comments_image Comments

KIPP Forces 5th Graders to 'Earn' Desks By Sitting On the Floor For a Week

One hundred 10-year-olds spent the first week of school sitting on the floor. What was it they were supposed to have learned?

Photo Credit: Dereje via


The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) is the largest corporate charter school chain in the U. S, with 141 schools and 50,000 students in 20 states. KIPP was launched in 1994 by David Levin and Michael Feinberg, two former Ivy Leaguers and Teach for America (TFA) corps members assigned to teach in Houston, where the first KIPP school was created. Since 2000, when KIPP students performed a skit at the Republican National Convention, KIPP has become the poster school model for “no excuses” education, and today it receives hundreds of millions in donations from corporations, corporate foundations and venture philanthro-capitalists.

KIPP spends a great deal of money promoting its brand of total compliance, segregated charter schools as the “tough love, no excuses” solution for schooling in urban communities disabled by poverty and 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.

KIPP requires the poorest urban children, those who have received the least in life, to earn everything at KIPP, from paychecks for good behavior and working hard to the very shirts they wear. At some KIPPs, children must even earn their right to sit at a desk (rather than on the floor) for 8 to 10 hours a day.

What would your reaction would be if your fifth-grader came home every day for the first four days of school to tell you she sat on the floor without a desk? What do you think Michelle Obama would say if her children came home telling her they were not good enough to have a desk, or that they had not proven 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 to earn decent treatment?

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

One KIPP teacher told me that students lose their desks as a form of punishment. He said 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, 100 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 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 10 kids sitting in the back room or the whole class on the floor."

It seems humiliating and abusive. But I had heard nothing like the following account telling of 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 sent to 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 100 fifth-graders on the floor of one class in rows for a week, 100 fifth-graders in one classroom for a week until they could follow directions. And at that point, I said, why am I here?....

See more stories tagged with: