Below is Part 14 from my book, Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys through "Excuses" Teaching.
Earlier parts can be found at this blog by searching on the title of the blog entry, followed by the part number.
Earlier parts can be found at this blog by searching on the title of the blog entry, followed by the part number.
A Model Whose Time Has Past
Since its beginning in 1994, the KIPP Model has focused on getting economically disadvantaged students to and through college. As the first KIPP schools were grades 5-8, the long-term goal of college makes some sense as a motivator, even though higher education means high school for most fifth graders, KIPP or no KIPP. Most often college remains a distant dream for children whose poverty levels have excluded them and their families from that experience in the past.
With KIPP now expanding its reach into early elementary grades and even Pre-K, the focus on college may make for attractive classroom posters, but the value of college can hardly be viewed as a realistic motivator for children in these early grades. In fact, KIPP’s insistence of the singular goal of attaining a college education in some “remote future” (Dewey, 1897) serves to distract from the integration of young children’s experiences or the healthy development of empathetic understanding. Working to make children’s schooling more in tune requirements for working and playing together may have a greater moral force than any of the “performance character” regimen designed by “positive” psychologists in search of interventions to alter children’s neural landscapes to fit the compliance requirements of the KIPP Model.
The festooning of KIPP Model school hallways with university pennants and the labeling of classrooms with college names may serve to motivate adults in the school, but elementary age children are less likely to be affected by these memorabilia, as Dewey (1897) astutely noted over a century ago:
. . .much of present education. . . conceives the school as a place where certain information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be learned, or where certain habits are to be formed. The value of these is conceived as lying largely in the remote future; the child must do these things for the sake of something else he is to do; they are mere preparation. As a result they do not become a part of the life experience of the child and so are not truly educative (Article II, para 10).
Like many of Dewey’s insights, the ones related to limits of children’s abilities to conceive a distant goal have been borne out by research (Scott & Steinberg, 2008; Eccles, 1999). Adolescents’ capacity in this regard is based on developmental schedules and environmental realities, rather than adult insistence. The total failure of drug education programs like DARE (Lyman et al, 1999) and the common failure of sexual abstinence programs are not due to the lack of commitment of the programs’ instructors, but to the failure to acknowledge the limited capacity among children and adolescents to reflect on and base present conduct on potential future outcomes.
In considering the effects of KIPP’s remonstrations on the 80 percent of children who begin fifth grade at KIPP and never finish college, we must question the rigidity of the non-negotiable goal of college graduation for every KIPPster. When combined with KIPP’s behavioral strategies aimed to have students internalize all responsibility for shortcomings or failure to attain KIPP’s adult goals, whether now or in the future, the unrealistic college goals place enormous stress on already-stressed KIPP children. For the 8 out of 10 KIPP children who begin 5th grade at KIPP and never graduate from college, we can imagine the debilitating effects, when many KIPPsters come to weigh their success or failure in life on the basis of a life outcome chosen for them by KIPP.
A dramatic example of the importance of KIPP’s college graduation indoctrination was provided during the 2014 KIPP Summit in Houston (KIPP Foundation, 2015e) when an aspiring teacher and former KIPPster, Juanita Davis, recounted a violent episode in her life when she thought she was going to be killed by the father of her child: “If you ever wonder what will go through your head before you think you’re about to leave this earth—it’s an experience I hope no one has to have, but I remember staring down the barrel of that gun, experiencing the most traumatic event of my life—and the only thing I could think of was that I never earned a college degree.”
Considering the sad fact that a disproportionate number of non-privileged students who attend college end up, if they graduate, with bottom-tier college degrees from online or for-profit colleges, we may ask who is being advantaged by insisting on college for those who must borrow heavily to obtain degrees that may or may not be worth the years of indebtedness and sacrifice that former students cannot escape. In a study by Education Trust (Lynch, Engle, & Cruz, 2011), the authors examined 1,200 colleges with comparable data to determine,
1. how many colleges enroll a proportion of low-income students that is at least as high as the national average.
2. how many colleges ask these students to pay a portion of their family income no greater than what the average middle-income student pays for a bachelor’s degree.
3. how many colleges offer all students at least a 1-in-2 chance at graduation (p. 3).
Researchers found five colleges and universities of the 1,200 that met the three criteria.
Of more concern, still, are student experiences with for-profit colleges of questionable academic reputation and documented histories of preying on the poor and vulnerable (Golden, 2010; U. S. Government Accounting Office, 2010). These “diploma mills” enroll a larger percentage of low-income students like KIPPsters than any other type of college, whether private or public. In 2012, 46 percent of students enrolled at for-profit colleges were from families making less than $30,000 per year, whereas the percentage of low-income students at private non-profit and public four-year colleges was 18.1 percent and 21.9 percent, respectively (Choi, 2014).
KIPP students who do manage to graduate from legitimate institutions with large debt burdens must face stiff competition in tighter job markets for most college majors. Since 2010, in fact, the demand for non-college jobs outpaced jobs requiring college degrees. In 2012, over one million Americans with four-year college degrees who were heads of household earned less than $25,000 per year (Eichelberger, 2014).
We may wonder if the facts will catch up with the non-negotiable No Excuses ideology, or if the KIPP Foundation and its philanthropic supporters will remain undeterred by facts as they attempt to compel teachers and students to superhuman feats in order to further burnish the KIPP brand and the other No Excuses brand names. Will support for KIPP’s lucrative colonization of urban schools be re-directed by the knowledge that “the number of [U. S.] households with children living on less than $2 a day per person has grown 160 percent since 1996, to 1.65 million families in 2011” (Eichelberger, 2014).
Or would such facts, if known, simply underscore for KIPP’s corporate missionaries and their backers the vital need for their mission? Will the unwavering insistence on the college-degree solution for segregated KIPP students be influenced by data that show a college degree “does not significantly reduce racial disparity” (Cohen, 2014), or that the demand for college jobs is flat as the demand for non-college jobs is on the increase (see Figure 14.1)? Will the decided disadvantage of black college graduates in the job market influence the KIPP modelers’ implacable insistence that working hard and being nice is enough to counter the racism and classism that KIPPsters will surely face if they are fortunate enough to earn degrees?
In 2015, Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman (2015a) provided the following chart (Figure 14.2), which shows shrinking earnings beginning in 2000 for the shrinking numbers of college jobs. Krugman (2015b) casts doubt on the common claim by KIPP supporters that “achievement gaps” are fueling a “skills gap,” which must be addressed by improving education so that more raw knowledge more widely dispersed can be transformed into usable power that will solve the problem of inequality.
Krugman (2015b) suggests, instead, that believing, or pretending to believe, that inequality as simply an education problem is an “evasion” that represents a “deeply unserious fantasy” (para 13): “As for wages and salaries, never mind college degrees — all the big gains are going to a tiny group of individuals holding strategic positions in corporate suites or astride the crossroads of finance. Rising inequality isn’t about who has the knowledge; it’s about who has the power” (para 11).
In light of shifting economic and workforce trends, we must question the choice among policy makers who insist that disadvantaged children grow up attending total compliance “choice” schools where their future has been chosen for them. It would seem to make more sense to develop school programs and learning conditions that acknowledge that we cannot “foretell definitely just what civilization will be twenty years from now,” as John Dewey (1897) pointed out back before automobiles replaced horse-drawn carriages.
No doubt it would be more practical, humane, and rewarding for both children and society, alike, to have schools that prepare children for uncertain futures by putting them in “complete possession” of all their intellectual, moral, and emotional powers and skills, rather than emphasizing the refinement of a new batch of psychological gimmicks aimed to make poverty more palatable to the poor while offering a fantasy version of social justice.
Clearly related to KIPP’s assumptions about children’s capacity to be motivated by distant goals beyond their immediate or intermediate horizons are the ill-advised total compliance policies and practices that further inhibit possibilities for healthy development among disadvantaged children and adolescents. We know, for instance, that children from high poverty environments often exhibit attachment anxiety more so than children in socioeconomically sound environments, and we also know that the less securely-attached children are least able to tolerate frustrating situations or to be able to delay gratification.
Moore (2006) found that “a secure attachment promotes a sense of trust in the future as well as a sense of trust in others” (p. 200). The constant churn created by teacher attrition and replacements in KIPP model schools only adds to the impermanence and attachment anxiety that children already feel. Child stress is exacerbated and self-blaming displaces chances for self-efficacy when “zero tolerance” punishment schedules, “straightjacket” behavioral expectations, and demands for more self-control and grit are imposed by temporary teachers whose educational and cultural histories are entirely detached from urban realities.
The KIPP Model schools defy or remain unaware of these evidence-based realities, and the No Excuses formulae exacerbate the problems that the KIPP Model purports to solve. Emotional support cannot occur where teachers are allowed and encouraged to yell and scream at children or to be “militant” in their demeanor. Student autonomy cannot survive where children are harshly punished for even minor infractions of rules and forced to remain silent, on-guard, and docile. Students cannot trust or form relationships with important adults where the adults are being replaced every year or two. Without the active help from those who are financially able, yet unwilling, to help end poverty, demanding more from children who have the least will never make them the most they might be.
It is doubtful that entrenched reformers with paternalistic agendas will be re-routed by either logic or compassion from their long-standing mission. As long as generous public funding continues to support corporate reform school endeavors and/or as long as the same reformulated reforms result in the initiation of new ideologues convinced that public problems are best addressed by “market based” solutions, we will see a continuing push for more No Excuses urban chain gangs that pursue their inhumane and miseducative ends by “any means necessary.”
What we can expect from the new (and old) paternalists is a renewed crusade, in fact, to alter the children of the poor in ways that will encourage further shrinkage of our social and ethical infrastructures and the growth of new, more lucrative revenue streams for publicly-funded and privately-operated education.
Choi, L. (2014, January 10). For-profit colleges and the student debt crisis. San Francisco: Federal Bank of San Francisco. Retrieved from http://www.frbsf.org/community-development/blog/for-profit-colleges-and-the-student-debt-crisis/
Cohen, P. (2014, December 24). For recent black college graduates, a tougher road to employment. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/25/business/for-recent-black-college-graduates-a-tougher-road-to-employment.html?_r=0
Dewey, J. (1897). My pedagogic creed. New York: E. L. Kellogg & Co. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/mypedagogiccree00dewegoogw
Eccles, J. (1999, Fall). The development of children ages 6 to 14. Future Child, 9 (2), 30-44.
Eichelberger, E. (2014, March/April). 10 poverty myths busted. Mother Jones. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/03/10-poverty-myths-busted
Golden, D. (2010, April 29). Homeless high school dropouts lured by for-profit colleges. Bloomberg.com. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-04-30/homeless-dropouts-from-high-school-lured-by-for-profit-colleges-with-cash.html
Krugman, P. (2015a). Rip van skillsgap. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/rip-van-skillsgap/?_r=0
Krugman, P. (2015b). Knowledge isn’t power. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/23/opinion/paul-krugman-knowledge-isnt-power.html
Lyman, D. et al. (1999). Project DARE: No effects at 10-year follow-up. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67 (4), 590-593. Retrieved from http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/HomePage/Class/Psy394Q/Behavior%20Therapy%20Class/Assigned%20Readings/Substance%20Abuse/DARE.pdf
Lynch, M., Engle, J., & Cruz, J. (2011). Priced out: How the wrong financial-aid policies hurt low-income students. Washington, DC: Education Trust. Retrieved from http://www.edtrust.org/sites/edtrust.org/files/PricedOutFINAL.pdf
Moore, C. (2006). The development of common sense psychology. New York: Taylor and Francis.
Scott, E., & Steinberg, L. (2008, Fall). Adolescent development and the regulation of youth crime. Future Child, 18 (2), 15-33.
U. S. Government Accounting Office. (2010, August 4). For-profit colleges: Undercover testing finds colleges encouraged fraud and engaged in deceptive and questionable practices. Washington, DC: U. S. Government Accounting Office. Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10948t.pdf