some more, the way to build support for the public schools is not to give parents fewer choices in the public system but to give them more.

As Eduwonk has said elsewhere, he’s no fan of vouchers, so as a result it’s possible his remarks will carry a bit more weight with some in the anti-choice crowd.  In fact, based on the thoughts of Mr. AB, let’s stretch the criticism of choice in general a bit further.  Many parents with the means to do so have been fleeing inner cities, which are some of the major centers of public school decay.  What will you tell them?  That they must not leave, no matter how much better suburban schools may be? 

Or better yet, let’s talk about public school teachers, who are more likely to put their kids in private schools.  They’re pretty doggone invested in public schools.  If families should be required to forgo KIPP in lieu of their public school, irrespective of the quality of that public school, shouldn’t public schoolteachers be compelled to do likewise?