The "No Excuses" Reformers have two refrains that drive their claims about schools and teachers as well as their arguments for reform policy: "Poverty is not an excuse" and "Poverty is not destiny." But behind these mantras is the real message from these self-appointed reformers: "Evidence is not policy."
The "No Excuses" Reformers have remained committed to several alternatives to what they call the status quo: Teach for America (TFA), charter schools, and school choice. What do all three have in common?
A lack of evidence for pursuing any of them as policy.
• The evidence against TFA.
• The mixed, at best, evidence about charter schools (and the reasons "no excuses" charters such as KIPP are inexcusable).
Consider Diedrich's discussion of the two-decades of failure stemming from school choice in Minnesota (a pattern that also occurred in Milwaukee, and both have been essentially ignored by the "No Excuses" Reformers):
"After experimenting with market-based, competitive education initiatives for 20 years with little statewide education improvement, it’s time Minnesota returns to what works best: proper education investment and supporting our students and teachers.
"Minnesota is home to the nation’s oldest charter school law and has also implemented school choice initiatives, such as open enrollment. This simulated market experience has not supported the idea that increased competition drives improvement.
"Minnesota's national test scores in math have increased by less than seven percent since the introduction of a competitive system 20 years ago, and reading scores increased by less than one percent during the same time frame.
"The main problem, among many, is that school systems cannot function as free markets if we want to achieve universal post-secondary readiness. Free markets produce efficiency, not equity for all. Efficiency helps maximize profit, but what about students that aren’t profitable to educate? [emphasis added]
"Using the rules of economics, and assuming we must achieve universal post-secondary readiness, MN2020’s latest report, False Choices: Market-Driven Education Reform Doesn’t Work, demonstrates why free market thinking in education comes at a high price for students, parents and teachers.
"As a result of competition-based thinking, many schools have focused on teaching-to-tests and advertising instead of broad based cognitive development that will provide students with the necessary skills to be successful in a 21st century workforce.
"In moving Minnesota back toward a proven educational path, our latest report makes the following recommendations:
- There is a place in education for efficiency, incentives, and innovation; however, policymakers must stop trying to achieve these competitive goals with a false, market-based approach.
- Schools must adapt to achieve universal post-secondary readiness by focusing on initiatives that enhance teachers’ professional development and provide comprehensive teacher assessment and feedback.
- Instead of using a false market-mentality as political cover to systematically defund schools, we must invest in education for the 21st century, using some of that investment to develop a comprehensive and fair teacher evaluation metric.
- Charter schools have a place in the public education system as partners, not competitors, with traditional schools."
And the ignored conclusions from Milwaukee published in 2007?
"Taken as a whole, these numbers indicate significant limits on the capacity of public school choice and parental involvement to improve school quality and student performance within MPS. Parents simply do not appear sufficiently engaged in available choice opportunities or their children’s educational activities to ensure the desired outcomes.
"This may be just as well. Relying on public school choice and parental involvement to reclaim MPS may be a distraction from the hard work of fixing the district’s schools. Recognizing this, the question is whether the district, its schools, and its supporters in Madison are prepared to embrace more radical reforms. Given the high stakes involved, district parents should insist on nothing less."
As the evidence mounts against the claims and policies of the "No Excuses" Reformers, their entrenched refrains ring more and more hollow, and behind those refrains we hear the reality of their commitments: Evidence is not policy.