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"After several decades of rigorous effort, it is fair to say that the majority of our attention in political science has been given to interstate war and civil war," explains Christian Davenport, adding:

"I would say that it would be interesting to count the number of articles over the last five years on terrorism and compare it to the number of articles on repression but regardless, I stand by the claim that most of our attention has been focused on those activities that challenge political authorities. Actually, it’s probably not even close.

"Why is this the case? Why do governments get a pass? Well, it’s not because of the actual number of deaths associated with different forms of violence....

"I would argue that scholars, especially those in political science, who study challenges to governments do so because this is what governments want us to study. In many ways the targets of political scientists’ gaze has been shaped by those whom we examine. This is what governments and foundations pay for — mostly."

While this is a powerful and much needed commentary on the inadequate and disproportionate critical work in political science, I believe the exact same charge can be leveled at the current education reform debate.

Why do the power elite—from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to corporate charter chains (KIPP) to self-promoting edu-celebrities (Michelle Rhee) and to billionaire education hobbyists (Bill Gates)—overwhelming champion "no excuses" ideologies behind their claims about public schools and needed education reform?

Primarily because the "no excuses" mantra focuses the public and political gaze where the powerful want it—on the families, children, and institutions overburdened by poverty and not on the powerful who have the resources and influence to shape the inequity upon which they feed.

No Excuses: "Tragic and Unacceptable" Distraction

The "no excuses" ideology triggers deep-seated commitments in the U.S. to myths about rugged individualism and the Puritan work ethic. Americans not only believe we should aspire to a meritocracy, but also trust we live in a meritocracy.

Thus, those in power claim that all children should be succeeding in public schools and then follow up by saying children trapped in poverty should simply try harder (often conceding twice as hard) and that school failure is primarily the fault of the "adults" not trying hard enough as well:

“'These schools are failing, and failing persistently,' [SC Superintendent of Education Mick Zais] said. 'And it’s not the students who are failing in these schools. It’s the adults on the boards, in the districts and in the schools who are failing the children.'”
Like the dynamic posed by Davenport about political science research, the power elite using the "no excuses" mantra to focus the public on families, children, teachers, and schools trapped in poverty gives the powerful a pass. The "no excuses" ideology places the burden of poverty on the people, children, and schools experiencing poverty—suggesting and sometimes directly stating that the people, children, and institutions trapped in poverty are the cause-agents of the poverty (notably because of lack of effort, a failure to take advantage of the opportunities in the meritocracy that doesn't exist).

"[R]egardless of what you think about the current mix of government programs, educational outcomes are too tightly linked to parents' economic status," explains Trina Shanks, adding:

"Many children start out school eager to learn and wanting to achieve. But as it seems that no one cares about their efforts and their basic needs are not being met with each passing grade, they start to become less engaged in school and search for other ways to survive. This is tragic and unacceptable."
Inequity, Not Merit, Reigns in U.S. Society and Schools

Recent studies have unmasked the tremendous disadvantages children from impoverished communities face. The truth is that achievement and the likelihood anyone can rise above her/his station at birth are powerfully linked to the coincidence of any child's community.

U.S. society is tremendously inequitable, and our public schools' primary failure is that due to bureaucratic policies schools more often than not reflect and perpetuate that inequity.

Shanks has shown that the future of a child living in poverty is a function of that child's race and class, not effort:

"Even children with proven academic ability fall behind if they grow up in families that are poor. By the age of 3, one study showed, poor children already have half the vocabulary of higher-income children. Another study showed that children in high-risk social and economic environments can start in the top 25% academically at the age of 4 but fall to the bottom by the time they are in high school.

"In a similar example, only 29% of the highest-achieving eighth-graders complete college if they come from low-income families.

"In contrast, 30% of the lowest-achieving eighth-graders and 74% of the highest-achieving eighth-graders complete college if they come from high-income families. Until we get to a point where ability and effort predictably lead to greater educational attainment and improved outcomes, many kids will stop trying because the obstacles become too daunting."

Shanks' Diverging Pathways: How Wealth Shapes Opportunity for Children details the same patterns of race-based inequity:
"Racial disparities in households with young children are dramatic

• In 2007, 32% of white households with young children were income-poor and 14.2% had no assets. In sharp contrast, 69% of Latino and 71% of blacks were income-poor, and 40% had no assets.

Racial disparities in child outcomes start early and grow over time

• At nine months, all children start out with fairly similar scores on a standard child development test, but by two years of age, racial disparities emerge.

The wealth gap widened for households with children

• Between 1994 and 2007, the wealth gap between white and black households with children increased by $22,000 -almost doubling from $25,000 to $47,000.
• In 2007, black households with children held only 4% of the wealth of white households.
• From 2005 to 2007, black households living with zero or negative net worth (debt) grew from 35% to 39% while it stayed constant at 15% for white households.

Maternal education matters, but alone cannot eliminate racial wealth disparities

• For every dollar of wealth owned by a white mother with a bachelor’s degree or higher in 1994 a black mother owned 64 cents. By 2007, it had fallen to 13 cents.
• The wealth gap between white and black mothers with a bachelor’s degree or higher grew five times larger between 1994 and 2007 to an astonishing $128,000."

Davenport argues that as long as scholars look where government wants, "...we end up knowing much less about governments and repressive action than we do revolutionaries and revolution, protesters and protest, rebels and rebellion, and terrorists and terrorism."

And thus, we sit in the same predicament in terms of how those in power are framing the education quality and education reform debate.

As long as we allow those in power to focus our gaze on people, children, and schools trapped in poverty, "we end up knowing much less" about the powerful people and institutions who create and tolerate that inequity.

As Shanks expressed, that is "tragic and unacceptable," and I would add inexcusable.

Originally posted to plthomasEdD on Fri Jul 13, 2012 at 06:41 AM PDT.

Also republished by Education Alternatives.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Of course you're correct (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh

    But tell me. What are our next steps.  We can diary ourselves to death on this subject here and yet nothing changes.  Who do we pressure?

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Fri Jul 13, 2012 at 06:56:01 AM PDT

    •  As a parent, I would say pressure... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      1. Young people to demand a real say in how their schools are run and to take charge of the direction of their own learning.

      2. Parents to opt their kids out of standardized testing and to support their kids in item #1 above.

      3. Teachers to rethink their factory mentality of "labor and management" and assert real control of their profession and their schools, including resisting some of the increasing standardization and regimentation from their districts and states.  Also to adopt a "guide on the side" rather than "sage on the stage" approach to their teaching.

      4. Principals to adopt a facilitative rather than directive approach to their leadership and encourage teachers and students in their schools to get involved in the real school governance process.  Also to push back on mandates from above on curriculum, methodology and other bureaucratic mandates.

      5. District leadership to open public schools that are truly "alternative", including holistic schools (based on Waldorf, Montessori & Dewey), with alternative curricula (like Critical Pedagogy) and even democratic-free schools where students direct their own learning.  I'm sure they'll give you a bunch of reasons why they can't, due to standardization, but still lobby.

      6. State leadership to back off on standardization and regimentation of education.  Allow individual schools more "self rule" by backing off (rather than pushing further) on standardized curriculum and educational practices.  Also urge state leaders to resist NCLB compliance or caving to coercive waivers to get out of NCLB provisions.

      7. The big education-industrial complex vendors from continuing to push for a one-size-fits-all school system to better make education systems easy markets for their textbooks and testing protocols.

      In general, resist everything that has to do with standardizing education and standardizing young people and their development process.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Sat Jul 14, 2012 at 04:18:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  plthomasEdD, as so often happens, (0+ / 0-)

    I agree with you and disagree vehemently. I appreciate the fact that you so clearly describe the effects of poverty on children's ability to escape poverty, but I feel that you ignore children's actual experience in schools, in the form of teaching methods and curriculum products, as part of what may perpetuate their poverty.

    You say,

    U.S. society is tremendously inequitable, and our public schools' primary failure is that due to bureaucratic policies schools more often than not reflect and perpetuate that inequity.
    You don't flesh out what the bureaucratic policies are that perpetuate inequity. From my point of view those bureaucratic policies exist in the form of bad teaching methods, not in the form of individual teachers' approaches, but in the form of curricular products sold to districts and forced on teachers as pedagogical imperatives.

    The term, "No Excuses," is focused on teachers or on schools, I think, not on students. At least that is how a person like myself hears it. Where I disagree with the corporate reformers is that I don't blame individual teachers, I blame the Educational Establishment, which could be described as a bureaucracy, for selling district boards on bad teaching methods and the commercial products that perpetuate them. I think you would agree that bad teaching methods could have a negative effect on student achievement, regardless of the student's family income. You and I disagree about which teaching methods do harm, and I respect you for your position as I have read it in the past, but I am alarmed that you leave instruction itself out of the discussion about the disparity in student achievement between income groups in this country.

    I also want to say that education professionals like yourself appear to disrespect people in poverty when you use the blanket demographic of income to describe imagined family conditions that you contend disable their children from achieving equity in education. I disagree with every angle that assertion comes from, starting with the unwarranted assumption that there is nothing schools can do to make a difference. I feel that your extensive series of diaries at Daily Kos has a purpose of focussing our attention away from educational practice and onto the larger issue of poverty, a worthy goal, but when it comes from an academic in education, it calls attention to itself.

    •  You are arguing against things not in my work (0+ / 0-)


      First, "no excuses" ideology STARTED as a term used about STUDENTS in schools such as KIPP (and even before that)...

      Second, I work very hard to discredit deficit ideologies that misrepresent people and children in poverty...I maintain a blog to that effect:

      Third, the "Educational Establishment" is a code word and itself loaded...Not sure what you mean by it but I have always worked against the status quo and do in fact blame traditional and bureaucratic forces for many school failures...

      You seem to be arguing that I didn't write what you wanted...and much of what you argue was NOT the intent of this blog, but I have written extensively about all of this in my work...

      The disparity between income groups is primarily a function of social inequity, but also attributable to asking way less of many students who happen to be of color and from poverty (thus I link in this piece to another piece of mine that addresses how both are to blame)...

      I have never once said there is nothing schools can do; in fact, I constantly call for education reform that addresses inequity: stop tracking, stop high-stakes testing, stop assigning the best teachers to the best students and the least experienced teachers to the so-called weak students.

      And absolutely no one is more apt to call out the utter failure of education to hand over our profession to textbook and test corporations, such as the move to CCSS, which is merely a cash cow for publishers and test makers...

      So I feel you are picking a fight that isn't here, just to argue...which doesn't seem fair

      •  I completely believe and respect (0+ / 0-)

        what you've said here, except that I might be picking a fight just to argue.

        I don't read everything you have published in your work outside of this forum, but as a part-time, selective reader of Daily Kos, I feel you make the legitimate case that poverty is a factor in student achievement and that you do not focus on educational practice. That seems significant to me, given you are coming from the field of education, not economics.

        I agree with the commenter to this diary then, who asked, "What are our next steps" and directed this statement to you: "We can diary ourselves to death on this subject here and yet nothing changes." I think his point is similar to mine, though possibly not directed as personally toward you.

        I think you make the most powerful points in this forum about the wrong-headedness of the corporate reform movement. I agree but also disagree with you here:

        ... the "no excuses" mantra focuses the public and political gaze where the powerful want it—on the families, children, and institutions overburdened by poverty and not on the powerful who have the resources and influence to shape the inequity upon which they feed.
        Brillantly said. But while I agree that they focus "the public and political gaze where the powerful want it," and that the powerful want it focused on the schools as failures, I think the Educational Establishment, represented by writers like yourself, want it focused "on the families (and) children... overburdened by poverty."

        Neither of you want it focused on instruction, as least as far as I have read your writing in this forum.

        •  Absolutely wrong (0+ / 0-)

          Your last comment is deeply flawed as a characterization of me and my work.

          I am NOT a part of the Education Establishment, nor do I represent that in my work.

          I do NOT want the gaze on people in poverty (that's what the corp reformers are doing;l that is the point of this blog).

          I DO want the gaze on the people with POWER who create and tolerate the inequity in school AND society.

          And as a teacher educator and scholar, I work diligently on instruction, primarily focusing on how it is inequitable.

          •  Thank you for responding, (0+ / 0-)

            and I will do my best to read as much of your work as I can. Thanks again for what you do to keep this subject alive in this forum's diaries.

            •  Sincerely (0+ / 0-)

              I blog because I find academic/scholarly writing insular...academics writing for academics

              Writing here and having people respond are very helpful for a writer...since I often find that what I mean is read quite differently

              So feedback is always very much appreciated

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