One Hundred KIPP 5th Graders in a Single Classroom on the Floor for a Week Until They 'Earned' Their Desks

KIPP spends a great deal of money promoting their brand of total compliance segregated charter schools as the tough love, no excuses solution for schooling in urban communities disabled by poverty and the lack of hope. KIPP and its billionaire supporters contend that we cannot wait for an end to poverty to properly educate the children of the poor. No one I know would disagree with this premise, but everyone I know disagrees with KIPP's conception of what "properly educate" means.

Although KIPP's propaganda touts its work, its fascist approach to student management indicates a fascist theory of learning for poor and usually black children.KIPP sees no irony in requiring the poorest urban children who have received the least in life to earn everything at KIPP, from paychecks for good behavior and working hard, to the KIPP shirt, and, at some KIPPs, even the desks that children must earn their right to sit in for 8 to 10 hours a day.

You may ask yourself what your reaction would be if your fifth-grader came home every day for the first four days of school to tell you that she sat on the floor without a desk. Or if you don't have children, what do you think Michelle Obama would say her children came home telling her that they were not good enough to have a desk, or they had not proven that they could follow directions well enough, or sit quietly long enough, or walk a line straight enough, or track the teacher intently enough, or raise their hands quickly enough, or wait long enough to go to the bathroom, or that they had not worked hard enough?

Do you think Michelle Obama would encourage her husband, the President of the United States, to have his education people pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the support of this kind of school?

One of the KIPP teachers I interviewed for my book on KIPP teaching had told me about students losing their desks as a form of punishment. He said that most of the one hour session devoted on late Friday afternoons for "team and family time" would "dissolve into the students sitting on the floor and writing lines, a hundred times, I will not disrespect our time with team and family, because maybe they didn�t transition in a straight enough line to team and family. Maybe they were talking too much."

Another teacher told me about how desks were taken away at her KIPP school as a form of punishment for small or large offenses: "So at any given time you could go into a classroom and see from one to ten kids sitting in the back room or the whole class on the floor."

Humiliating and awful and borderline abusive, indeed.

But I had heard nothing like the following account that relates to how during the first week of school 100 fifth-graders were packed into a single classroom without desks, where they sat the entire class time Monday through Thursday learning to earn the right to sit in a desk. It was only on Friday that the students were separated into three groups and send in the classrooms with desks. From the verbatim transcript:

Card ID: 1262

TEACHER: One thing I did want to tell you was, we started school the middle of July. And they did something totally illegal. And I knew then that I didn�t want to work there anymore. For the fifth graders coming into the school for the first time, they sat a hundred fifth graders on the floor of one class in rows for a week, a hundred fifth graders in one classroom for a week until they could follow directions. And at that point, I said, why am I here? . . . .

INTERVIEWER: Let�s get back to the fifth graders sitting on the floor. [Crosstalk]. This was during the, what is sometimes referred to as the KIPP-notizing that happens during the first summer for fifth graders?


INTERVIEWER: And what do these children do all day if they were sitting on the floor?

TEACHER: 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 so what we would do, by Thursday, all the teachers would vote in site, should we let them go into desks? In front of them, we had to vote. You know? And I voted yes, put them in desks. You know? It�s like treating like animals. They weren�t animals. They were children. And so by Friday, I think they figured, well, a week is long enough. You know? And so we all voted, yeah, let them go in the desks. And that�s how they decided to go in the desks.

INTERVIEWER: Did all the teachers have to vote yes before they were given desks?

TEACHER: Yeah. Yeah. But we were encouraged to vote yes. Is that a KIPP thing to do? I don't know. But you wouldn�t do that ever in a public school.

INTERVIEWER: I�m sure you wouldn�t. I�ve heard of children sitting on the floor, but I haven�t heard of a hundred in a single [crosstalk] room.

TEACHER: It was a hundred. It was all the fifth graders in a classroom, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: And this is like a classroom designed for 30 desks?

TEACHER: Yes. They were stuffed in. They were stuffed in.

INTERVIEWER: How many teachers were in this room during this time?

TEACHER: Five. I think five teachers were there. And the principal would walk in every once and awhile.

INTERVIEWER: OK. So let me ask you this question. If I had been with you, either on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, what would I have seen happening during one of those days?

TEACHER: With me or with students or teachers?

INTERVIEWER: Well, if I had been in the classroom on one of those days, what would I have seen happening?

TEACHER: At first the kids, well, they have to do the flag salute of course. And then they have to take attendance. And the only time they stood up was during the flag salute and going out for recess, which they did go out for recess. Kids were trying to follow directions. I don't think the directions were given for a fifth grader to quite understand, even though one teacher was really, really good. I don't know. By Friday, they were frustrated. The kids were frustrated. You know? And maybe they were making them worried about being a part of the school that they wouldn�t pass, because we had a lot of kids who hadn't passed in the public school so they went to KIPP. And so maybe they were worrying them to make sure that they would follow directions. And so they were worried. I think the kids were worried.

INTERVIEWER: They were worried that they weren�t going to get in or that they were going to have to stay there?

TEACHER: They were worried that they couldn�t ever follow directions. It was a mind game. I�ve seen this. It�s terrible what they did. It was [Crosstalk] what they did.

INTERVIEWER: What did they do?

TEACHER: Say that again.

INTERVIEWER: What did they do?

TEACHER: They did what they could. And even by Friday, they weren�t all following directions, but they said, go sit in a chair. We�ll give you desks.

INTERVIEWER: So when all these children were sitting there, they were sitting there at all times unless they were going to recess or going to lunch?

TEACHER: Right. And those were only, I think those were only minimum days also. So it wasn�t like eight hours. It was, like, four hours.

INTERVIEWER: OK. So they were there for half day.

TEACHER: Yeah, they were there for half day. You know? I don't think they had PE, but they did have lunch and they did have recess.

INTERVIEWER: OK. So they were just on the floor for four hours. So when the children got their desks, were they sent into different classrooms so that they could [crosstalk]?

TEACHER: Yes, they were, three different classrooms, yes.

INTERVIEWER: And what was the reaction among students and among teachers?

TEACHER: Once they went to classroom?

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, once they got their desks.

TEACHER: They were a lot happier, because they had their own place to put their backpack. They had their own places to put books. They had their own place to put stuff. You know? They had their own space. And they needed that. They needed their own space. They needed to feel comfortable being an individual, not just being a classmate.


The question here that has to be asked is what will it take to get the attention of authorities, those charged with the safety and welfare of children, to bring an end to these horrors. How long will we allow and support and celebrate this form of behavioral castration for poor children in the name of remedying the educational effects of the poverty that our society continues to find excuses to do nothing about? Will it take Amnesty International to intervene to reestablish human rights in the apartheid corporate schools for America's poor?


December 17, 2013 at 8:06 AM

By: Kati Gilson NBCT


Our school shared space with Kipp for two years. This was a common practice. It is run very military style like. Did not care for the the way the kids were treated at all.

December 20, 2013 at 3:55 PM

By: Amy Gooden

KIPP students "earning" a seat

Where are the parents? If any teacher in a traditional public school had pulled this stunt there would be hell to pay. Not only has a week of instruction.been lost but the method used to indoctrinate students on class and school routines is definitely questionable. There certainly was no student engagement or rigor happening during this phase.

I understand that no teacher or school wants to deal with students who cannot make smooth transitions, perpetually off- task behaviors,lack of preparedness, etc. However,this charter school seems to forget that training on expected behaviors for school STARTS AT HOME.

If this is what is done to fifth graders I would love to know how they would "train" high school students in the fine art of appropriate behavior in school.

Let us not forget that SLANT is not a prerequisite to success So that palaver spouted ad infinitum about making every student,in every community

, college ready(blah blah blah) is just an irritating slogan.

December 29, 2013 at 1:10 PM

By: Cici Rodriguez LCSW

Where are the Parents?

The question was asked \" Where are the Parents? KIPP and those in Austin ISD using these Punitive Programs are in Title I Schools in the low socio areas where parents live in poverty and struggle with daily survival. They are often uneducated and they trust the school to know what is best for their children. They already live in an oppressive environment, and they don\'t know some of the abuses done to their children because the schools are deceptive. The school presents these \"punitive\" disciplines as \" positive\"! The schools use punishments \"behind closed doors\" that are shameful and cruel, but in \"secret\". This is sadistic and deviant behavior that is concealed from the public. It is child abuse and the administrators who perpetuate it should be arrested and put on an offenders registry!

December 29, 2013 at 1:20 PM

By: Amy Groves

Child Abuse

Children from poverty need kindness and respect, not bullying and punishment and disrespect. This is racism.

This is white billionaires and politicians making policy to create a " slave" culture of workers, in addition to creating a mental health epidemic and the pipeline to prison. Young children cannot survive this insanity?

January 7, 2014 at 12:08 AM

By: Juanita Davis

Proud KIPP Alumna

James Horn:

I was severely disappointed as I read your piece �KIPP Forces 5th Graders to �Earn� Desks by Sitting on the Floor for a Week�. As a professor of educational leadership at Cambridge University, I expected so much more than what you failed to deliver.

This interview was partial. KIPP is an amazing organization that places countless children who come from impoverished communities into a mind frame that fosters success and accountability. Instead of properly researching KIPP, this article fell prey to lazy journalism and shock value.

Given your position as an educator and someone who undoubtedly has influence through journalism, I can�t help but to feel let down. Where were the news reporters when over sixty kids had to share one partitioned room because the board of education wouldn�t fund us? Where was the outrage when the board of education refused to provide us with books? In fact, they even refused to provide us with desks. It was our KIPP teachers who went into their own pockets to make sure we had the necessary tools for our education. It was Dave Levin and Frank Corcoran who miraculously put together two classrooms with the necessary resources we needed to learn. Where was the outcry then?

KIPP came from humble beginnings, much like the students it serves. Even as an adult, I often look back to my KIPP years some 18 years ago and continue to extract the life lessons instilled in me then. How many schools put character first? If you want to tell a story, tell impassioned narratives from people who truly understand what KIPP means. Your article captured the opinion of one person who no longer works for our organization. How could this educator possibly give a balanced assessment of KIPP when they struggled to make it through the summer themselves, failing to understand the life lessons that were instilled in these kids starting from these children�s first day of school?

Why not interview KIPPsters such as myself? You don�t want to hear the truth? You don�t want to hear that KIPP works? Will no one read a four page article praising a charter school that helped to send Black and Latino kids like me to boarding school on full academic scholarships? Is it boring to hear that KIPP has an amazing post graduate network that sticks with their alumni and offers SAT, SSAT, ACT, and LSAT prep for its alumni? Guess who was front and center at my prep school graduation? KIPP. College books are expensive. Want to know who paid for my college books? KIPP. Want to know who has called me every month for the last ten years, at least, to make sure I am okay and to ask if I need resume help or any type of tutoring if I want to further my education? Mr. Martinez. Guess where he is from. You guessed it, KIPP. I remember struggling with college math 2 AM frustrated as can be. I picked up the phone, called my 8th grade math teacher, Mr. Corcoran, and he spent 45 minutes on the phone helping me through my math problems. How many students can do that? How many teachers are that dedicated? As a college professor, do your students have this access to you?

No one tells the tale of countless minority children who are murdered in the streets of the South Bronx and Chicago. We don�t see enough articles detailing the failed public schools who have children reading and performing mathematics below grade level. The inmates are getting younger and their jail sentences are getting longer. What is the solution?

For many of us, the solution is KIPP. I am the first person in my family to graduate college. I am the product of a teen mom and immigrant father, neither who raised me. I grew up in foster care, battling my surroundings. I battled poverty, abuse, neglect, and danger as I proudly walked to school with my KIPP uniform with the big red words Knowledge is Power written on back of my shirt. I didn�t know then what KIPP would mean to be now.

I can jot down facts like 95% of KIPP alums have graduated high school, compared to the low income average of 70%. 89% of students who completed a KIPP middle school five or more years ago have matriculated into college, compared to the low income average of 41% and the national average of 62%. A third of KIPPsters earned their bachelor�s degree, compared to 8% of the low income average. I can give all types of statistics, but, as a journalist, that is your job.

KIPP isn�t the problem. KIPP is the solution. Without a doubt, KIPP isn�t for everyone. Not every teacher is cut out to be a KIPP educator and not every family can handle the pressure of nurturing a KIPPster. There is an outrage that students are made to sit on the floor to earn their desks but there is no outrage when these same students, who walk through life learning nothing of character, perseverance, and accountability are put behind bars serving sentences to a society designed for them to fail. The cycle never ends.

I remember not having books. I had photocopies from books because no one would fund us. I remember not having enough desks and chairs in the classroom. We shared. So what?! I remember wanting to learn and having dedicated faculty nurture my desire to learn and helped me build on my academics as well as my character. I am not upset about these children with no desks. I am proud of them. Nothing is this world is given to you, it is earned. It is amazing that these children extracted such a big lesson as such a young age. They are already following the footsteps of so many KIPPsters before them who have paved their way. Good for them. They are headed in the right direction. From one KIPPster to another, I am proud of you. Always put your character first, even when other people question it. Keep choosing the road less travelled. It makes a difference.

January 7, 2014 at 1:33 PM

By: Jim Horn

Juanita Davis comment on Horn KIPP story

There is a documented phenomenon in the psychological literature known as Stockholm Syndrome. From Wikipedia:

"Stockholm syndrome can be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which does not necessarily require a hostage scenario, but which describes �strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.�[4] One commonly used hypothesis to explain the effect of Stockholm syndrome is based on Freudian theory. It suggests that the bonding is the individual�s response to trauma in becoming a victim. Identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. When a victim believes the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be a threat.

I would suggest Ms. Davis may be suffering from this corrosive malady, for just as she seems to begin to tell us what KIPP means to her as an adult, she launches into the standard public relations spin that KIPP promotes on its website.

Ms. Davis also notes that she and her fellow KIPPsters did not have enough desks or books when she was a student, and she obviously believes it was "because no one would fund us." She was never told, no doubt, that KIPP, Inc. has hundreds of millions in assets in its bank accounts on top of the per-pupil funding that KIPP receives from public sources.

The fact that Ms. Davis is not upset that 100 new 5th graders were packed into a classroom to sit the floor for a week until they could demonstrate total compliance says a great deal about how much she identifies now with the KIPP organization, whose preference for gritty callousness over empathic understanding provides the rationale for institutionalized child abuse masquerading as education.

January 7, 2014 at 7:45 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

Chicago KIPP and charter privilege$$$...

Chicago's only public KIPP school has moved around for several years, getting housing at at least four different real Chicago public schools. By the time they had worn out their welcome inside Williams Elementary School six or seven years ago, the graffiti read "Fuck KIPP." Then they trolled around the West Side in search of a home. Eventually they landed at Penn Elementary School, where they colonized the top floor, which had not been cleaned of fixed up for years (I took photographs of the unwashed windows -- at least ten years) and immediately began getting the usual KIPP subsidies (typical of all charter schools that get placed into CPS buildings).

KIPP's Chicago corruption, which I reported, included importing a bunch of paid protesters to join them in an array at a Board of Education meeting. Mostly old people, they kind of stood out, so I asked a few of them what KIPP school their children or grandchildren attended. Blank stares and "None of your business..."

They were an early example of the paid protesters that Rahm Emanuel imported to City Council and meetings when his team was pushing for the "Longer School Day" until Substance and other media (including finally the TV news) exposed them.

If the KIPP "school" Juanita describes actually exists with all those supposed deprivations, it's a first. Around here, KIPP, like other charter schools, received both public and private privileges. Their lame work at Penn Elementary has been exposed over and over, but the Chicago charters expand with a major support network courtesy of the billionaire boys and girls clubs (in Chicago, Penny Pritzker is as significant as Bruce the Billionaire Rauner and the Crowns, so unlike in Diane Ravitch's term -- the "Billionaire Boys Club" -- here we have the "Billionaire Boys AND Girls Club. And they pour millions into the charters while lobbying to starve and sabotage the city's real public schools.

Maybe what Juanita posts actually happened somewhere in the land of KIPP. I wish she had been more precise about the WWWWW, but OK. So What?

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