Why NOT adopt a “no excuses” model for all schools?

Sometimes the comments on my blog are so much better than my original post that I hate to see them buried down in the comments section.

My postings about the Romney education plan and long waiting lists for New York City charter schools generated the not uncommon complaint that charter schools cannot be fairly compared to traditional public schools. I responded with  a link to a Harvard Center for Education Policy Research study comparing students who won admission to  charter schools and those who did not not win admission to the same schools (in other words, presumably students with equally involved and dedicated parents.)

One of my frequent commentators in turn replied:

I read the study. I think the problem is that we always want to find one variable and have that be the answer for our educational “problems”, we want one magic pill, that will cure all our educational ills. Right now for the far right that is charter schools. In the summation of the study I read “Longer school days, more instructional time on core content, a “no excuses” philosophy, and other structural elements of school organization appear to contribute to the positive results from these schools.” The authors of the study were right on and they pointed out some of the most important differences between charter and traditional schools. The “no excuses” philosophy is a huge difference between charter and traditional public schools. But then they lost me with the next sentence: “Perhaps most importantly, many of these elements could be implemented in traditional public schools, providing us with potential models for improvement across the Commonwealth”. Those elements cannot be implemented in traditional public schools because federal and state laws do not allow for it. I can speak for myself as a traditional public school teacher and tell you that I would love to implement a “no excuses” philosophy, but we can’t. When a student at a charter school doesn’t comply what happens? They are sent back to their neighborhood traditional public school. What happens if that student doesn’t comply in the traditional school, can we kick them out? No, we must invest ridiculous amounts of our very scarce resources in trying to get them to comply. We can’t we kick them out? The federal and state government won’t let us. We need to quit trying to compare apples to oranges and pretending that charters and traditional schools will ever be the same. Think about it, why do we call them Charter Schools? Because they get to write their own rules. Who rights the rules for traditional public schools? The state and federal government.

This commentator has more to say. You can find the entire comment at http://educatingourselves.blogs.deseretnews.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=860&action=edit

But I’m stopping here because I wanted to respond to the notion that regular public schools cannot adopt a “no excuses” policy. My first reaction was that maybe we SHOULD think about changing the rules for all schools.  Before I had a chance to write a post about this, however, charter school principal Carolyn Sharette beat me to the punch. I thought her comments and proposal were so sensible that I wanted to give her a post of her own. That’s coming up next.



  1. Fred 44


    I am a traditional public school teacher not an administrator so I will be the first to admit that I am not an expert on federal and state law when it comes to a free public education and open enrollment. I only know what I have been told by school and district administrators. It is quite interesting however that many friends who work in other districts also have shared stories with me about their school and district administrators being “unable” to discipline students and hold them accountable. I hear stories in my district and again from teachers in other districts about being “forced” by the court to take students back over and over who are not progressing toward graduation and who are disruptive to the educational process.

    I am looking forward to Carolyn’s article. I would appear that she believes that traditional public schools are not using all the tools at their disposal to hold students accountable and prevent disruptive students from remaining in schools to continue to disrupt other students. I think it is very important in this discussion to be able to speak to the very specific state laws that govern traditional public schools. It is easy to throw out ideas, but if those ideas cannot be implemented because of legal concerns, they really have no relevance to the discussion. I am in hopes that Carolyn will speak to those very specific laws and how we are not using them. We hear all the time that there is nothing we can do, I would love to be able to tell my Principal otherwise.

  2. Winglish

    This year we sent one particularly difficult student to court ten times. We tried our best to get an expulsion carried through. Each time the court sent him back to us with the statement along the lines of the fact that there is not an alternative school in our district for middle school children. The student has to be in high school before he can be removed from the traditional system. Meanwhile, he regularly distributes drugs on campus and attempts to disrupt the educational process in every way imaginable.

    Fred is absolutely right that our state and federal laws shield minors from real consequences to their actions.

    • Mary McConnell

      Maybe this is a reform that could unite parents and teachers. I wonder if districts might be able to cooperate to create combined alternative schools (I like Carolyn’s point that maybe parents SHOULD share in this burden.) Rural districts would pose stickier problems, but maybe an online option would work.

  3. Carolyn Sharette

    Admittedly, the district must provide SOME type of education in most cases. I do not believe that the limits of what this means has been tested to any degree. Establishing a bare-bones school in a strip mall, with desks and chairs and a white board and teacher is what I envision being the “school” established for students who need to focus. The districts need not spend a lot of money on facilities – in fact, the more basic the better.

    From a parent’s point of view – we have raised 7 children several of whom would have benefitted greatly from a do-over or two and some real consequences – it is hard for me to understand why the “system” isn’t already built with these schools as part of the process. One thing we know for sure: kids are kids and some are going to mess up and need some real consequences. Not building in some effective remedy for this seems beyond comprehension to me and indicates that our true position as the adults in this is that the rules don’t really apply (rules like don’t skip classes, do your homework) and aren’t really important because we have not set up any effective consequences for noncompliance.

    I believe a couple of my own kids would have been better off if, when they messed up, there was a real consequence waiting that had enough pain associated with it that they would have been motivated to change their behavior. Because that wasn’t an option, good teachers told them how smart, nice and talented they were and encouraged them to work harder. What my kids heard was that the rules don’t really apply to them and that they could live school life “their way” and still “make it” – much to our frustration as we had indicated otherwise.

    I’d love to see a pilot of this idea in a forward-thinking district, and see how many lives could be positively impacted.

  4. Richard Fillerup

    I work at American Preparatory Academy, at the new campus in West Valley. Previously I taught six years in two small districts where I knew all the students in the high school. I have taught most of the sciences but now only teach physics. Having taught at American Prep this year has allowed me to grow and learn more in one year than the six previous years combined. I have learned more about disteachia (where holes are created through a lack of ensuring mastery) and holding students to standards. I agree that all students aren’t interested in the high academics that we offer, but still giving them a chance is crucial. How can they discover what they are capable of if not pushed? The students that then rise and find success are better off. If all agreed that curtain things had to be expected from early on than the process would be much simpler down the road. Wouldn’t a investment earlier on in the education process save everybody money and effort?
    All students can learn, but often are not expected to and many settle to that level. Real consequences, coming mostly from home, would be beneficial to both the student, parents, and education system.

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