As a lifelong fan of science fiction (SF), I want to start by invoking a SF convention that never gets old: time travel (but I’ll spare you the whirlwind prestidigitation mastered by Kurt Vonnegut, who married time travel and non-linear narrative in Slaughterhouse-Five).
Once upon a time (well, I must confess, I enjoy a bit of genre-splicing also), Bill Gates, billionaire and burgeoning education hobbyist, began tossing his considerable expertise (read: money) at small schools projects. Low and behold, Gates eventually looked at the research his own foundation gathered, declared the project a failure, and scuttled away—only to decide that the greatest scourge on the planet was the enormous number of “bad” teachers failing our children everyday!
Since we are now back in time (and you may notice a pattern here about history repeating itself, and such), let’s look at that Gates/small school dynamic as I blogged about this in April and May 2011:
And, Gates’s small schools experiment? While Gates himself declared the experiment a failure, Marshak explains that Gates’ small school experiment actually exposes Gates’ own inability to understand the education dynamics he claims to reform. But ample evidence reveals both that Gates is inexpert and remains unsuccessful as an education reformer. See here, here and here — including his failure to understand statistics and the charts he enjoys using to make his points here. (Accountability? Start at the Top, OpEdNews 11 April 2011)
Let’s do some truly basic math.
First, consider that Bill Gates, a billionaire whose wealth and success have been built on computer innovation and entrepreneurship, has been an education reformer for many years now–stretching back to a small schools focus:
“Bill Gates used to believe that one of the solutions to failing schools was to create smaller ones with 500 students or fewer. His foundation spent $1 billion toward this; seeing the opportunity to bring in private dollars, districts started shifting to smaller schools. Small schools became the big new trend. But then the foundation conducted a study that found that, by itself, school size had little if any effect on achievement. The foundation dropped the project and moved on to teacher reform, but by then some urban districts throughout the nation had changed to small–and more expensive to operate–schools.”
So the first formula is:
Gates initiative + Gates funding = abandoned schools in the wake of failure (with no consequences for Gates)
As the Los Angeles Times reports above, Gates is now focusing on teacher quality–including calls for teacher evaluations tied to test scores measuring student achievement against the common core standards.
This suggests a new formula:
Gates money + common core standards + testing industry = profit for Gates and testing industry at the expense of students, learning, and public education. (If There Remains Any Question, Daily Kos 1 May 2011)
Let’s return now to the present where the Gates machine has called for a moratorium on all that Common Core and VAM stuff because his own people’s research appears to refute what Gates has been pontificating about in the compliant media gaze that only Gates seems worthy of receiving (I hate to beat this to death, but do any of you see a pattern here?).
I want to offer now that this call for a moratorium is another teachable moment—those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and all that—and therein we have at least two important lessons:
First, Gates/small schools, Gates/VAM, and Gates/Common Core are all the same flawed dynamic in which political leaders, the media, and the public confuse wealth with expertise. Remove Gates’s billions and he would have zero credibility in any of these ventures—and I still maintain that the small school debacle is the most telling part of this story  because Gates misread his own research, declared erroneously the commitment a failure, and simply walked away leaving others to hold the bag (roadbuilder he has always been, roadbuilder he will always be).
And this leads to the debate and discussion that has blossomed from the Gates moratorium announcement.
So our second lesson is somewhat positive: If we could ever set aside confusing wealth with expertise, we may come to recognize that among educators, scholars, and researchers we already have a wealth of expertise that could better serve our goals of education reform.
And thus, I maintain my stance that the Gates moratorium is a sham, but I want to highlight here that within the credible responses to that moratorium call, we see how education reform should be debated by those who know the field:
- 11 June 2014: Gates Moratorium Another Scam: Beware the Roadbuilders pt. 2
- 11 June 2014: From Common Core, to Vergara, to VAM, Gates Foundation Fingerprints Everywhere, Anthony Cody
- 20 June 2014: John Thompson: Time for a Truce in the Battle Over Education?
- 21 June 2014: CURMUDGUCATION: Is It Time for a Truce, Peter Greene
- 21 June 2014: Is a High Stakes Moratorium Worth Embracing?, Anthony Cody
- 21 June 2014: CURMUDGUCATION: John Thompson’s Response to My Response to John Thompson’s Post
And while I enjoy coming back to and finding new SF again and again, in education reform I am eager to step off the “Déjà vu all over again” merry-go-round.
Bill Gates, about that moratorium? No thanks. And while we are at it, no thanks to all the rest either.
If you’d stopped building your roads we never asked for right through the middle of our villages, we would have time to take care of business here, instead of constantly staying one step behind underneath the rubble of the disasters you create.
 Please read carefully Good Doubt and Bad Doubt from 2007 and Why Did the Gates Small-High-Schools Program Fail?: Well, Actually It Didn’t from 2010 for some really powerful time travel. And this is just must-read: Bill Gates should hire a statistical advisor.
A half century seems to be a significant amount of time for change, but Minnijean Brown Trickey’s visit to Little Rock Central High School fifty years after the federal government had to monitor her and eight other African American students entering public school shows that much more time is needed. Felicia Lee captured Trickey’s experience, documented in the HBO film Little Rock Central: Fifty Years Later:
On a recent visit to Central High, Ms. Trickey spoke to a self-segregated classroom: whites on one side, blacks on the other. An African-American student apparently dozed as she spoke. Students and teachers alike spoke blithely or painfully of the low educational aspirations and achievements of too many black students. Central, many said, is now two schools in one: a poor, demoralized black majority and a high achieving, affluent white minority.
Public schools in the U.S., like Little Rock Central, are a snapshot of racial and economic inequity. While the landmark Brown v. the Board of Educationin 1954 ended de jure segregation, the South struggled with school integration well into the 1970s.
Yet, Little Rock Central is not unique to the lingering racial and economic inequities found in schools—including children of color, children from poverty, ELL, and special needs students being assigned un-/under-certified and inexperienced teachers, receiving highly scripted test-prep instruction, and enduring authoritarian “zero tolerance” discipline policies. Children of color and children from poverty also experience the within-school segregation highlighted by Little Rock Central: Fifty Years Later: White and affluent students dominate selective tracks of classes (such as Advanced Placement), and white and African American students self-segregate in class, the lunchroom, and social settings.
Many of these issues of social and educational inequity receive some political and public consideration, but one aspect of inequity remains ignored: The rise of de facto educational segregation, notably in the South.
The Re-segregated South
Race has historically been central to both how the South is defined as well as the social tensions of the region. In a 2012 report for The Civil Rights Project, Genevieve Siegel-Hawley and Erica Frankenberg note that the twenty-first century has revealed a South in which “black and Latino students account for about half of the region’s students, while whites constitute a minority.”
According to data drawn from a larger report, E Pluribus…Separation: Deepening Double Segregation for More Students, the racial dynamics of the South include two powerful elements, as Siegel-Hawley and Frankenberg, focusing on the South, detail:
• The South is a majority-minority region in terms of its school enrollment, second only to the West as the most diverse in the country. At more than 15 million students, the South has, by far, the largest enrollment of any region. Southern students make up almost a third of the national enrollment (32% of all students).
• Latino students account for nearly the same share (23.4%) of the region’s enrollment as black students (25.9%). At 46.9%, whites now constitute a minority of students in the South.
While the South has historically been an impoverished region of the U.S., the racial shifts experienced by the region amplify the problems already faced by public schools disproportionately burdened by the impact of poverty on student outcomes as well as fully funding education. Racial and economic factors are difficult to separate in the South, but the rise in populations of Latino students adds challenges associated with language acquisition to the systemic struggles fueled by racial tensions in the South.
During the most recent era of school accountability, begun in the early 1980s and intensified in 2001 with the implementation of No Child Behind (which specifically charged public schools with documenting and addressing racial gaps in achievement), however, achievement gaps and drop-out rates, for example, remain seemingly entrenched in public education. One other reality of the last three to four decades is that schools are re-segregating:
• Since 1991, black students in the South have become increasingly concentrated in intensely segregated minority schools (defined as 90-100% minority students). This represents a significant setback. Though for decades Southern black students were more integrated than their peers in other parts of the country, by 2009-10 the share of Southern black students enrolled in intensely segregated minority schools (33.4%) was fast closing in on the national figure (38.1%). By comparison, in 1980, just 23% of black students in the South attended intensely segregated schools.
• For the last four decades, contact between black and white students has declined in virtually all Southern states. In schools across the region, white students make up 30% or less of the enrollment in the school of the typical black student for the first time since racial statistics pertaining to schools were collected by the federal government.
• Most of the largest Southern metro areas also report declining black-white exposure. The Raleigh, NC metro had the highest black-white contact although this too has fallen in recent years. In 2009, the typical black student in the metro went to a school where whites accounted for about 45% of their peers, compared to about 54% in 2002).
• In 2009, black-white exposure in the metropolitan area of Raleigh was relatively similar to the overall white percentage in the metro (54%)–indicating fairly stable levels of desegregation. Future enrollment data for the Raleigh metro should be closely monitored to ascertain the impact of recent policy changes to the district’s voluntary integration policy.
• Two metros, Memphis, TN and Miami, FL, had the lowest exposure of black students to white students in 2009, under 15%.
The South is no longer a racial dichotomy between black and white; Latino students now share the inequities found among African Americans:
• The share of Latino students attending intensely segregated minority schools has increased steadily over the past four decades from 33.7% in 1968 to 43.1% in 2009; presently more than two out of five Latino students in the South attend intensely segregated settings.
•At the metropolitan level, Latino-white exposure is higher than black-white exposure across many major Southern metro areas. This is particularly true in Southern metros outside of Texas (where, in general, the lowest exposure between Latino and white students occurred).
• For example, Atlanta has a growing Latino student population, now comprising 13% of all students. As their share of enrollment has grown, Latino exposure to whites has fallen substantially—by nearly ten percentage points since 2002. Yet, Latino students in the Atlanta area still have higher exposure to white students (29.8%) than their black peers (20.3%).
• In ten Southern metros, the typical Latino attends a school where at least 40% of students are white. By comparison, only in the Raleigh metro did black students experience similarly high levels of exposure to white students.
Among black, white, and Latino students, social and educational inequity defines access to education (schools remain reflections of racially and economically stratified communities):
• Black students experience the highest levels of exposure to poverty in nearly every Southern state. (This is different from the rest of the U.S., where Latino students experience higher average exposure to poverty.)
• Virginia, with the lowest share of student poverty in the South, also reports the lowest black exposure to poor students. Even then, almost 50% of students in the school of the typical black student in Virginia are low-income, considerably higher than the state’s share of low-income students (36.8%).
• Stark differences in exposure to poverty for white students, as compared to black and Latino students, exist in virtually every Southern and Border metropolitan area.
• In three Border metros, the typical white student attended a school with less than 30% poor students, and the typical black student attended a school with more than 60% of students from households at or near the poverty line.
The re-segregation of the South should raise essential questions about education reform: How are current reform policies addressing racial and economic inequity? And how are those reforms impacting re-segregation?
Current Education Reform Perpetuating, Not Curbing, Inequity
The current education reform era remains committed to seeking new standards (currently a push for national standards, the Common Core), aligning tests to those standards and then linking those test scores to teacher evaluations, expanding commitments to charter schools, and infusing the teaching core with inexperienced and uncertified Teach for America recruits.
While the education reform movement has ignored that test-based accountability has failed to raise student outcomes, close achievement gaps, increase graduation rates, or boost international comparisons of U.S. schools, the test-based and “no excuses” reform paradigm proves to be even a greater failure when measured against goals committed to equity, as the reports from The Civil Rights Project highlight.
Changing standards ignores that children in poverty and children of color tend to experience test-prep courses regardless of the standards, and thus receive a reduced educational experience when compared to middle-class and affluent (and disproportionately white) students. If education reform were committed to equity, public schools would insure that all students, regardless of race or socio-economic status, would receive rich and engaging educations.
Increasing the amount of testing and the stakes associated with that testing (for both students and teachers) ignores that standardized testing remains more closely linked with the child’s home status than with the child’s learning or their teachers’ effectiveness. If education reform were committed to equity, high-stakes standardized testing and using test scores to label and rank students and teachers would be completely eliminated. Test-driven education stratifies students by race and socio-economic status, discourages teachers from seeking opportunities to work with high-needs students, and misrepresents school quality (see the historical failure of relying on the SAT, for example.)
Charter schools are not producing outcomes superior to public (or private) schools, but charter schools (such as KIPP) are stratifying (re-segregating) schools and focusing education for children of color and children from poverty more on authoritarian discipline policies and test-prep than rich experiences being experienced by their more affluent (and white) peers. If education reform were committed to equity, children of color and children from poverty would be provided public education that mirrors the education being experienced by affluent whites; instead, charter schools are segregated and “no excuses” environments designed for “other people’s children.”
Funding and expanding TFA candidates in high-poverty and high-minority schools ignores that the single greatest inequity experienced by children of color and children from poverty is being assigned un-/under-certified and inexperienced teachers. If education reform were committed to equity, education reform would abandon test-based teacher evaluations as well as supporting TFA, and instead would insure equity of teacher assignment for all students while also acknowledging the importance of experience and expertise for teachers.
Focusing on school-only reform (the tenet of “no excuses” school reform) ignores the corrosive power of poverty. If education reform were committed to equity, education reform would be supported by social reform that acknowledges recent findings on the stress of poverty and child cognition: “These results suggest that prenatal stress may play a role in the intergenerational persistence of poverty.” Poverty is the result of inequity, and schools too often reflect that inequity and thus cannot then raise students out of that poverty.
The bi-partisan test-based accountability movement, driven by a “no excuses” ideology, is deaf and blind to the social and educational inequity of their policies.
Little Rock Central, half a century after segregation was declared over, remains a haunting legacy of how much further society and U.S. schools need to go:
“Central is still pretty segregated,” Brandon Love, the affluent student body president who is the only black person in his Advanced Placement classes, says in the film. “It is just that we do not have to have the National Guard here to get in the school and to go to school.”
The South is currently a bitter pill to swallow in the war on inequity. The South, again, is also a stark message for the entire country: Inequity stains the lives and learning of American children.
The commitments of education reform are perpetuating those inequities, not overcoming them. The segregated South has risen again, and education reform deserves a significant part of the blame.
In a major journal from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), a teacher and scholar laments the current state of implementing the research in language: “A brief consideration will indicate reasons for the considerable gap between the research currently available and the utilization of that research in school programs and methods” (p. 87). 
And the discussion of that gap between research and classroom practices leads to this conclusion:
“Most thinking persons agree that the existence of civilized man is threatened today. While language is not food or drink, and will not satisfy the hungry and thirsty, it is the medium by which we must do much of our learning and panning, and by which we must think out solutions to our problems if we are not to solve them by the direct method of force. No sensible person believes that language will cure all difficulties; but the thoughtful person will certainly agree that language is a highly important factor in promoting understanding, and a most dangerous factor in promoting understanding between individuals and between the countries individuals represent. Moreover, language is a significant factor in the psychological adjustment of the individual. This is not the time for the teacher of any language to follow the line of least resistance, to teach without the fullest possible knowledge of the implications of his medium [emphasis added]. Before we, either as individuals or as a Council, experiment with methods of doing specific things or block out a curriculum, let us spend some time with the best scholars in the various fields of language study to discover what they know, what they believe uncertain and in need of study. Let us go to the best sources and study the answers thoughtfully. The game of Gossip is not for us.” (p. 94)
While those of us living our lives as teachers, especially teachers of literacy in K-12 settings or in teacher education, may recognize many points above in our current debates about education reform—including some of the debates that simmer below the surface of the workings of NCTE—this piece is by Lou LaBrant and was published in the January 1947 issue of Elementary English (now Language Arts).
More than six decades after LaBrant wrote about the gap between research and practice, More than six decades after she implores us that “[t]his is not the time for the teacher of any language to follow the line of least resistance,” educators across the U.S. are faced with the failure of leaders, the public, and professional organizations in the face of the promise of universal public education and its potential to drive the great hope we call democracy.
The Locus of Authority: Our Time for Resistance
At the 100th anniversary annual convention for NCTE in Chicago (November 2011), I presented during a panel on the Council’s century of leadership in the field of literacy—reading from the essay above by LaBrant and suggesting how she would have responded to the current calls for Common Core State Standards (CCSS), increased testing, intensified value-added methods (VAM) for teacher accountability linked to those tests, and accelerating mandates driving teacher preparation and accreditation of colleges and departments of education.
I know from my work as the biographer of LaBrant that she was a powerful voice for the professionalism, scholarship, and teacher autonomy—including herself and every teacher with whom she interacted. LaBrant, in fact, during the early 1930s when enrolled in her doctoral program at Northwestern University, faced pressure while teaching English to implement required reading lists, textbooks, and benchmark testing, all of which she knew to be flawed practices.
What did LaBrant do?
She fabricated lesson plans with her roommate, the foreign language teacher, and submitted them each week while practicing the pedagogy she embraced—student choice in what they read and wrote, holistic instruction and assessment of literacy. At the end of the year, LaBrant and her students (yes, in the early 1930s) faced end-of-course testing, and LaBrant’s students received top scores. Consequently, she was praised by the principal in front of the entire faculty for her dedication to the prescribed policies.
This tension between bureaucratic mandates that seek to shift the locus of authority (consider Freire’s distinction between “authoritarian” and “authoritative”) away from the teacher and within the standards and tests designed and prescribed by the state is not entirely new (except for the intensity), but neither is the need for teachers to own their autonomy, their professionalism—to be that resistance.
Also at the 2011 NCTE annual convention, a convention of celebration, Susan Ohanian, Stephen Krashen, Carol Mikoda, Bess Altwerger, Joanne Yatvin, and Richard J. Meyer proposed a resolution: NCTE will oppose common core standards and national tests.  This act of resistance, this act of teacher autonomy and professionalism resulted in what Catherine Gewertz in the Curriculum Matters blog at Education Week describes as: “The National Council of Teachers of English was asked by a group of its members to take a strong stand against the common standards, but it declined to do so.”
This is a time when political leaders, the public, and national organizations have abdicated their moral obligation to create and maintain universal public education for all children as a sacred trust between a free people and the promise of democracy.
As the faculty of Garfield High School (Seattle, WA) take a principled stand against MAP testing as a beacon of hope in the fog of corporate education reform, this is also a time for all educators to shine every light of our autonomy on what is right and what is wrong in the day-to-day pursuit of teaching children.
“This is not the time for the teacher of any [student] to follow the line of least resistance, to teach without the fullest possible knowledge of the implications of his medium.”
Freire, P. (2005). Teachers as cultural workers: Letters to those who dare to teach. Trans. D. Macedo, D. Koike, & A. Oliveira. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.
Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Trans. P. Clarke. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
LaBrant, L. (1947, January). Research in language. Elementary English, 24(1), 86-94.
 Originally posted at Daily Kos (November 21, 2011) and cross-posted at Truthout (November 28, 2011). Reposting here as a call for solidarity among educators inspired by the resistance of Garfield High School faculty (Seattle, WA) to the corrosive impact of MAP and other elements of high-stakes testing in U.S. education. The original piece has been revised.
 Revised resolution passed: Resolution Proposal to Support: No Confidence in United States Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan
The League of Women Voters of South Carolina has released “How to Evaluate and Retain Effective Teachers” (2011-2013), but this report misreads the evidence on teacher evaluation and thus distracts high-poverty states from needed educational reform. 
A review of the report shows it does not establishing a clear problem with teacher quality in SC and misrepresents the current body of research on teacher evaluation, particularly value added methods (VAM) of evaluation.
As a high-poverty and racially diverse state, SC is similar to many other states facing educational hurdles, but those hurdles have less to do with identifying and ranking teacher quality and more to do with the inequitable distribution of teachers. Children of color, children in poverty, English language learners, and special needs students are taught disproportionately by inexperienced and un-/under-certified teachers. SC and other high-poverty states would do well to address teacher assignment and teaching conditions before experimenting with new teacher evaluation systems.
Ultimately, this report misreads and misrepresents the current understanding of how to evaluate and determine teacher quality—specifically through test-based methods.
These point-counterpoint posts serve well to illustrate the essential difference between Social Context Reformers, represented by Cody, and “No Excuses” Reformers, represented by the GF:
“No Excuses” Reformers insist that the source of success and failure lies in each child and each teacher, requiring only the adequate level of effort to rise out of the circumstances not of her/his making. As well, “No Excuses” Reformers remain committed to addressing poverty solely or primarily through education, viewed as an opportunity offered each child and within which…effort will result in success.
Social Context Reformers have concluded that the source of success and failure lies primarily in the social and political forces that govern our lives. By acknowledging social privilege and inequity, Social Context Reformers are calling for education reform within a larger plan to reform social inequity—such as access to health care, food security, higher employment along with better wages and job security.
As well, the content and language in Cody’s and the GF’s blogs offer another layer for understanding the education reform debate—the tension between ideology and evidence.
The most distinct example of that tension came at the end of the five-part exchange when Irvin Scott included a preface to the final GF entry, making this charge against Cody, and indirectly all Social Context Reformers:
Simply, I believe all children can learn. I believe low-income children of color can learn when they have great teachers who believe in them, and treat them with the same passion, enthusiasm and intellectual rigor that they would treat their own children. And I believe in the skill and will of teachers, provided they are given the opportunity to teach, learn and lead as true professionals. I believe in John Dewey’s insight that learning in the process of living is the deepest form of freedom. In a nation that aspires to democracy, that’s what education is primarily for: the cultivation of freedom within society.
I want to believe that Mr. Cody believes this same truth about students, yet in each post he carefully marshals an assortment of facts and statistics which seems to suggest that he believes that children living in poverty cannot learn and that until the status quo changes we should lower our expectations for poor children.
Scott, on behalf of the GF and “No Excuses” Reformers, clearly outlines the ideological, and thus not evidence-based, positioning that is both at the heart of the “No Excuses” Reform movement and why that narrative is more effective than the evidence-based positions of Social Context Reformers: “No Excuses” Reformers champion an enduring slogan “Poverty is not destiny.”
As the U.S. enters the second decade of the twenty-first century, then, is poverty destiny? It is the answer to that question that is central to which education reform agenda the U.S. should embrace.
“Is” versus “Should Not Be”: Poverty Is Destiny
Nowhere is the contrast between ideology and evidence more distinct than what Americans believe about income equity and access to opportunity as that compares to the actual income distribution and access to opportunity found in the U.S.
First, let’s consider an enduring American ideal—social mobility; thus, answering the question, Is poverty destiny in the U.S.?
Sawhill and Morton offer the data revealing that in the U.S. social mobility has stagnated, particularly when compared to countries that have far greater social mobility than the U.S. (Denmark, Norway, Finland, Canada, and Sweden, for example). The short answer, then, to whether or not poverty is destiny in the U.S. is yes; in fact, all categories of socioeconomic status in the U.S. are primarily static. In other words, the majority of people in the U.S. remain in the social class of their birth.
Poverty is destiny, and affluence is destiny in the U.S. And these facts have almost nothing to do with the effort of anyone in those categories.
The statistical norm in the U.S. is that each of us is destined to the class of our parents. Those who are socially mobile upward are outliers, and to promote social policy based on the claim that “poverty is not destiny” is to make an ideological claim that has no basis in evidence. And worse, it makes an unwarranted implication that normal outcomes are somehow the result of inherent flaws in the majority of people who live their lives in the class into which they were born.
Why, then, do the ideological claims of “No Excuses” Reformers resonate with the public against the weight of evidence?
Sawhill and Morton show that the American public holds unique beliefs about equity that contrast significantly with most other countries. Americans disproportionately believe that the U.S. is a meritocracy (people are rewarded for intelligence, skill, and effort), but reject that people need to start with privilege in order to succeed, that income inequity is too large in the U.S., and that government should help alleviate opportunity inequities.
Further, Norton and Ariely explain about the contrast between American ideology and the evidence:
Most scholars agree that wealth inequality in the United States is at historic highs, with some estimates suggesting that the top 1% of Americans hold nearly 50% of the wealth, topping even the levels seen just before the Great Depression in the 1920s (Davies, Sandstrom, Shorrocks, & Wolff, 2009; Keister, 2000; Wolff, 2002)….First, our results demonstrate that Americans appear to drastically underestimate the current level of wealth inequality, suggesting they may simply be unaware of the gap. Second, just as people have erroneous beliefs about the actual level of wealth inequality, they may also hold overly optimistic beliefs about opportunities for social mobility in the United States (Benabou & Ok, 2001; Charles & Hurst, 2003; Keister, 2005), beliefs which in turn may drive support for unequal distributions of wealth. Third, despite the fact that conservatives and liberals in our sample agree that the current level of inequality is far from ideal, public disagreements about the causes of that inequality may drown out this consensus (Alesina & Angeletos, 2005; Piketty, 1995). Finally, and more broadly, Americans exhibit a general disconnect between their attitudes toward economic inequality and their self-interest and public policy preferences (Bartels, 2005; Fong, 2001), suggesting that even given increased awareness of the gap between ideal and actual wealth distributions, Americans may remain unlikely to advocate for policies that would narrow this gap.
And here is the reason that Social Context Reformers are demonstrably evidence-based and, disturbingly, unable to have their message resonate with the public: An evidence-based message challenges long-held social beliefs and it is far more complicated than bumper-sticker slogans.
Scott’s charge against Cody and Social Context Reformers is unwarranted since no educators or scholars are fatalistic about the potential for all children to learn. But Social Context Reformers are sending a nuanced and ideologically uncomfortable message: Poverty is destiny in the U.S., but poverty should not be destiny in the U.S.
Further, not only are the lives of children trapped in these inequities, as the evidence above clearly details, but our schools, burdened for three decades by “No Excuses” Reform, reflect and perpetuate that inequity.
Teachers as Scapegoats: The Bi-partisan Distraction
On the heels of Cody’s five-part series with the GF, the U.S. witnessed a strike by Chicago teachers. Across the U.S., key narratives and policy patterns have included eradicating teacher evaluation and pay based on experience and levels of education in order to implement evaluation and pay systems weighted heavily toward test-based data (often test scores of students not taught by those teachers, such as the value-added gains or losses for the entire school population).
The weight of evidence about the impact of teacher quality on measurable student outcomes shows that teacher quality is dwarfed by out-of-school factors, and the evidence on value-added methods of determining teacher quality is not valid.
Yet, “No Excuses” Reformers identify erroneously the need to increase teacher quality (yes, teacher quality matters, but teacher quality is not the or even one of the most urgent areas needing reform in order to improve student learning) through policies that are ideologically appealing to the public but refuted by evidence.
In the heat of the Chicago teachers’ strike, Kotlowitz posed a rare, evidence-based argument:
In Chicago, 87 percent of public school students come from low-income families — and as if to underscore the precarious nature of their lives, on the first day of the strike, the city announced locations where students could continue to receive free breakfast and lunch. We need to demand the highest performances from our teachers while we also grapple with the forces that bear down on the lives of their students, from families that have collapsed under the stress of unemployment to neighborhoods that have deteriorated because of violence and disinvestment. And we can do that both inside and outside the schools — but teachers can’t do it alone.
But, again, his recognition about the weight of poverty (it is destiny) and that education is not powerful enough to overcome that burden (poverty should not be destiny) requires the public to reject not only the narratives of political leaders and “No Excuses” Reformers, but also entrenched cultural ideals about American exceptionalism (admitting instead that the U.S. is less equitable and has less social mobility than many other countries) and the American meritocracy.
“No Excuses” Reformers are trapped within and depend on American ideology that is contradicted by the weight of evidence about socioeconomic equity, the American meritocracy, social mobility, and the ability of schools and teachers to raise children in poverty out of that destiny.
In the U.S., poverty is destiny because our social policy ignores at best and perpetuates at worst socioeconomic inequity and because our essential public institutions such as our schools reflect and perpetuate those inequities. Children in the U.S. are more likely to remain in the social class of their births because our public policy and education systems refuse to admit the “is” and then move toward the radical and painful actions that could achieve “should not be.”
The American meritocracy remains an ideal worth believing in and working for, and Social Context Reformers embrace that goal while also holding fast to the faith that public education can be a powerful mechanism for achieving equity among all humans regardless of race, class, gender, or sexual orientation.
And the role of universal public education in the pursuit of an American meritocracy reaches back to Thomas Jefferson’s argument for a democracy embracing education:
The object [of my education bill was] to bring into action that mass of talents which lies buried in poverty in every country for want of the means of development, and thus give activity to a mass of mind which in proportion to our population shall be the double or treble of what it is in most countries. (, pp. 275-276)
The less wealthy people, . .by the bill for a general education, would be qualified to understand their rights, to maintain them, and to exercise with intelligence their parts in self-government; and all this would be effected without the violation of a single natural right of any one individual citizen. (p. 50)
To all of which is added a selection from the elementary schools of subjects of the most promising genius, whose parents are too poor to give them further education, to be carried at the public expense through the colleges and university. (p. 275)
By that part of our plan which prescribes the selection of the youths of genius from among the classes of the Poor, we hope to avail the State of those talents which nature has sown as liberally among the poor as the rich, but which perish without use, if not sought for and cultivated. But of all the views of this law none is more important none more legitimate, than that of rendering the people the safe, as they are the ultimate, guardians of their own liberty. (p. 276)
The tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance. (p. 278)
Ideology and evidence remain issues of “is” versus “should not be.” America has yet to achieve “is,” but Americans could seek “should not be”—but only if we choose evidence over ideology.
The ideological arguments of the “No Excuses” Reformers, however, are perpetuating inequity by ignoring the evidence and creating policy that scapegoats teachers and schools while insuring that schools entrench that poverty is destiny instead of realizing the education that could change the lives of children and the society in which they live.
Between parts I and II of Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Lance Armstrong, an ad ran on OWN that included a clip of Armstrong acknowledging losing 75 million dollars in one day due to sponsors abandoning him followed by Armstrong noting his lowest moment. The sequence suggests that Armstrong was saying his loss of millions was his lowest moment, but when the full part II ran, Armstrong, in fact, identified removing himself from LIVESTRONG as the low moment.
But the point of an ad is to tease, not reflect truth.
For many cycling enthusiasts like me, the dark underbelly of professional cycling and Armstrong have been no revelation. For the many innocent people trampled by the Armstrong stampede—such as cycling journalist Neil Browne and the well publicized Frankie and Betsy Andreu—the Armstrong confession has opened the door for some vindication of their honesty, but unlikely is that the tremendous damage done to their livelihoods can ever be repaid.
Within hours of the Armstrong interview being aired, details of a book on Armstrong’s disgraceful fall were announced for a June 2013 publication, to be followed by a film.
And herein lies one thing that is receiving almost no public discussion: As long as the media, the USADA, and the public keep the gaze on Armstrong alone, the culture within which Armstrong flourished, the culture within which Armstrong was created will remain unexamined, unscathed, and free to consume.
Today among the rubble of Armstrong’s machine, Capitalism remains unchecked, and many now line up once again to profit off Armstrong as they did during his rise to false King of Cycling.
What do the fiscal cliff and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have in common?
For the answer consider this scenario: An arsonist sets a home on fire, and then risks his life fighting the blaze—but the house eventually succumbs to the flames. The media and the public praise the arsonist a hero, choosing to consider the heroic effort to fight the fire while ignoring that he caused the disaster.
This scenario is not far-fetched and captures exactly the “manufactured crisis” (Berliner & Biddle, 1996) in both the fiscal cliff discourse and CCSS advocacy.
America is trapped in a state of perpetual crisis, and that crisis mentality maintains the public gaze on the self-proclaimed heroic acts of corporate and political leaders without allowing time to consider that the conditions under which Americans live and learn are the result of the decisions of those in power.