Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Jonathan Alter on KIPP: Distortions, Misprepresentations and Outright Lies

This was sent out by Leonie Haimson to the NYC Education Listserve:

Jonathan Alter blusters in a column in Newsweek about what Obama should do to reform our schools:

Here is the response of Caroline Grannam, a SF parent and blogger who is one of the few people to independently assess KIPP’s claims:

In the current Newsweek, columnist Jonathan Alter earnestly claims that 12,800 alumni of KIPP schools have gone on to college. Here's what Alter wrote: At the 60 KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools, more than 80 percent of 16,000 randomly selected low-income students go to college, four times the national average for poor kids. The actual number, according to KIPP itself, is 447.

It turns out that that 80% figure was derived from calculating the matriculation rates at only two KIPP schools.

also omits to mention the self-selection process involved in applying to KIPP, well as the rigorous interview process the school uses that discourages less motivated students from enrolling, including making them promise to attend school six days a week and most of the working day. Nor the high attrition rates, with some schools losing 50 percent of their students over three years.

Yet Alter continues to spin wildly:

[Obama] …hasn't been direct enough about reforming NCLB so that it revolves around clear measurements of classroom-teacher effectiveness. Research shows that this is the only variable (not class size or school size) that can close the achievement gap. Give poor kids from broken homes the best teachers, and most learn. Period.

Where is the research base for this? Don’t bother to ask, as there is none.

We don’t even know how to identify potentially effective teachers, not to mention how to make them more effective once they’ve been hired. Aside from treating them like professionals, giving them a smaller class and persuading them to stick around in the profession longer.

More from Alter:

To get there, Obama should hold a summit of all 50 governors and move them toward national standards and better recruitment, training and evaluation of teachers. He should advocate using Title I federal funding as a lever to encourage "thin contracts" free of the insane work rules and bias toward seniority, as offered by the brilliant new superintendent in Washington, D.C., Michelle Rhee. He should offer federal money for salary increases, but make them conditional on differential pay (paying teachers based on performance and willingness to work in underserved schools, which surveys show many teachers favor) and on support for the elimination of tenure.

What? Surveys, including this one from Education Sector, which generally favors such proposals, show that teachers overwhelmingly oppose basing salaries on performance (read test scores.): “…one in three teachers (34 percent) favors giving financial incentives to teachers whose kids routinely score higher than similar students on standardized tests. Most teachers today (64 percent) oppose the idea, up 8 percentage points from the 56 percent who opposed it in 2003.”

Nevertheless, Alter continues in this vein:

And the next time he addresses them, he should tell the unions they must change their focus from job security and the protection of ineffective teachers to higher pay and true accountability for performance—or face extinction.

Good luck with that one. I’m sure the NEA and the AFT are quaking in their boots.

As Grannam points out about Alter’s error in reporting the number of KIPP students that have gone to college that could also be applied to his false claims about teacher surveys and class size:

It's ironic that Alter made that rather significant error in a column mostly devoted to blasting and blaming teachers for troubled schools and calling for getting rid of problem teachers, along with eliminating tenure and increasing "accountability" for teachers. I wonder how he feels about more accountability for journalists.

In case you’re interested, Alter lives in Montclair NJ, where no doubt the class sizes are small, and teacher tenure reigns supreme, along with high salaries, and performance pay is nowhere in sight.

But in a school district like NYC, with lots of immigrant and poor students, it doesn’t matter what overcrowding exists or what class sizes they are crammed into. All will be well and teachers will magically be able to reach all thirty plus kids per class, as long as the people in charge crack the whip loud and hard enough and can threaten them with losing their jobs if they don’t deliver.

A sure fire formula for success if ever I’ve heard it.

Comments? Write to; copy to

Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters


  1. __________________________________

    Alter Ego or Alter's Ego

    Jonathan Alter knows it all,
    Jonathan Alter had a great fall.

    Though he tries to pontificate,
    On what we should seek,

    His ignorance on this subject,
    Doth make his views reek.

    David Pakter

  2. It's really too bad that you seem to believe this nonsense you write about KIPP being selective, despite no evidence of such other than your half-baked accusations.

    80% of the kids from the first two KIPP schools go to college, and the others aren't old enough yet, but they're doing better in high school than their forbears were, so we can pretty well guess that they'll go to college in similar numbers. That's pretty darn good, but you don't care, because KIPP threatens your existence by proving that you could have gotten better results in your classroom or throughout your school if you'd just worked a little harder.

  3. I work 23 hour days to close the achievement gap. And I use the 24th hour to sweep the floors at KIPP schools.

  4. 80% of two schools? That's hysterical!
    What a b.s. racket! They must have some amazing public relations behind them.

  5. Well, this is very good news. Now that we know that we only have to base our data on two schools, let's pick two.
    I say we pick Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech. Bronx Science?
    Hey, look at that! Our number of college bound students is enormous! Contact the press immediately. We can go on Oprah.

  6. I guess it helps when KIPP School leaders are provided with public relations and marketing assistance:

    Where as public school leaders are provided with absolutely no support and inn fact, are left to their own devices.

  7. Too bad elizabeth wasn't provided with a spellchecker.

    Is that you, Chaz?

  8. Listen, let me tell you people something - stop criticizing KIPP schools!
    What is wrong with teaching poor children to chant and nod? It's good for them and will serve them well in their future service industry positions.
    You people sit on your high and mighty thrones, acting as if we don't need people to shine our shoes, do our laundry, and clean our homes.
    KIPP schools are doing a darn fine job of preparing the otherwise unproductive members of our society to do something useful.
    What do you want, equality for all people or something?
    Please. That's so French Revolution.


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