Cut from the Corporate Kloth–Preferring KIPP Failure Over TPS Success

Governing to Privatize–Deputy Mayor Jason Kloth

NOTE:  A small section of this article originally mistook the KIPP Indy school with KIPP’s school in Gary.  This has been corrected.

UPDATE: As this Doug Martin story broke, word came down that a federal judge ruled in favor of the mayor’s decision to close The Project School.  Additionally, Jason Kloth is getting a pay-raise.  He now will make $120, 000 yearly for spreading the Teach for America-Ballard-Peterson-Harris-Walmart-Gates-Lilly-Stand for Children-Mind Trust corporate school agenda throughout Indianapolis.

In the review of KIPP Indy late last year, mayor Ballard had no problem renewing the school’s charter, even though the school has a sordid history of lousy tests schools, an ungodly high dropout rate, and serious financial issues.

This is not surprising. Corporate schoolers invaded KIPP Indy long ago, just about the time the mayor’s deputy director, Jason Kloth, chaired the charter school’s board.

The official corporate school narrative is that sometime in 2008 Kloth hired two of his comrades from Teach for America, Emily Pelino and Aleesia Johnson, to lead the school out of its financial and testing mess.  Although no 990s from 2008-2009 mention TFAer Kloth as KIPP Indy’s chair, hedge fund manager and Democrats for Education Reform’s front-man Whitney Tilson posted an email  from Patrick O’Donnell, another TFAer, mentioning Kloth’s brilliance, just after mayor Ballard chose Kloth to be his henchman this year.  In part, the email reads:

Jason was the KIPP: Indy board chair a few years back who reconstituted the entire board and staff, brought in Emily Pelino and Aleesia Johnson as the school leaders, and brought in 2/3 of the teachers (over 80% of staff is now TFA CMs/alums actually). The school has since had some of the most significant student achievement growth in the state and is poised to expand with a great executive director. All of this wouldn’t have happened without Jason. Great stuff!

Great stuff, indeed.  Stuff that myths are made of; and of course, KIPP Indy financially supports Teach for America. Then there’s the IDOE/Mind Trust connections to consider. Democrat for Education Reform Indy’s Mindy Schlegel, senior advisor for teacher quality at the Indiana Department of Education, sits on the board of directors at Indianapolis KIPP, along with former Mind Trust’s Claire Fiddian-Green, who now approves charter schools for the state.


Despite the clapping of corporate school reformers, not much has changed since 2008, when KIPP Indy used “$8,000 in Title I funding that had been improperly used on items ranging from teacher salaries to spa services at a professional development retreat.”  From 2005-2009, in fact, KIPP Indy made yearly progress only once (6). It took them several years to show anything that could remotely be considered so-called progress, something that Ballard has ignored, especially since he wants to nail up The Project School after only four years.

Financially, the KIPP school in Gary in 2008, too,  was in shambles, and it appears to still be.  Witness the State Board of Accounts audit, which covers July 2009 to June 2011, in which auditors noted that KIPP claims lacked supporting documentation on several items, too, and the school paid penalties, late fees, and finance charges, all adamantly discouraged by auditors.  For these problems, auditors wrote that: “Officials and employees have the duty to pay claims and remit taxes in a timely fashion.  Failure to pay claims or remit taxes in a timely manner could be an indicator of serious financial problems which should be investigated by the governmental unit” (23).

In 2009-2010, according to the State Board of Accounts, KIPP–run by American Quality Schools–did not even keep verified applications for the school food Verification Report, so auditors couldn’t determine if procedure was followed or not.  In 2010-2011, auditors said that, due to problems in verification of school lunches, KIPP should “request a written position from the Indiana Department of Education stating whether the corrective action taken was sufficient or if additional verifications need to be performed when high incidences of errors in test sample verifications are noted” (24).

But it doesn’t stop there. An official bond for the school was not even filed in the County Recorder’s office or given over to audit. This same violation was noted in an earlier report of the school (24).

Auditors also found that several different people were running school credit cards over a five month period, and that for 23 instances, no receipts could be found.  This problem, too, was highlighted in an earlier audit (25).

All in all, internal controls were so seriously lacking at the school that auditors noticed an environment that could easily lead to fraud

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. The auditors claimed that the “Director of Finance and Administration handles the daily collections, issues receipts, prepares bank deposits, takes deposit to the bank, and handles student billings and postings on accounts” (26).

As for the school’s paying system, the auditors said this:

Offers to employees are signed only by the School Leader and the Employee without the signature of a board member representative. There was no other form of documentation presented for audit which documented the board’s approval of the rate of pay, such as contracts.

Additionally, sufficient documentation was not available to support changes to the rate of pay that occurred during the audit period. One employee agreed to a decrease in hours worked and a decrease in pay, however, the only documentation to support the change in the rate of pay was a payroll change memo to the bookkeeping firm. In addition, one employee appeared to have a pay offer for the 08/09 year that overlapped with the pay offer for the 09/10 year making it difficult to determine the approved rate for the overlapping period.

Lastly, some employees are paid hourly rates for homebound education. There is no documentation of board approval of the hourly rates paid to these employees. (27)


Oddly, the mayor’s office calls out The Project School for not meeting target enrollments, even though the school has grown constantly since it was founded. In 2008-2009, the enrollment was 167; in 2009-2010, 181; in 2010-2011; 268, and in 2011-2012, 311 (11). Parents, also, overwhelmingly support TPS, though the mayor ignores the parents’ surveys his office has done.

If one looks at KIPP Indy’s enrollment, the dropout rate is shocking.  As Jim Horn noticed in August 2011, basing his criticism on the October 2010 report on KIPP Indy from Ballard’s own office,

“KIPP Indianapolis has been consistently under-enrolled during the past four years. The school’s attendance rate has fallen below the target established by the IDOE for the past two academic years. The school’s retention rate was above or near 70% for the first three years, but dropped each year since, reaching only 33.3% this past year. Accordingly, the school receives a Does Not Meet Standard for this indicator.”

TPS attendance has never dropped below 94%, and the school’s retention rate now stands at almost 73% (12), better than KIPP Indy’s in KIPP Indy’s best days.

In the mayor’s KIPP Indy renewal report, the mayor’s office didn’t even bother to rank the school on two performance indicators in question 1.

At the end of his harsh analysis, Horn, an education professor,  asks what the mayor of Indy plans “to do about it.” The answer for the mayor, we knew all along, was to do nothing.  Ballard likes to let the corporate school movers do what they please.


All page numbers refer to in-text pages, not the pages found in PDF boxes.


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  1. Tammy Scrivner August 3, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Hi Doug,
    Just the day before I read your post the following was in the August in the Costco Connection magazine. It was the pro side of the debate “Are Charter Schools a Good Idea”.

    “Mike Feinberg is co-founder of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), a charter school system (
    THERE IS NO SUCH thing as a silver bullet for public education. Charter schools are merely one promising tool in our ever-expanding tool belt of approaches to K–12 educational reform. These autonomous public schools provide a testing ground for innovation, where ideas can be tried, refined and then shared with educators from across the public school system.
    When we started KIPP, we weren’t trying to solve all of America’s education challenges; we simply wanted to set up our students for success in college and in life. Our plan? Hold classes from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, every other Saturday and three weeks in the summer; have teachers set high standards and be available via cellphone after hours; and focus on teaching both academics and character. Eighteen years later, with 109 charter schools in 20 states across the country, 84 percent of our eighth-graders go on to college.
    Charter schools are based on a simple horse trade: Freed from the strictures of the traditional district system, public charter schools can use innovative new ways to engage and support students. If they don’t meet goals outlined in their charter agreement with their sponsor, or authorizer, they can be closed. When done right, advancements don’t stay within charter schools’ walls; they spill out, sparking a vibrant dialogue among public educators. That way, the best school practices can reach many more students than charter schools would be able to serve on their own.
    Cross-pollination between charter schools and traditional district schools is paying off. The Houston Independent School District’s Apollo 20 program is implementing best practices from KIPP and YES Prep and other charter schools in struggling district schools, and the Spring Branch Independent School District in Houston is partnering with KIPP to start new schools within schools modeled after our practices. This spring, officials from 18 urban school districts serving more than 3 million students entered the eight-month-long KIPP Leadership Design Fellowship, a federally funded program designed to share best practices and explore how to cultivate visionary leadership in public schools of all kinds.
    High-performing charter schools over the past decade have shattered the myth that your ZIP code defines your destiny. To understand the true value of charters, it’s important to look at not only the results, but how they are proving what is possible for public school students across the country.”

    After reading this I thought these schools were good, then I noticed the KIPP schools mentioned in your post and now have a totally different opinion. It is so hard to expect “John Q Public” to really get the true picture of what is happening. Thanks for keeping after the truth.

    1. Douglas Storm August 4, 2012 at 9:31 am

      Hey, Tammer,
      It seems hard to believe that you’d find class from 7:30 to 5 p.m. good for children! These people apparently either didn’t like being kids or are ridiculously sadistic OR they don’t mind putting other people’s kids in prison camps.

      And yes, how does one recognize what is horse-shit when these folks have the money and the machinery of politics behind them?

      1. Some guy August 15, 2012 at 7:46 pm

        class in session from 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM.

        How does that work for the teachers? And 24 hr cell phone access with students. Seems that after 5 years of these type of hours, the teacher would be burnt-out toast.

  2. Pingback: The Wages of Progress...

  3. A. Carter August 20, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    I’m going to weigh in here with some caution as I am a former KIPP teacher and a TFA alum.

    When KIPP started years ago, the intention was to make sure that the kids in one classroom didn’t lose all of what ground had been made up by going to the next teacher’s class, who may not care as much. Most of the kids in those classrooms didn’t have constructive “activities” after school to fill their 3:30-bedtime hours. That coupled with being 1-3 grade levels behind, they needed more time on task and less time to find themselves “caught up” in the idleness.

    For those kids, KIPP has been the light at the end of the tunnel–a light that’s not so far away. However, and this is where things went a bit awry, all attention isn’t good attention. When KIPP began to have success with students the regular public schools were writing off, too many people started paying attention to a solution that wasn’t pressure tested enough to be replicated broadly. As a result, KIPP outgrew its notoriety; it wasn’t until the assembly-line replication spurred from that oh-so-widespread 60 Minutes interview that KIPP began experiencing troubles. So I don’t give KIPP a golden pass, but I think it’s important to recognize that for some–actually many kids, effective KIPP schools have opened a door that would have never even been presented them had it not been for someone’s willingness to try something different.

    And to the negative undertone regarding Teach For America–I’d beg to say the same ill plagues them both. Once upon a time TFA’s mission attracted people who believed much more was possible for kids, who shared the belief that poverty shouldn’t dictate access to an equal education. But over time, the press and prestige of the org has created a tension within the org. There are 48,000 applicants for fewer than 10% teaching spots; not everyone is deeply moved by the belief as some are moved by the prestige. The tension: Do we as an org grow to accommodate the need prevalent in our poor communities and the obvious interest as evident by our applicant pool? Or do we step back on our practice and make sure we are producing the quality necessary to truly change the status quo? KIPP and TFA answer this question similarly.

    Therein lies the rub. It’s not the people per se, but rather the commercialist/growth=success mindset that’s plaguing both. But the real problem isn’t KIPP or TFA. The problem is that the ratio of high performing public schools to the number of students who need to be educated is abysmal. Really, really awful. And until public school districts work on shifting their mindset from “educating the poor” to “educating all (period),” some families will need to choose differently, opt out because that is what’s best for their child. They can’t and shouldn’t wait for districts to get it together.


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