"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Riding the 'Turnaround' Merry-Go-Round in the Continuing Assault on Philadelphia Public Schools - Part III

by Ken Derstine @ Defend Public Education!
April 14, 2016

On April 7, 2016, at a Hillary Clinton campaign rally in Philadelphia, Bill Clinton got into an argument with demonstrators from Black Lives Matter over his legacy. He later said he “almost want[s] to apologize” for his remarks in defending his “welfare reform” and Violent Crime Control and Enforcement Act of 1994. It is these policies that led to a drastic increase in homelessness and explosion of the prison population in the U.S. in the 1990’s and after.

No matter how contrite Bill Clinton may be for the purposes of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, however, nothing he said at the rally was true. The fundamental premise of Bill Clinton’s neoliberal policies was that the working class needed “welfare reform” even as the industrial base of the U.S. economy was eroding because of globalization. This right-wing position was based on free market myth that the workers as individuals are responsible for their deteriorating conditions. At the same time, his deregulation of the corporate and financial sectors led to historically unprecedented accumulation of wealth by the top 1% of the American population and the near collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008. This was only averted by the $700 billion bailout of banks and various financial institutions with taxpayer money. No such relief has ever been contemplated for the workers and the unemployed.

The neoliberal agenda for privatization that became corporate education reform began as part of Clinton’s neoliberal reforms. The Clintons’ relationships with billionaires Eli Broad, the Walton Foundation (Walmart) and the Gates Foundation were to play a fundamental role in its development. The 'no excuses' philosophy would become a fundamental premise of charter schools in the subsequent administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The 'No Excuses' Education Philosophy 

The 'no excuses' philosophy of school management was first implemented in 1994 in the original KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) schools in Houston. Created by Mike Feinberg and David Levin (who is also a co-founder of Relay Graduate School of Education), the philosophy basically says that students from low-income families should be taught to overcome the problems brought on by poverty through a rigid pedagogy that accepts no excuses for failure. Any consideration of social factors in student achievement is considered “low expectations”.
In his recently released book, Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys through “No Excuses” Teaching, Jim Horn, Professor of Educational Leadership at Cambridge College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says of the 'no excuses' model:

The “no excuses” school model that KIPP charter schools popularized owes significantly to an assumption made two decades ago by paternalistic school reformers (Finn, 1997), who argued that schools and teachers could “reduce inequality in educational achievement if disadvantaged students were held to the same high standards as everybody else” (Cohen, 1996, p. 101).  This belief remains widespread today, and it has contributed to at least four bad outcomes for children, teachers, and public schools:  1) it leads us away from altering the corrosive socioeconomic realities that affect children’s lives outside school, while pushing our attention toward fixing children and their teachers’ belief systems, 2) it requires educators and children to subscribe to an ideology that demands toxic levels of anxiety and stress to attain some modicum of success, even temporarily, 3) it has led to widespread failure to live up to expectations that prove more fanciful than real, which creates self-loathing or self-blame for failing to achieve what students and teachers, alike, are told is achievable, 4) it has contributed to a totalizing compliance regimen for students and teachers that is more penal than pedagogical.

The heart of Horn’s book comes from twenty-five interviews with former KIPP teachers about their experience at KIPP. He summarizes what these teachers say in the interviews in his book (page 141, 142):



  1. This is all by design: More on Memphis School Cuts and the Broad and Gates Foundations | Nancy Bailey's Education Website


  2. North Carolina legislators are moving rapidly to start an Achievement School District even as one fails in Tennessee.