Pope Francis, Clerical Education, and KIPP

Posted on January 4, 2014


What does Pope Francis’ views on clerical education have to do with No Excuses charter schools you ask?

In a recent news article (http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2014/01/03/22163762-pope-church-must-not-turn-priests-into-little-monsters?lite), NBC stated:

“Pope Francis is calling for a change in the culture of seminaries, saying priests who are taught only to toe the line will become ‘little monsters.'”

The article goes on to quote Pope Francis as stating:

“To avoid problems, in some houses of formation, young people grit their teeth, try not to make mistakes, follow the rules smiling a lot, just waiting for the day when they are told: ‘Good, you have finished formation.’ This is hypocrisy that is the result of clericalism which is one of the worst evils.”

This sounds eerily familiar given some recent discoveries about some No Excuses charter schools. In particular, this sounds a lot like some of the KIPP Schools given the recent strategies they have adopted.

For example, according to Jim Horn (http://www.alternet.org/education/kipp-forces-5th-graders-earn-desks-sitting-floor-week), one KIPP school forced students to sit on the floor for a week before “earning” the right to have a desk. Specifically, the teacher said, “ For the fifth-graders coming into the school for the first time, they sat 100 fifth-graders on the floor of one class in rows for a week, 100 fifth-graders in one classroom for a week until they could follow directions” (emphasis mine). The teacher continued by saying, “They would sit there and do homework on the floor. They would fill in forms and pass them. And they had to all do it correctly, otherwise, they’d do it again and again and again.

And then we have this from the NY Daily News: “A tiny padded room at KIPP Star Washington Heights Elementary School was a real-life nightmare for two young boys who were repeatedly detained in the tot cells, the Daily News has learned.” (Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/padded-calm-down-room-causing-anxiety-kids-article-1.1543983#ixzz2pRrg8hks)

I don’t know about you, but I would never lock my child in such a room and would never allow such discipline to be used on my child. I don’t think most parents would allow this either.

So, let’s go back to the quote by Pope Francis and do some replacement.

“To avoid problems, in some [KIPP Schools], young people grit their teeth, try not to make mistakes, follow the rules smiling a lot, just waiting for the day when they are told: ‘Good, you have [earned your desk; earned your clothes; earned the right to remain at KIPP; etc].’ This is hypocrisy that is the result of [paternalism/white colonialism] which is one of the worst evils.”

Given that I taught in a poor rural school and some poor urban schools, I completely understand the impulse to use severe disciplinary measures to maintain control and ensure kids act “right.” But, ultimately, adopting such strategies impedes the ability of students to make their own decisions and to think and act on their own in novel situations. Without such abilities, students will not be successful in college and in the real world after school. Indeed, I suspect this is one reason why KIPP and other “no excuses” charter graduates perform so poorly in college–they simply don’t know how to make decisions and act on their own when there is no longer an authoritarian adult to enforce rules and tell the students what to do, what to think, and how to act.

Before looking at the chart below, one astonishing fact is that very, very few students from KIPP have graduated and entered college. For all the hype about KIPP being great at preparing kids for college, there simply is not a lot of graduates to even examine. In this analysis, the number of graduates entering Texas universities was 126 from 2007 through 2011. There are schools approaching 2,000 students over the same time period.

The chart below plots the average percentage of students achieving the Texas college-readiness standard in both mathematics and reading from 2007 to 2010 [1] versus the percentage of graduates achieving less than a 2.0 GPA during their first year of enrollment in a Texas public four-year university. To achieve college-readiness, a student has to achieve a a certain SAT/ACT score or a certain score on the Texas state test.  In a previous post, I showed that the data strongly suggests KIPP and other graduates from no excuses charter schools achieve the college-readiness standard by having a high score on the state test.

As can be seen on the chart, KIPP has a MUCH greater percentage of graduates earning less than a 2.0 GPA. I also threw in the YES Prep numbers that earned them a Broad award for charter (evidently for preparing a high percentage of kids to do poorly in college).

College Ready vs GPA in College

Again, given my discussions with those who have visited and worked in KIPP schools, one possible reason for this poor performance is that students in KIPP schools are told what to do and how to do it throughout their high school career. When they get to college, the students simply cannot function well on their own. [2]

Given these poor outcomes, the stories described above and in the links below, and basic moral/ethical guidelines, I would hope that KIPP administrators would re-think how they treat students. Reading Pope Francis’ comments makes me want to ask if the goal of KIPP is to create robot kids who can only follow orders or to develop adults who can think on their own and can examine issues critically?








[1] I have access to the 2011 data, but did not add it in. It does not appear this would have changed the analysis any.

[2] Alternative explanations are that KIPP focuses too much on test prep rather than on how to learn and the KIPP kids are poor and lack the social capital to navigate college successfully.



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