human capital

A struggling KIPP school plans to overhaul teaching staff

After wrestling down a unionization attempt and struggling with academic performance, a Brooklyn KIPP school is bringing in a new principal and letting go of teachers.

Concerns about high teacher turnover surfaced at the KIPP AMP (Knowledge is Power Program: Always Mentally Prepared) school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, two years. The concerns were the driving force behind teachers’ decision to join the teachers union against the will of the school’s board. A year later teachers opted out of union membership, kicking off a prolonged fight in which the United Federation of Teachers accused KIPP of intimidating teachers who wanted to unionize.

Now, the school could experience what teachers initially feared: turnover and instability. It’s unclear how many teachers will lose their jobs.

A teacher at the school said today that the school’s leadership has informed most of its teachers that they will not have jobs next year.

KIPP co-founder David Levin, who is also the superintendent of KIPP’s New York schools, said that claims that the majority of KIPP AMP teachers would lose their jobs were incorrect. He would not say how many staff members had been asked to leave the school.

“As we do every year, in accordance with our policies, we are in the process of evaluating our program and staff to ensure that we have a high-performing team of educators in our classrooms implementing the best program possible for our students,” Levin wrote in an email.

KIPP AMP has also been struggling academically. Of the four KIPP schools that have been open long enough to get progress reports, KIPP AMP’s C-grade put it at the bottom last year. Like most public schools, its test scores were hurt when the state made it more difficult to pass the annual math and English exams last year. The percentage of KIPP AMP students who tested proficient on the English exam fell from 78 to 34 percent and from 87 to 47 percent on the math exam.

At the same time that some teachers are being told they won’t have positions next year, the middle school is preparing for new leadership. KIPP AMP’s founding principal Ky Adderley, who returned to run the school last year after the battles with the teachers union, is being replaced by a former principal of an Achievement First middle school in Connecticut, Debon Lewis.

Levin said that when Adderley returned, he did so with the agreement that it would be temporary. Levin wrote:

Last year, when Ky agreed to step back in as principal of KIPP AMP it was with the desire to pursue other opportunities as soon as we identified a new principal, which we have just now done. We are excited that Debon Lewis will be joining us as KIPP AMP’s principal in July.

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”