As promised, I’m posting Carolyn Sharette’s response to a reader’s concern that regular public schools don’t have the option of adopting a “no excuses” policy for students who refuse to do their work, or even to show up to pretend to do their work.
I feel it is important to point out that public schools truly could change their policies to implement “no excuses” as a school standard.
As long as they provide a school, any school, for students to attend they have satisfied the federal and state requirements for FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education). Determining what is “appropriate” has been the work of court cases throughout the decades and in my opinion, has shown that districts have the power to establish no excuses policies and enforce them.
Why do Districts choose to allow students to remain in school who don’t meet attendance requirements or academic requirements? Does it serve students? Clearly, no. Does it handicap teachers? Clearly, yes. Does it degrade the experience for all students? Resoundingly, YES. So why is it allowed to persist as policy?
Do students benefit from a “no excuses” approach? Yes. Do adolescents benefit from opportunities to “try again” or “do over” with meaningful consequences? Again, yes. Being torn from friends and forced to attend a different school for a term can be very effective for students in Jr. High and High School. So why don’t teachers and parents join together and require districts to pass “no excuses” policies? Perhaps because most parents and teachers are misinformed and believe it is impossible. Perhaps even the district leaders believe it is impossible. But it is not impossible and should be vigorously pursued by parents, teachers and even students.
Fortunately, charter schools are providing this opportunity for students and act as a model for what could be done in all public schools. As a charter school leader, I feel we are doing students a great service, even when they don’t meet our expectations and return to their public school. The student has an opportunity to meet a standard, and if they don’t, they live the consequences and have a very valuable learning experience.
You may be surprised to learn that we don’t “kick them out”. We do not have the authority to do so. We do apply many, many remedies, such as parent conferences for missing work (students must call home EACH and EVERY time they are unprepared for class), detentions, and ‘parent interventions’ where parents are required to come to school and sit near their student and assist them in becoming an able learner. Some parents give up and pull their student out so they don’t have to comply. Some get tired of the phone calls. Some don’t know how to “make” their student comply and aren’t interested in learning how to impose meaningful consequences at home. Some students convince their parents they really don’t want to have to do all that is required and the parents pull the student out. Some student fail courses and realize high school graduation from our school will be very difficult and choose an easier route.
In any case, it is GREAT for students to have to pay a REAL price for failure. It is in these chances for a “do-over” that students learn. And parents appreciate the support when they are dealing with a difficult adolescent. This change, establishing performance standards at public schools and enforcing them, would revolutionize public education.
In another comment, Ms. Sharette expanded on these points.
There is no federal or state law that I am aware of that requires public schools to allow students who refuse to participate in the programs or maintain standards of conduct to remain in them. District policies have been crafted to allow students to stay in schools even after they have demonstrated they are not going to attend class, do homework, or maintain behavior standards. The requirements of FAPE (a Free and Appropriate Public Education) have not, to my knowledge, been interpreted to mean that districts must allow students to remain at a particular school.
Districts could raise the standards for their schools quickly by making it a privilege to attend the best schools – a privilege maintained through effort, participation and attendance. If a student misses the mark, he or she can attend a different school in the district, which would likely have a different focus and less positive outcomes (because more time needs to be spent on remediating the students who have failed prior classes, or focusing on truancy etc). Parents could also lose their free transportation if the school the student qualifies for is not their boundary school. Being required to drive their student to school would increase the parents’ participation. While this may be unpopular, I don’t believe it is a violation of FAPE and would increase parent and student participation in schools.
We would be doing these families a big favor if there were some real consequences for failure to participate in school. It should be applied each quarter (not just at year’s end) so students have LOTS of opportunities for “do-overs” which, I believe, is the key for many students during adolescence. If they fail a quarter, or don’t meet attendance requirements, they transfer to a different school. They could earn their original placement back, but it would be difficult. As a parent I would have appreciated this, and I believe many parents would appreciate the support of the schools in not allowing their students to fail or misbehave without real, meaningful consequences.
So the fact that public schools are “required” to take all students is true, but HOW they determine they will serve students is completely up to them. At this point, they choose to ignore the failure to participate and bad behaviors and force teachers to try to deal with it, which greatly and negatively impacts the experience of all students.
If it is not a level playing field for public schools, it is due to the districts’ lack of expertise in organizing their schools and implementing policies that effectively train students with real consequences. This is completely under the districts’ control. Therefore I believe it is not a valid argument against holding public schools accountable. Just because they CHOOSE to disadvantage themselves through ineffective policies that set up a system that doesn’t work very well, does not excuse them from being accountable. If the playing field isn’t level, it is under their control to make it so.
This makes a lot of sense to me. If we want to “level the playing field” for all public schools, including charter schools, wouldn’t we better accomplish this (and better serve our kids) by adopting a no-excuses policy across the board?
What do you think?