“No excuses” vs facing the poverty crisis

At the Save Our Schools march in DC, one of the best sound bites I heard came from John Kuhn, a Texas superintendent who proclaimed that poverty is not an excuse for many public school students’ struggles— it’s a diagnosis. (His whole speech is worth watching here.) He’s right.

“No excuses” has become an ingrained buzz phrase of the education establishment. Power-brokers have decided that the talking point “A good teacher is more important than anything else— no excuses!” and hammered it into conventional wisdom.

To me, no excuses means no discourse. No discussion. No alternate viewpoints. It implies, “Accept my absolutism or you’re among the soft bigots of low expectations.”

Schools are very important, but they can’t alone cancel out the suffocating effects for poverty millions of young people.

Poverty is worsening in America. The New York Times reported new census figures showing “[T]he number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people, was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it.”

Some other sobering tidbits from the report:

  • 22 percent of children are in poverty, the highest percentage since 1993.
  • The suburban poverty rate, at 11.8 percent, appears to be the highest since 1967.
  • The number of uninsured Americans increased by 900,000 to 49.9 million.

The ideology of “No excuses” for teachers did not create this horrible situation. But it does impede the will to implement comprehensive reforms to tackle the root problems. It cuts off the conversation we so badly need to have before it has even begun.

Public leaders need to jump on this report. Step up, Democrats!