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Julian Vasquez Heilig has an interesting post over on his blog today which asks, “Are KIPP schools pathological?” I mean “interesting” in the sense that it’s an ironic question coming from someone pathologically obsessed with attacking education reform groups, particularly Teach For America – that is, when he’s not engaged in shameless self-promotion.

The study shows the only thing outpacing gains is his inflated self-regard:


However, in his recent post, JVH throws a bone to another obsessed anti-education reform academic (after all, they need to stick together), by bringing attention to the forthcoming book, Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys Through “No Excuses” Teaching, written by Jim Horn. Horn is a professor of education leadership at Cambridge College in Massachusetts and moonlights as an anti-reform activist on his blog, Schools Matter. [Full disclosure: Horn once called me a “smug little prick” when I called him out for being an out-of-touch, faux-radical academic.]  

Speaking truth to...well, not power, but ego.

Speaking truth to…well, not power, but ego.

Anyway, Work Hard, Be Hard is supposedly based on interviews with 30 current and former KIPP teachers, although we’re never told the breakdown between the two categories. As a former KIPP teacher and founding board member of KIPP New Orleans myself, I was interested to see what ridiculous accusations the piece would make about the organization and JVH’s review of Horn’s book didn’t disappoint. JVH starts out by describing KIPP as a “corporate charter school chain of schools” which has benefitted from “hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate, local, foundation, state and federal dollars since its inception in 1994.” As you can probably imagine, things go downhill from there. At various points in the post, JVH blames KIPP for the mental breakdown of one of his former students, claims KIPP uses “racialized and psychological solitary confinement” as a form of punishment, and manages students “largely through bullying, screaming and personal insults.” In short, you may know KIPP by its other name: Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Just your average KIPP the mind of Julian Vasquez Heilig.

Just your average KIPP school…in the mind of Julian Vasquez Heilig.

For those of us who have worked with KIPP, these assertions are so ridiculous that they’re almost comic, especially given the tone of self-righteous gravity JVH employs in describing them. Of course, he offers little in the way of evidence to support his claims, but when you’re screaming from the margins, you can’t let something like evidence stop you from grabbing people’s attention. At the end of the day, the vitriol directed at KIPP and TFA has more to do with the pathology of those spewing it – like Julian Vasquez Heilig and Jim Horn – than it does with the organizations themselves. For education academics like JVH and Horn, these organizations only serve as reminders of the failures of the academic education field, as well as of themselves. KIPP and TFA elbowed-in on their turf and quickly beat them at their own game. The success of KIPP and TFA only exposed how atrophied and disconnected the Ivory Tower has become from the realities teachers and administrators face everyday in schools.


When KIPP schools send low-income students to college, it shows that you can do something beyond wringing your hands about poverty in a lecture hall. When studies repeatedly show that TFA teachers are as effective (if not more effective) as traditionally-trained teachers, people begin asking why many education school professors spend so much time writing opaque, jargon-laden “research” papers to pad their vitas. Plus, when your contribution to society amounts to a few articles in the Berkeley Review of Education or some other obscure journal no one reads, it’s easy to resent some upstart twenty-somethings who are actually making a difference in the lives of kids.

It almost makes you feel bad for them…OK, not really. Julian Vasquez Heilig and Jim Horn should do us all a favor and suffer with their existential angst silently, instead of lashing out at good people and their organizations who are changing the world for the better.

Pete Cook

Pete became involved in education reform in New Orleans Public Schools as a 2002 Teach For America corps member and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. He now works as a consultant and writer working to ensure public schools meet the needs of low-income students. He lives in New Orleans.