When a “Visit” Trumps Expertise and Experience: A New Deal

I have already addressed the distortions and outright misinformation in a new piece on Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charter schools. But a few issues raised in this claim of a “softer” side to “no excuses” practices need to be addressed more fully.

I have discovered that “no excuses” advocates now routinely push any critic about whether or not the critic has visited a KIPP school; note this paragraph early in the Education Next piece:

Also not surprisingly, KIPP and other No Excuses schools have no shortage of critics. Furman University education professor P. L. Thomas, who admitted in a recent speech at the University of Arkansas to never having been in a No Excuses charter school, complains in a widely referenced 2012 Daily Kos post that in such schools, “Students are required to use complete sentences at all times, and call female teachers ‘Miss’—with the threat of disciplinary action taken if students fail to comply.” Regarding KIPP in particular, Cambridge College professor and blogger Jim Horn, who admits to having never been inside a KIPP school, nonetheless has referred to KIPP as a “New Age eugenics intervention at best,” destroying students’ cultures, and a “concentration camp” at worst.

Horn and I are immediately marginalized because of the claims that we have never visited a KIPP school (for the record, I responded to a question about whether I have visited an Arkansas KIPP school, which I have not).

The push on the need to visit KIPP schools has raised two issues for me.

First, there are now abundant publications offering detailed evidence from many different people who have visited KIPP schools: Sarah Carr’s excellent Hope Agains Hope, Gary Rubinstein’s series on his visits, and Russ Walsh’s blog post, just to note a few.

Visiting a KIPP or “no excuses” school, it seems, doesn’t really change anything for those of us who hold foundational stances that reject the central ideology of “no excuses” practices. I reject authoritarianism regardless of the type of school in which it is practiced, and I abhor deficit perspectives, again regardless of the school type.

Whether I visit a school or rely on my analysis of other people’s details or data from “no excuses” schools, I am quite capable of drawing valid and evidence-based conclusions. And, frankly, I don’t have to ever set a foot in an actual school.

My best proof of this is the Education Next piece itself. While the authors believe they are discrediting the concerns of “no excuses” critics, the piece reinforces my central reasons for rejecting the policies, including the disturbing picture of three students participating in “Stereotypical Geek Day.” The picture itself feels exploitive and the activity, ridiculous.

That “no excuses” start out strict and ease off doesn’t excuse the abusive nature of the practices. And the larger concerns I have are not addressed at all: that minority and high-poverty students are disproportionately served and segregated from privileged and white students, that students wear uniforms, that “no excuses” schools tend to be selective and create a great deal of attrition, that KIPP schools are prone to hire Teach for America recruits (inexperienced and uncertified teachers for minority and impoverished students).

I remain opposed to all charter schools, not just “no excuses” charter schools, as well, and I reject any form of school choice.

Nothing in the Education Next article addresses that “other people’s children” are being served and treated in ways that affluent children are not; and that is my biggest complaint.

All children should have access to the sorts of schools and policies that affluent children enjoy. Period.

Second, however, is the more urgent issue I see with the insistence that “no excuses” critics visit “no excuses” schools: “no excuses” advocates and education reformers are overwhelmingly people who have never taught in public schools.

Is the new reformer message that visiting a school trumps having actually taught in a school?

If so, I propose a compromise:

No one can criticize a “no excuses” school unless she/he has visited the school and no one can lead education reform unless she/he has taught in public school.

“No excuses” advocates and reformers, deal?

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10 thoughts on “When a “Visit” Trumps Expertise and Experience: A New Deal

  1. I did not say at AERA or elsewhere that KIPP schools are concentration camps, even though I did reference concentration camps in response to the question as to whether or not I have ever visited a KIPP school. I said, no, in fact, I have not, nor have I ever visited a WWII concentration camp. But the documentation is clear what it was like there (despite the Holocaust deniers), just as it is clear what life is like in a KIPP school–despite the Walmart scholars’ propaganda piece that tries to paint a picture of a kinder, gentler form of chain gang, total lockdown schooling.

    My new book on KIPP will be out in 2014. I hope they will visit it.

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