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 me 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.

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