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"No Excuses" and the Culture of Shame: The Miseducation of Our Nation's Children

Does our constant focus on educational "data" mask a raft of racist and classist policies designed to shortchange poor and minority children? You bet, says one education expert.

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Also the school perpetuates a culture in which only numbers and quantitative data matter. The focus on quantitative data within the school and the broader public discourse allows "no excuses" advocates to mask their means by trying to justify their ends. To shift the gaze away from the children involved is to dehumanize the discussion and hide that those same children are being dehumanized in these schools.

From the inside, experienced teachers notice that these "no excuses" schools that overwhelmingly hire TFA recruits expose the failure of placing inexperienced and inexpert teachers in classrooms with high-needs students. Faculty with public school experience also recognize that statistical claims coming from charters hide the population differences between comparing charters with public schools.

This true story isn't quantitative data, and it isn't part of the raising-test-scores or graduation-rates debates. It is one story, but it is typical and even exemplary of "no excuses" schools.

And it is the primary reason I reject this ideology regardless of the metrics anyone offers.

"Missionary Zeal": The Miseducation of "Other People's Children"

The "no excuses" model depends on creating a new template for the teacher, one personified by the "missionary zeal" associated with TFA recruits.

Carol Burris has exposed the new and disturbing template for teachers in the "no excuses" model: The teacher is “the ultimate authority in the classroom, in other words, your mindset is, I am a total badass” (p. 9). Further, Burris clarifies:

"The reader [of the teacher manual Burris is citing] is told that while ...[the teachers being trained within a "no excuses" ideology] were 'stellar' students who 'succeeded in school when given freedom.' He will not be 'teaching a classroom of Mini-Me’s' (p. 10)[;] hence the... [Demanding Teacher] cannot treat his students as he was treated."

At the center of the "no excuses" ideology is the creation of the Demanding Teacher (from the training manual cited by Burris):

The most basic idea we have about classroom management is that teachers need to be demanding. Demanding about their expectations for student behavior, demanding about how hard students try. We believe that being demanding is the only way to create a classroom that is orderly, efficient, and focused on learning.

"Being demanding" means adopting six specific beliefs, developing a specific kind of classroom presence, and using sixteen specific classroom management moves correctly and at the right times....

The 6 Beliefs are:

1. Belief 1: I am the ultimate authority in my classroom.
2. Belief 2: My goal in classroom management must be 100%.
3. Belief 3: My Patrolling Effort and Behavior Oblongata (PEBO) needs to be strengthened to the point of automaticity.
4. Belief 4: Even though my classroom management abilities are not perfect, I still have the right and the responsibility to correct wrong behavior.
5. Belief 5: I have to hit the ground running on the first day in September.
6. Belief 6: Even "bad" kids want to be good and do well.

Just as the true story above reveals about the TFA-heavy faculty common in KIPP and other charter schools, "no excuses" environments are predominantly about placing affluent and privileged people in positions of authority to deliver authoritarian training to students unlike them; in other words, "no excuses" ideology is about isolating, controlling, and ultimately "fixing" "other people's children."

As well, "no excuses" environments embrace school cultures, modes of teaching, and student conditions that are explicitly unlike the experiences of the privileged administrators and teachers implementing policy (similar to Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and others endorsing school reform unlike their own experiences and the experiences they provide for their children.).