Earlier this week the Wharton School of Business and the SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management, both of which are at UPenn, hosted a two-day conference on transforming teacher education for the poor, specifically, and higher ed for the non-elite, generally, to conform to the human depersonalizing and dehumanizing model prescribed by the big money in Silicon Valley and Wall Street.
This 21st version of eugenics comes packaged as social emotional learning (SEL), and it is being sold by people like Martin Seligman, Angela Duckworth, and Carol Dweck, all of whom have their own product lines to sell and their territories to protect.
The conference at UPenn was co-organized by UPenn's Graduate School of Education, and UPenn's (and the CIA's) Professor Seligman offered a keynote.
|UPenn Announced KIPP Support in 2014|
These prefatory remarks are offered to provide context for Chapter 15 of Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys through "No Excuses" Teaching, which examines a little closer the emerging social-emotional learning hoax, which has successfully hijacked legitimate work of folks like James Comer to create an updated version of the new paternalism based on psychological exploitation and human capital goals devised by the drones of billionaires.
At the spear point of this neo-eugenics movement to make the poor psychologically invulnerable to poverty are the children in the "no excuses" charter schools, where practices remain behind doors that are unopened by regulation or oversight. Children and their teachers are being turned into compliant robots, and the University of Pennsylvania is one of the prominent sponsors.
Another Generation of the KIPP
As we have already established, the No Excuses KIPP Model
schools are concerned with measuring student test performance and student
performance character, which provide the sought-after evidence of both student
and teacher production values. Despite
the consensus among researchers and statisticians that teachers are responsible
for a small percentage of the differences in student achievement (the American
Statistical Association (2014) puts the number between 1% and 14%), KIPP’s
policies are predicated on the assumption that teachers are the primary
influence on student test performance.
scores, then, become the metric for determining the worth of a teacher. Consistent, too, with reformers’ derogation
of evidence for the effects of poverty and discrimination on KIPP students’
test and character performance, the leaders of KIPP have set into motion a
schooling machine that processes both students and teachers through a system
sustained by the conversion of human energy sources into academic and character
test scores. These scores, then,
function to define and predict human capital outcomes. Those students and teachers whose energy cannot
be converted into higher scores are extracted before they weaken the system.
Even though academic test performance remains the primary
production function at KIPP, David Levin in recent years has worked with
positive psychologists, Martin Seligman and Angela Duckworth, at the University
of Pennsylvania to further develop strategies to better instill performance
character traits. Not surprisingly, the
development of performance character assessments has preceded the elaboration
of a performance character curriculum, as witnessed with the example below of a
character progress card that is meant to accompany the academic report card.
aimed to measure performance character in a handful of KIPP schools, most of
the traits evaluated on the “Character Progress Report” (see Figure 15.1) serve
to undergird the academic program outputs at KIPP, which are measured by tests,
either standardized or teacher made. Because students have come to understand
that their results on standardized tests or the “formative” tests that are used
to prepare for the summative standardized tests provide the evidence of
learning that counts for their grades, they have come to understand, too, that
other areas of measured performance are tertiary.
be expected, most KIPP students give attention to the
demands of the testing regime and little else. As one former KIPP
teacher noted, “They were really good performers on
tests, . . . but they had figured out that they didn’t need to perform in
class. And so the teachers were not
satisfied with the performance in class, but they still would perform well on
the standardized test.”
Supporters of the KIPP Model insist
that self-regulation and self-control must prevail if disadvantaged children
are not to be carried down a future road to ruin by their bad habits that focus
on satisfying present needs. According
to a new breed of psycho-paternalists (Steinberg, 2014), future oriented
self-control behavior must overcome present oriented self-rewarding behaviors. Schools that serve poor children, then,
should introduce social and emotional learning (SEL) strategies that are
sequenced, active, focused, and explicit (SAFE).
Steinberg calls for less
socialization and more training of “executive functions,” which remain, as they
were in the 18th Century, tied to memory capacity. Improving memory works to raise test scores
and grades, which are largely dependent upon the ample presence of “executive
function.” Delayed gratification, grit, self-control and the rest of the
performance character traits must be imposed and assessed in order to mediate
the internal warring impulses between self-reward and self-regulation systems
within the brains of adolescents.
Based on what we have learned of
KIPP’s compliance demands, the KIPP Model would seem to offer the optimal
environment for dredging the new neural channels required by the paternalist
psychology. However, the available research does not show any kind of character
transformation happening at KIPP. In the
widely-disseminated Mathematica study (2008-2013) for which KIPP patrons paid
almost $4 million, we find significant test score gains at KIPP when compared
to local public school, but the same cannot be said for improvements in
performance character strengths.
Steinberg (2014) offers this sobering summary of the Mathematica findings
that “were not so widely broadcast”:
weren’t more effortful or persistent.
They didn’t have more favorable academic self-conceptions or stronger
school engagement. They didn’t score
higher than the comparison group in self-control. In fact, they were more likely to engage in
‘undesirable behavior,’ including losing their temper, lying to and arguing
with their parents, and giving teachers a hard time. They were more likely to get into trouble at
school. Despite the program’s emphasis
on character development, the KIPP students were no less likely to smoke,
drink, get high, or break the law. Nor
were their hopes for their educational futures any higher or their plans any
more ambitious (p. 153).
that same Mathematica study, KIPP students were significantly less well
adjusted, did much more homework, and reported much less involvement in
extracurricular activities than non-KIPPsters (Steinberg, 2014, pp.
144-145). With two hours of homework per
night on average, and with the extended day, week, and year, little time
remains for extracurricular activities that are, after all, in shorter supply
at KIPP than at public or private schools.
Excuses methods emphasizing silence and minimal peer interactions offer clues
as to the growth of problem behaviors reported by the Mathematica researchers.
KIPP rules appear to assume that performance character can be improved without
the need for interactions with others.
With the exception of just one criterion on KIPP’s performance character
rubric (KIPP Foundation, 2015c), “Asked questions to help s/he [sic] learn better,” we find that there
is no need for a KIPPster to ever verbalize at all.
Even so, former teachers that I
interviewed saw enforced silence as a big organizational mistake, a pedagogical
shortcoming, and an oppressive fixation that was not in the best interests of
students or teachers. One teacher offered important insights into the effects
of the limited opportunities for isolated and disadvantaged children to learn
how dialogue works:
Well, some of these students come from broken homes and
they’ve experienced trauma, which is essentially untreated in many cases. And there’s not a whole lot of socialization
at KIPP, and so it’s a lot of silence and frustration, I imagine, for some of
the students who are further behind academically, as was the case here for this
class. Because they were expected to
basically be these all-star students and there’s the No Excuses mentality
that’s driven in throughout the entire school year, there’s just all this
frustration throughout the day.
not allowed to really bond with each other throughout the day, so there’s a lot
of conflict amongst each other. And so
some of the disrespect that I see between my students there at KIPP—I think had
to deal with the fact that they didn’t have a real good opportunity to
bond. But it was due to the fact that
many of them have had traumatic lives or continue to experience trauma and are
punished instead of really being cared for and listened to, even. The big thing at KIPP was no talking back no
matter what—I don’t want to hear it. You
could receive a harsher punishment if you even utter a word of talking back in
response [to a] punishment.
Among the teachers interviewed for this book, there was a
shared anxiety with regards to what KIPP’s lockdown environment will eventually
produce. As student success entails a
sense of empowerment, or the ability to not only control but to affect or
transform one’s world, these former teachers understood the danger that the
KIPP Model poses to that purpose or aim.
The resulting anxiety is represented by the statement below, which
expresses concern that the KIPP influence would continue to reach beyond the
183 KIPP franchises:
I am worried that if the KIPP motto starts to spread that it
will end up going into public schools as well and then because KIPP is so
test-focused, other schools are going to be that way. I feel like we are just
going to be creating robots, like people who aren’t really able to think for
themselves and be creative and expressive and be able to have their own
personalities. I am just worried that it is just going to create a society of
people who are going to be complacent and just kind of do whatever people tell
them to do because that is what they have learned their whole life.
interest among corporate foundations and their think tanks (Center on Children
and Families at Brookings, 2014) for “character” building through
social-emotional learning (SEL) interventions suggests the KIPP Model is likely
to be repackaged for another generation of No Excuses schools. Once again,
psychologists of the developmental variety are coming to dominate this social
and emotional learning (SEL) niche (Steinberg, 2014; Farrington et al, 2012),
and they are joined by new paternalists who are fixated, as they always have
been, on self-regulation and self-control.
As a solution to their character
deficiencies among the disenfranchised, SEL will likely have a dominant role in
the next phase of the crusade to fix the poor.
a recent research review (Dweck, Walton, & Cohen, 2014) sponsored by the
Gates Foundation, the authors examine studies that support the Duckworth thesis
that non-cognitive, or motivational, factors like “academic tenacity” can have
more effect than “cognitive factors” on “core
academic outcomes such as GPA and test scores” (p. 2):
At its most basic level, academic
tenacity is about working hard, and working smart, for a long time. More
specifically, academic tenacity is about the mindsets and skills that allow
students to . . . look beyond short-term concerns to longer-term or
higher-order goals, and withstand challenges and setbacks to persevere toward
these goals (p. 4).
The philanthrocapitalists and their think tank scholars
quote liberally from the work of Walter Mischel (1989, 2014), whose experiments
with delayed gratification among preschoolers provide the dominant metaphor for
another generation of paternalist endeavors.
In Mischel’s experiments, children were offered a single marshmallow
immediately or two marshmallows later if they could delay their reward. The test, which came to be labeled “The
Marshmallow Test,” represents the potential to delay gratification in order to
gain a larger reward later on.
At many of the KIPP, Aspire, Achievement First, and Yes
Prep schools, children wear t-shirts emblazoned with “Don’t Eat the
Marshmallow.” Mischel’s (2014) latest work, The
marshmallow test: Mastering self-control acknowledges KIPP’s prominent role
and places it within the context of recent research on improving
self-control. David Levin has made
Mischel’s book a central component in his Coursera massive open online course
(MOOC), Teaching character and creating
positive classrooms, which was first offered with co-instructor, Angela
Duckworth, in 2014.
Levin and Duckworth are two of the co-founders of
Character Lab, which uses Duckworth’s experimental work at the Upper Darby
School District near the University of Pennsylvania to fine tune the character
performance interventions that Levin initiated at KIPP schools in the early
2000s. Interestingly, much of the research that is used to justify the use of
the Seligman-Duckworth resiliency improvement methodology is the same data offered
to justify the Seligman deal that cost the U. S. Army $145 million (see Chapter
1) for interventions that brought no benefit to GIs suffering from the stresses
of war. We may wonder how much these
alleged remedies for children might cost federal and state education
departments, whose bankrolls are much smaller than those at the Pentagon.
A related character approach that operates under the trade
name, Brainology, claims that 1,000
schools are now using its “growth mindset” based on Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset (2006). Dweck’s work is included on the suggested
reading list used by Levin and Duckworth for their online course mentioned
above. Brainology cites unpublished research that shows teaching the
growth mindset “boosts motivation and achievement” and narrows both the gender
and racial achievement gaps (Mindset Works, Inc., 2008-2012) A license for 300
students is available for $5,250, or the program may be purchased for $79 per
student. A separate site license for
professional development is sold for $1,500.
Brainology website has links to a handout that summarizes finding for a short
list of preliminary studies showing Brainology’s effectiveness in increasing
motivation, although none of the findings has appeared in refereed journals. Even so, the enthusiasm among reformers is
strong and growing stronger as the debilitating stresses from poverty rise, and
the spread of educational austerity measures calls for the ramping up of
strategies that might mollify those affected children whose promised rewards
become even less certain.
The Next Generation of No
the appearance of the Thermstroms’ (2004) No
Excuses. . . announced the delivery of a new paternalistic script for
schools that serve poor, black, and brown children, the publication of another
book (Tough, 2012), How children succeed: Grit, curiosity, and the
hidden power of character, brought news of the next act in the
school-based morality tale plotted to save the poor from themselves. Tough provides a popularized survey of the
psychological theory that underpins the KIPP Model’s character education
program, and as such it moves the focus away from the Thermstroms’ conclusions
regarding cultural deficits among the poor to a fixation of character
book examines the justifications and methods for neurologically-altering
children in order to improve their “performance character” and to enhance their
human capital potential, as measured by grades and test scores. Instead of directly assaulting the cultural
shortcomings of the poor, as the Thernstroms had done, Tough’s book centers on
the possibilities for fixing flawed character.
the new paternalist plot outline, performance character is viewed as a
collected demonstration of non-cognitive and significantly alterable traits
that greatly influence cognitive outcomes.
Supporters contend that if cognitive outcomes (grades and test scores)
among poor children are going to equal those of privileged children, then
deficient performance character, has to be zeroed in. Even if the target’s
label has changed from “culture” to “character,” the destination of the arrow
has not; it remains the psychology (attitude, motivation, and behavior) of the
child that must be altered, rather than any socio-cultural or socioeconomic
(2012) provides a compendium of enthused speculation and scanty research
findings on the capacity to alter the malleable brain chemistry and functions
of children traumatized by poverty.
Tough explores the grand, or grandiose, hope for a scientific way to
take advantage of the neurological plasticity of children in order to program
good discipline and character. With an enthusiasm reminiscent of the heady days
of eugenics when Stanford’s president, David Jordan, talked of the potential
for “Burbanking the human race” (The American Practitioner, 1912), Tough (2012)
quotes pediatrician, Nadine Burke Harris, who excitedly discusses the
possibility changing children’s behaviors in order to alter brain chemistry
and, thus, permanently modify performance character:
When we look at these kids and their behavior, it can all seem so
mysterious . . . . But at some point, what you’re seeing is just a complex
series of chemical reactions. It’s the folding of a protein or the
activation of a neuron. And what’s exciting about that is that those
things are treatable. When you get down to the molecules, you realize,
that’s where the healing is. That’s where you’re discovering a solution
New York Times article that preceded the publication of How Children Succeed. . ., Tough (2011) conceded that the earlier
reform strategy of ignoring the effects of poverty on children had been a
mistake. But rather than advocating for
interventions that would alter the structural conditions that enable the
continuation of poverty, a new generation of KIPP Model supporters influenced
by writers like Paul Tough now appears focused on behavioral-cognitive
interventions to alter the body’s reactions to the stress that poverty creates.
alterations are to make it possible for “executive functioning,” or conscious
memory, to proceed uninterrupted, despite poverty-induced distractions like
noise, danger, hunger, or any of the other life-altering annoyances with which
the poor must contend. To change the
body’s reactions to stress, of course, gets us back to the need to change the
brain, which must be done, it is argued, by strengthening behaviors,
specifically those behaviors that signal healthy “academic mindsets.”
flawed mindsets brought on by the body’s capitulation to stress are to be
successfully altered, then, with activities and habits that increase grit, self-control, zest, social
intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity. To carry out this child improvement
agenda, teachers will be trained in a new pedagogy that places as much emphasis
on performance character calisthenics as it does on exercising the executive
functions, where memory occupies the position of the brain’s CEO.
Where’s the Beef, or the
white middle class corporate education reformers talk about the need to have
brown and black poor children learn to "delay gratification," who can
help but wince, at least just a little? After all, black children were
being trained to accept the same message over a hundred years ago, when white
teachers funded by Northern philanthropists taught the children of former
slaves that moral inferiority required them to wait until their race could
catch up to the morally-superior white race, whose history as Christian people
provided a two thousand year divine advantage that clearly justified their
T. Washington was one of those youngsters taught this lesson of inherited moral
depravity at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, and the brainwashing he
received lasted him a lifetime. He was the first black man to have lunch
at the White House, and he served loyally throughout his life as a spokesman
for white Northern philanthropists who wanted their message of unforced gradualism
in civil rights and economic servitude to dominate discourse among black
citizens whose parents and grandparents were America’s only involuntary
Washington admonished African-Americans to “dignify and glorify labor,” for “it
is at the bottom of life that we must begin, not at the top” (Bacon, 1896, p.
14), he was anticipating a later version of the same message to work hard, be
nice, and be patient. Or as some may say, Work hard, be hard, and don't
eat the marshmallow.
white reformer philanthropists are the planners of another century of
authoritarian, paternalistic schooling models for the children of the black and
brown poor, and though some of the tools and techniques have changed from the
late 19th Century, the aim and the purpose clearly echoes down to us
from the heydays of the Hampton Model (see Introduction). Today, black
children are told that it is not their moral inferiority that holds them back
but, rather, their character defects.
if white reformer icons like Mike Feinberg and David Levin can come up with
ways to improve black and brown children's character, compliance, grades, and
test scores, then all the poverty in the world cannot hold them back as long as
they remain patient. Or so they are
told. In the meantime, the poor children
who are having their characters altered and their cultures cleansed so that
they are immunized against the effects of poverty must wait. How long
must they wait to eat that marshmallow? What kind of threats, punishments,
and humiliations will be required for them in the meantime? Will unending
patience be required until policy reformers and pedagogical technicians can
discover another more compelling explanation for the failure of the oppressed?
bestseller, Outliers, Malcolm
Gladwell (2008) offers KIPP as an example to support his premise that most people achieve success with hard
work and the help of others. Gladwell
views KIPP and KIPP supporters as providers of the “helping-hand” solution that
is aimed to close the gaps between the haves and have-nots. It would seem, then, that if success in life
is achieved with the help of others and some good luck, rather than from
personal advantage or special gift (as Gladwell argues), then it makes sense
that failure should abide by the same law.
That is, if we are to no longer believe in self-made successes, as
Gladwell clearly does not, then can we really continue to believe in the
Gladwell can, as he attributes the educational disadvantages of the poor to the
failure of the poor. Gladwell offers us
the example of 12 year-old Marita, whose “[poor] community does not give her
what she needs,” and, as a result, she is placed into the KIPP school so that
she can be helped:
Marita's life is not the life of a typical
twelve-year-old. Nor is it what we would necessarily wish for a twelve-year
old. Children, we like to believe, should have time to play and dream and
sleep. Marita has responsibilities.
. . . . Marita has had to [“shed some part”
of . . . [her] own identity] because the cultural legacy she had been given
does not match her circumstances . . . not when middle and upper middle class
families are using weekends and summer vacation to push their children ahead.
Her community does not give her what she needs. So what does she have to do?
Give up her evenings and weekends and friends -- all the elements of her old
world -- and replace them with KIPP (p. 266).
to believe, as Gladwell obviously does, that poverty and its debilitating effects
are the faults of the poor, which must be remedied, then, by KIPP-like
character and cultural interventions that require children to sacrifice “all
the elements” of their worlds—except for that most striking element of being
poor? Must Marita and the rest of the KIPPsters give up everything for KIPP
except their poverty?
doesn’t seem to occur to Gladwell or to any of the other No Excuses culture-and
character-fixers that providing the needed resources for Marita’s community to
“give her what she needs” may be a more responsible and sustainable kind of
intervention than resorting to psychological and neurological manipulations by
clueless amateurs, who demand Marita’s childhood in exchange for some
far-distant and questionable path to economic salvation.
modern-day day example of blaming the poor for their poverty follows a long
lineage of patronizing ideology that goes all the way back to our Puritan
forefathers, who viewed poverty as clear evidence of the poor’s own moral
depravity and wickedness. For the 21st
Century KIPP Model’s paternalist patrons and apologists, the poor’s depraved
culture and weak character must be addressed with precision psychological fixes,
so as to overcome the conditions that corporate and governmental enablers of in absentia poverty continue to silently
support with a colossal passivity.
Today’s public punishments of the children of the poor come in doses of
brain-altering classroom interventions that are meted out by unwitting non-professionals,
yet they remain inspired by the rigid catechism of working hard and becoming
hardened, for even the slimmest chance one day to be among the Economic
influential report (Farrington,
Roderick, Nagaoka, Keyes, Johnson, & Beechum, 2012) from
the University of Chicago’s CCSR, which provides a schematic for moving forward
with the kind of character education that will produce greater human capital
formation, there is Figure 15.2 from page 13 of the Report. I offer it here near the close of this book,
for I think it encapsulates the uniquely insular framing that has remained so
remarkably persistent over the decades of reformulated education reforms of the
new paternalist era.
Figure 15.2 we see all sorts of connections from the “School and Classroom
Context” on down to the bottom line of “Academic Performance,” which then feeds
back into the “Academic Mindsets.” On
the side and disconnected from the flow of influences is “Student Background
Characteristics.” And even though all of this active interplay of influences
occurs within a “Socio-Cultural Context,” that context would appear to have no
influence on, or to not be influenced by, anything that goes on at the school
and classroom level.
is not as if the authors (Farrington,
Roderick, Nagaoka, Keyes, Johnson, & Beechum, 2012) did not
know of the interplay of structural factors and student background outside of
school with the pedagogical factors inside.
In fact, they admit that
the “interrelationships between cognitive, psychological, and structural
variables and school performance are exceedingly complex:”
. . . we situate
the model within a larger “Socio-Cultural Context” that shapes the structural
mechanisms of schools and classrooms, as well as the interactions and subjective
experiences of the human beings within schools. Opportunity structures in the
larger society; economic conditions that shape employment opportunities as well
as schooling costs; the presence of racism, sexism, and other types of
discrimination that give rise to stereotypes and prejudice; and stark
inequalities in resources across neighborhoods and schools all contribute to
the larger context in which American students learn (p. 13).
The authors’ expansiveness in the consideration of the
problem is, in the next sentence, neutralized, for reasons that those
preferring psychological solutions to psychosocial problems readily explain: “We offer this model as a simplified
framework for conceptualizing the primary relationships among these factors,
for the purpose of framing our discussion” (p. 13). With that cleaving caveat, then, the
discussion is severed from the complexity of “primary relationships” that have
to be understood and acted upon for social and economic wounds to be
In doing so, the attempt at healing
begins even before the cutting stops, which will, in turn, require
increasingly-advanced Band-Aids to staunch the bleeding, even as the social and
economic wounds deepen and the infection advances. The result is a corporate education reform
discussion framed once again for the benefit of a failed solution with a new
pseudo-scientific twist. Those who engage in it actively fortify the boundary
between the psychological and the sociological sides of the human enterprise, even
though history is replete with grim examples that “neither can be subordinated
to the other or neglected without evil results following” (Dewey, 1897, p. 4).
If Not the KIPP Model, Then
schooling practices for disadvantaged, urban children that middle class parents
would never allow for their own children, corporate education reformers like to
talk about achievement inequities that cannot wait for utopian social plans to
be enacted or for perfectly fair solutions to be found. Whatever-it-takes kinds of action, they
argue, are needed now. Secretary Duncan
(U. S. Department of Education, 2012) expressed this sentiment in 2012 when he
said, “We can’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. We can’t let the utopian become the enemy of
the excellent. And we can’t let
rhetorical purity become the enemy of rigorous practice” (para 22).
is the kind of consistent inaction with regards to child poverty and social
injustice that has created the presumed emergency status that reformers argue
now justifies the jettisoning of fair, effective, professional, and democratic
schooling practices that were once the ideal of American public education. One has to wonder, too, what price this new
rigor and grit agenda will demand.
Will it require of Marita and other
children at total compliance schools more than their childhoods, which have
already been claimed as a necessary cost to helping them to become the
behavioral equivalents of middle class children with the stamina to sit quietly
and wait for the marshmallow? If more
social-emotional learning treatments are required, what else will be paved over
as new neurologic roadmaps are excavated and built in the brains of children
who, otherwise, would be traumatized by the effects of poverty?
We have to
wonder, here, which is more utopian in nature and concept:
a) To expand into schools the
“learned optimism” and “resiliency training” practices from the
Seligman/Duckworth self-control and grit movement that have been demonstrated
to have little empirical basis and no practical value in the prevention of
suicide, violence, and other antisocial behaviors associated with
post-traumatic stress, or
b) To strategically set about the business that justice and
honesty require of a democratic society by,
· incentivizing (at the federal level)
and investing (at the corporate level) in research based efforts to create and
sustain economically-and-culturally integrated classroom, schools, and
· instituting an ongoing Race to End
Childhood Poverty, which will provide adequate funding and human resource
assistance to states for developing and piloting initiatives that, if
successful, can be scaled up in communities with similar cultural and social
· developing a national plan to
recruit and professionally prepare the most diverse and competent teacher and
administrator force in the world, which will be thoroughly schooled in the
history and implementation of best practices, effective policy planning,
multicultural community relations, and the social science and art of teaching,
· incentivizing and investing in
institutional capacity to develop, implement, and study curriculum and
assessment practices that address the entire learning spectrum within a variety
of cultural contexts, from the simplest repetitive learning tasks to the most
complex and contextually demanding tasks,
· mandating by regulation and statute
fair and adequate systems for funding public education that are subject to
public oversight and accountability at all levels,
· building a sense of shared mission,
trust, and mutually-shared accountability among policymakers, educators,
political leaders, the business community, and the general public,
· instituting a system of research and
public sharing that will provide needed guidance for education policy
· creating cross-disciplinary teams of
researchers and practitioners from the sciences, technologies, arts, and
humanities to focus on novel ways of addressing social, economic, cultural, and
health issues to benefit all citizens,
· constructing democratic governance
structures at the local, state, and federal levels that are proactive as well
as responsive in making sure that equal educational, economic, and cultural
opportunities are provided to all citizens,
· protecting children, parents, and
teachers from miseducative, abusive, misguided, and/or developmentally
inappropriate schooling practices.
readers will dismiss this list as more advocacy for “utopian social change”
(Tough, 2011), closer consideration will hopefully show that much of the
infrastructure in already in place to move forward with some of these
initiatives. The U. S. Department of
Education (USDOE), for instance, has the capacity to direct and connect
researchers from around the nation and the world toward projects that could be
initiated from current levels of discretionary funding.
Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) could expand its online reach to
serve scholars, educators, and the general public, alike. Rather than incentivizing more resegregation
and ill-prepared teachers with generous federal allocations for more No Excuses
charter schools and Teach for America and TFA emulators, the Department could
shift funding to research and development of magnet schools, controlled choice
plans, and development of teacher preparation and credentialing systems that
have worked in countries like Finland and Shanghai.
some of the foreign countries who do well on international tests lean heavily
on the decades of research and shared thinking by American educational icons
(Sahlberg, 2011; Asma, 2014) like Jerome Bruner, Ralph Tyler, John Dewey,
Maxine Green, and John Goodlad—rather than a Harvard MBA (Lemov, 2015) with 64
foolproof ways to “teach like a champion.”
Rather than making excuses for more school segregation by
continuing to point to failed desegregation efforts of the past, unions,
businesses, and governments could commit to uphold the 9-0 Supreme Court ruling
over 60 years ago that declared separate schools are inherently unequal. And rather than cheerleading for myopic and
unaccountable corporate solutions to educational issues that have deep roots in
economic and social inequality, political leaders can and must be forced to
confront the problems that they would rather contract out to the well-connected
for temporal corporate non-remedies.
I offer a final example of the kind of program that, if
studied, fine-tuned, and expanded, could begin to operationalize some of the
ten options presented above as preferable alternatives to paternalists’
neo-eugenic schemes to correct the “non-cognitive” defects of poor
children. In Baltimore, a program called Promise
Heights provides a number of wraparound services to a handful of inner city
Baltimore schools and part of Baltimore’s first African-American
funded by a modest $500,000 grant from USDOE in 2012, program services are
coordinated by the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland, which
partnered with churches, schools, community groups, and Baltimore’s social
workers to “test out ways” to help the children in neighborhoods plagued by
poverty and violence (McDaniels, 2014):
“The goal of the multiyear initiative
is to combat the cycle of poverty by wrapping children and families in
supportive services from cradle to college. Dealing with trauma is a major
focus of that work” (para 13).
in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affects as many as
a third of Promise Height elementary and middle school children who have been
exposed to violence inside or outside the home:
students bit classmates, leaving teeth marks on hands and cheeks; a few
threatened to hurt staff members. Other children, dubbed “runners,” darted out
of the building and down barren city blocks, with frantic teachers on their
heels. The encounters exhausted Johnson and other teachers, who began to see
the children as troublemakers.
. . .Studies have piled up showing that in the tangle of tough, intractable
issues like poverty and drug addiction, exposure to violence is a major factor
damaging children's health. The stress that fills their little bodies breeds
anxiety and depression, making it hard for them to concentrate in school. In
fact, research has found that such experiences hurt the development of crucial
areas of their brains — those involving attention, memory and behavior control.
In the worst cases, children walk around with symptoms of post-traumatic stress
disorder no different from those plaguing soldiers who have fought on the front
lines (para 3, 7).
Strategies used in the Promise
Heights program, however, do not focus on behavioral lockdown or experiments to
build self-control and grit among children with little capacity for
either. Instead, social workers are in
the schools and in homes to work with teachers and parents to understand what
is going on and to provide interventions that preserve the dignity of children,
parents, and teachers, alike. No one is
asked to sacrifice her childhood: The
University of Maryland team has embedded social workers in neighborhood
schools. They make home visits and coach adults on parenting. Teachers learn
that instead of asking a misbehaving child, “What's wrong with you?” they need
to ask, “What happened last night?”
services include psychological services, parenting courses, wellness programs,
prenatal childcare, asthma treatment, GED classes, job counseling, and a
“parent scholar program,” which puts parents in classrooms to assist teachers.
In the first year of the parent scholar program that had five parent scholars
embedded in one school, school suspensions fell by 43 percent.
Results for Promise Heights are encouraging, and it provides
but a single example—a beginning point to address the many inequalities that
consistently produce achievement gaps, which are the obvious symptoms of the
growing child poverty that paternalist reformers and supporters of the KIPP
Model ignore. There may have been at one
time an excuse for such disregard, but with what we know and can no longer deny
there can be no excuse for imposing tried-and-failed remedies from previous
centuries that exacerbate the problems, now grown epidemic. Surely the very notion of education reform
deserves something better if it is escape the long shadow cast by patronizing
and racist education policy.
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