Search results for: "no excuses charter schools"

The evidence is clear that privately managed charters can get higher test scores by culling, exclusion, and attrition. It’s equally clear that charters drain resources from the public schools that enroll most students. Most public officials seem to understand that it costs more to run parallel systems, one public, one private.

But not in Rhode Island, where Governor Gina Raimondo is a big fan of charters (she was a hedge fund manager before running for governor). She is eager to expand Achievement First, a no-excuses charter known for high test scores and harsh discipline.

This article by Linda Borg in the Providence Journal lays out the findings of two independent studies that warned about the negative fiscal impact of charters on public schools (one from Moody’s Investors, the other from the Brookings Institution, which is erroneously described as “left-leaning”).

Borg should also have Gordon Lafer’s significant study of the fiscal drain of charters on the public schools of three districts in California.

Click to access ITPI_Breaking_Point_May2018FINAL.pdf

Supporters of expanding Achievement First cite a report funded by the Arnold Foundation, a rightwing foundation that zealously supports privatization and opposes public sector pensions. Billionaire John Arnold was an energy trader at Enron.

The recently appointed state commissioner, a member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, dismissed the controversy as an “old conversation,” showing her indifference to stripping nearly $30 million from the needy public schools of Providence.

“State Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, in an interview Wednesday, called this an “old conversation,” adding that the expansion plan was approved by the Rhode Island Council of Elementary and Secondary Education three years ago after a contentious debate between charter proponents and critics.”


Robert Pondiscio works at the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which authorizes charter schools in Ohio. He left a career in journalism to teach, then worked for E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Foundation, and is soon to publish a book explaining the success of Eva Moskowitz’s controversial Success Academy charter chain. In this article called “No Apologies for No-Excuses Charter Schools,” Pondiscio explains his view that such schools are highly successful and should be celebrated.

He notes with dismay that even spokespersons for the charter industry are backing away from the no-excuses model.

He writes:

The phrase “no excuses” was coined 20 years ago to describe an optimistic movement and mindset that insisted there must be no excuses for adult failure. This coincided with the charter movement’s highest level of moral authority and public prestige, but that was no coincidence. When it first gained traction as a brand, a school model, and a rallying cry, “no excuses” signaled the non-negotiable belief that the root cause of educational failure and black-white achievement gaps was not poverty, not parents, not children, and above all not race. It was the belief that failing schools were the source of the problem and that great schools could be the solution—provided, of course, that everyone associated with them refused to tolerate or excuse failure.

Schools that embraced the “no excuses” mantra and mindset shared standard features such as longer instructional days, data-driven instruction, school uniforms, insistence on proper classroom behavior, an embrace of testing and accountability, and an unshakable commitment to get all students to and through college—features that remain in place in many charters (and other successful schools) today…

The sight of black and brown children required to “track the speaker” in class, or passing through hallways in straight lines, routinely brings complaints from both progressive educators and political progressives that high-performing schools teach only compliance and perpetuate the “school to prison pipeline”—a critique that deserves the strongest rebuke. Students in high-performing charters are not on their way to prison. They’re on their way to college. If all you see is teachers imposing their will on children, compliance for compliance sake, rather than a determined effort to create the school culture and classroom conditions—attention, focus, and affirmation—that make learning possible, you’ve missed the point entirely. 

The reluctance to defend the no excuses culture validates the common criticism that these schools are harsh and militaristic. Yet caring support for students is essential to the success of no excuses schools.  “One thing I consistently found was that no-excuses discipline failed if it was not combined with the sure knowledge on a student’s part that teachers cared deeply about them and their education,” said David Whitman, who wrote a seminal book in 2008 on no excuses schools, Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism. “There had to be a caring connection between teacher and student for strict discipline to work, or what I described as a kind of benign paternalism,” he told me. SEL enthusiasts take note: tough love is not an oxymoron. 

Wonks may love research and data, but narrative wins hearts and minds. The general impulse—that a safe, well-run, and orderly school is a precondition to academic excellence—has not changed in a generation and remains very popular with parents who continue to swell urban charter waitlists. The mindset that it is (or ought to be) morally unacceptable to allow low-income kids and children of color to be failed by adults and the institutions we build for their ostensible benefit, is no less valid or resonant today than it was two decades ago. What “no excuses” got right—and it’s still right—is that learning cannot occur in chaos. High expectations are essential and non-negotiable. “No excuses” meant exactly that: If kids are failing, we are failing. These are ideals that don’t need an apology.

They need a revival. 

Questions: are no-excuses charters a rebirth, as David Whitman put it, of paternalism? Are they a form of colonialism? How do the young white TFA teachers learn to administer discipline that they themselves never experienced? Do black and brown students require a different kind of discipline than white students? If every black and brown child went to a school run by Eva Moskowitz would that solve the huge economic gaps between the races? What happens to the majority of students (“scholars”) who don’t make it through the 12th year of no-excuses schooling?



Jennifer Berkshire and historian Jack Schneider conduct a very interesting discussion with scholars who have written about no-excuses charter schools and public Montessori schools. 

They interview Mira Debs of Yale and Joanne Golann of Vanderbilt about their research.

They wonder, what do parents want? The answers might surprise you.

Incidentally, I communicated to Berkshire and Schneider that the origin of the term “no excuses” for strict schools was not the book by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom with that name, which was published in 2004, but a small book by a writer named Samuel Casey, which was called “No Excuses: Lessons from 21 High-Poverty, High-Performing Schools.” 

The publication date on the paperback copy is 2000, but I remember going to a dinner at the Heritage Foundation where Mr. Casey presented his findings, and it must have been in the late 1990s. Conservatives were thrilled to learn that the answer to the education of poor black children was not more money, but strict discipline. It fit their preconceptions.

I received the following request:

A former charter school teacher,who was a strong advocate for the students, currently is working on her PHD.

She’s wants to speak with former, “No Excuses” students to learn their point view from being constantly suspended and asked to leave (if that was their experience, course).

The target population would be former students of KIPP, AF, Success, Uncommon, or any of those types of schools. They don’t have to be adjudicated or a part of the criminal justice system, just former students who were “counseled out.”

She wants to focus on the former student’s voices because there is not enough research on their experiences and when they go to the media, they tend to be dismissed. So far, she has been able to uncover the inherent racism in their ideology (She will be presenting that this fall) but to put it all together, she needs to talk to kids and see if they recognized their schooling as discriminatory. It’s ok if they didn’t; she just want to talk to some kids or young adults to gain their insights.

The email address to reach out to Ms. Williams at, please share this with other education advocacy groups.

The link in this post will take you to a discussion that took place in Puerto Rico about the introduction of “no excuses” charter schools. The government has announced that it is closing and privatizing hundreds of public schools. The embedded post was translated from Spanish to English. Sarah Cohodes, a professor at Teachers College in New York, advocates for such charters because of their strict discipline, which she admires. Critics object to such charters because of the strict discipline.

You can read the report here.

My own view, for what it is worth, is that “no excuses” charters were created for poor children and children of color. They are designed to civilize children. They are the educational equivalent of neocolonialism.


Two researchers review a report recommending the widespread adoption of “no-excuses” methods and find the evidence inconclusive. 

A. Chris Torres of Michigan State University and Joann W. Golann of Vanderbilt University review a report on “Charter Schools and the Achievement Gap.”

They write:

“A recent report, ‘Charter Schools and the Achievement Gap,” finds that, though charter schools on average perform no better than traditional public schools, urban “no-excuses” charter schools—which often use intensive discipline to enforce order—demonstrate promising re- sults. It recommends that these schools and their practices be widely replicated within and outside of the charter school sector. We find three major flaws with this conclusion. First, the report’s recommendations are based solely on the academic success of these schools and fail to address the controversy over their use of harsh disciplinary methods. No-excuses dis- ciplinary practices can contribute to high rates of exclusionary discipline (e.g., suspensions that push students out of school) and may not support a broad definition of student success. Second, the recommendation that schools replicate no-excuses practices begs the question of what exactly should be replicated. It does not confront the lack of research identifying which school practices are effective for improving student achievement. Third, the report does not address many of the underlying factors that would allow no-excuses schools and their practices to successfully replicate, such as additional resources, committed teachers, and students and families willing and able to abide by these schools’ stringent practices. Thus, while the report is nuanced in its review of charter school impacts, it lacks this same care in drawing its conclusions—greatly decreasing the usefulness of the report.”

How many parents are eager to subject their children to harsh discipline?



Peter Greene, like Steven Singer, is unimpressed by Sarah Cohodes’ claim that no-excuses charter schools have solved the problem of low scoring students. Discipline! SLANT! No excuses! Look at the teacher! Walk in a straight line! Thats what the black and brown kids need.

“Cohodes opens with a quick recap of charter history, then lays out the problem with measuring charter effects– selection bias because charter students have chosen the charter. But good news– the selection bias problem is completely solved by charter school lotteries. Except (she acknowledges) not everybody chooses to enter the lottery. And the lottery only applies when schools are over-subscribed. But maybe we can find comparable groups of non-charter students to compare charter students to. Which is hard. Cohodes seems to conclude this kind of research is really hard to design well. So she used some lottery studies and some observational studies in her research. And, having scanned the research, she drops this right in this intro section:

“The best estimates find that attending a charter school has no impact compared to attending a traditional public school….

”Let’s go to the headline material. Essentially, she finds that No Excuses charters set up in neighborhood served by very struggling public schools show a big gain in test scores. But here I will get into specifics, because she cites in particular the KIPP schools and the charters of Boston. Yet Boston charters have been found to come up very short in sending students on to complete college.

“The No Excuses practices that Cohodes zeros in on are ” intensive teacher observation and training, data-driven instruction, increased instructional time, intensive tutoring, and a culture of high expectations.” Not being able to narrow the list down is a problem– if I tell you that my athletic program gets great results by having athletes exercise for two hours daily, drink high protein shakes, breathe air regularly, and sacrifice toads under a full moon, it will be easy to follow my “research” to some unwarranted conclusions. Cohodes’ list is likewise a hugely mixed bag.

“Longer school day and school year is obvious. More time in school = getting more schooling done. A culture of high expectations is meaningless argle bargle. And the teacher training and “data-driven” instruction boils down to the same old news– if you spend a lot of time on test prep, your test results get better.

“Cohodes also notes that the worse the “fallback” school results, the greater the charter “improvement.” In other words, the lower you set the baseline, the more your results will surpass it.

“She doubles back to look at how charters relate to the surrounding public schools, again kicking the tires on the research to test reliability.

“She notes that there are two ways for lottery charters to cream the best students from the community. One is to manipulate the lottery, which she doesn’t think happens (for what it’s worth, neither do I, mostly because it’s not necessary). The second is to push out the students the school doesn’t want. But she is missing two more– make the lottery system prohibitively challenging, so that only the most motivated families can navigate it. And advertising allows charters to send a clear message about which students are welcome at their school. And nobody works those creaming tricks like No Excuses schools, with their highly regimented and oppressive treatment of students….

”And the criticism that I found myself leveling at very page finally surfaces here:

Given that the overall distribution of charter school effects is very similar to that of traditional public schools, expanding charter schools without regard to their effectiveness at increasing test scores would do little to narrow achievement gaps in the United States. But expanding successful, urban, high-quality charter schools—or using some of their practices in traditional schools—may be a way to do so.

Emphasis mine. If you think that closing the achievement gap is nothing but raising test scores, you are wasting my time. It’s almost two decades into this reform swamp, and still I don’t believe there’s a person anywhere sayin, “I was able to escape poverty because I got a high PARCC score.” Using the Big Standardized Test score as a proxy for student achievement is still an unproven slice of baloney, the policy equivalent of the drunk who looks for his car keys under the lights, not because he lost them there, but because it’s easier to look there.

It’s really not that hard to raise test scores– just devote every moment of the day to intensive test preparation. What’s hard is to raise test scores while pretending that you’re really doing something else.

Let’s consider a thought experiment in which further expansion focuses on high-quality charters. What would happen to the achievement gap in the United States if all of those new charter schools were opened in urban areas serving low-income children, had no excuses policies, and had large impacts on test scores like Boston, New York, Denver, and KIPP charters?

Yes, I want to say, and let’s consider a thought experiment in which pigs fly out of my butt. However, she continues

Expanding charters in this way certainly could transform the educational trajectories of the students who attend. But if we consider the US achievement gap as a whole, it would have a negligible effect.

What she wants to see is an expansion of charter practices expanded to public schools, and she sees ESSA as a policy tool to do it. But what practices? Expanded school time? That would take too much money for policy makers to support. Relentless test prep at the expense of broader education? No thanks. High expectations in the form of heavy regimentation, speak-only-when-spoken-to, treatment? Pretend that student socio-economic background and the opportunity gap are not really factors? That seems just foolishly wrong. Besides the questionable morality of such an approach, a vast number of parents simply wouldn’t stand for it. And how would we replace the mission of public education– to educate all students– with the mission of No Excuse charters– to educate only those students who are a “good fit.”





A faithful reader, Dienne, posted the following comment:

“I used to work at a residential facility for kids we called “severely emotionally disturbed” (I don’t know what the proper terminology is now; I’d call them traumatized). Many of them were DCFS wards who had experienced horrific abuse and/or deprivation, but that’s not the reason they came to us. They came to us because no one else (besides locked psychiatric facilities) could handle them – they were too aggressive and disruptive.

“My experience was that they were as aggressive and disruptive as they were because they were so traumatized. They were in constant survival mode, they didn’t trust anyone, their traumatic experiences had left lasting damage to their nervous system, so they had extreme difficulty interpreting social situations and controlling their impulses. The only thing that worked with them was to keep the environment strictly controlled to instill a sense of safety and predictability so that they could eventually learn to trust. None of those kids would have had the capacity to apologize, sincerely or otherwise, and certainly not publicly.

“I don’t think the majority of kids in public schools are anywhere near that level, but there are certainly strains of that, especially among kids who live in high poverty situations where they are exposed to abuse, deprivation and trauma. If schools are actually going to help these kids, then the same types of interventions are needed. A secure, safe environment where their needs are understood and addressed.

“I understand that’s (allegedly) where the “no excuses” idea comes from – to maintain order and predictability. But where they go wrong is trying to control the child rather than the environment. No one reacts well to being controlled, least of all traumatized children who live in constant survival mode.”

The Florida Speaker of the House said that the legislation recently passed was designed to attract national charter chains to take over low-performing public schools, such no-excuses charter schools as KIPP, SEED, and Uncommon Schools.

But according to this article in Politico, the chains thus far are not interested. KIPP has only one school in Florida, the most charter-friendly state in the nation (some might say that California is the most charter-friendly state).

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants nonprofits that have operated high-performing charter schools in other states to replicate their success here.

To that end, he’s made them an offer: $200 million to cover facilities costs, personnel and specialized educational offerings, plus a wish list of statutory and regulatory changes designed to help them prosper.

But it appears they’re not interested.

Several of the organizations the Land O’Lakes Republican has mentioned by name or that have appeared in front of House education committees — networks that operate charter schools in New York City, Boston, the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and Phoenix, among other locales — told POLITICO Florida they have no plans to open schools in the Sunshine State.

Others said the scenario Corcoran has proposed is not consistent with their models. The House’s plan would incentivize operators to open charters in neighborhoods where traditional public schools are struggling, potentially drawing out some or all of the students. An operator could also take over operations of a struggling school or convert it to a charter school, which are options that already exist under state law but would be enhanced by the proposal.

The mainstream press in Ohio has turned critical of the low-performing, profitable, politically connected charter industry. Just read this blistering editorial in The Columbus Dispatch.


“If a charter school can’t perform better than a conventional public school, there is no point in having the charter school.



“After all, Ohio embarked on the charter-school experiment to see if there is a way to improve on the dismal results being achieved in many urban and poor school districts, not simply to replicate their failure. The idea was that if student outcomes improved in charter schools, then the schools would continue. But if charters failed to improve on the performance of conventional schools, they would be closed.



“Now, years after the experiment began, some schools are persistent failures, but instead of being shut down, they want to change the performance measuring stick so that they can remain in business.



“Defenders of conventional public schools long have maintained that failure isn’t the fault of the schools, but is the result of the socioeconomic circumstances of their students: Students who come from poverty, broken homes and associated forms of instability, are harder to teach.



“Now, some charter schools, which were created expressly to find ways to overcome these disadvantages, want to be excused for failure on the same grounds — saying their students are harder to teach. But if they’re doing no better than conventional public schools — and in some cases doing worse — there is no reason for the public to continue to fund them.


“But the straightforward experiment went off the rails when some clever operators figured out how to get rich by sponsoring charter schools. And to keep the gravy flowing, they began making major political contributions to the lawmakers who control the gravy.



“And that is why rumors have been flying around the Statehouse about proposals to weaken accountability standards for charter schools so that they can continue to receive millions of taxpayer dollars even as the students they are supposed to educate continue to fall behind. In many cases, particularly with online charter schools, it appears that many students don’t even participate in learning, but the school’s operators continue to be paid by the state as if these students are receiving an education.



“Charter-school lobbyists are waving their checkbooks and urging lawmakers to ease attendance-reporting rules and to continue to pay the schools even if students don’t log in to learn. They also want to absolve charter-school sponsors of responsibility for the performance of their schools, even though this is a key part of their role as sponsors. Lobbyists also want schools to be measured not by how much progress a student makes each year, but by whether the school performs more or less like other schools with similar student demographics. In other words, if a poorly performing school is doing no worse than other poorly performing, then it should get a pass. This is called the “similar students” measure.



“It is less than a year since the legislature passed House Bill 2, hailed as a giant step forward in holding charter schools accountable for their performance. Part of that bill called for the Ohio Department of education to analyze the “similar students” measure, with a report due by Dec. 1. Now some lawmakers are proposing to pass legislation adopting this approach before the education department has even issued its report. So much for sound public policy.



“Because of such nonsense, it’s important to remember why charters were instituted in the first place. It wasn’t to replicate failure and make excuses. And it wasn’t to make a handful of charter sponsors rich. It was to make students successful.”