Archives for category: Discipline

ProPublica and Nashville Public Radio investigated a case that happened in 2016, when the police arrested 11young children for a crime that doesn’t exist. What they found was not simply an outrageous miscarriage of justice, but a county whose juvenile justice system is run by tyrannical officials who like to punish children to “straighten them out.”

The initial arrests occurred after a scuffle among three boys. The boys who threw punches were not arrested, but the children watching the fight were. One was only eight years old. Some were handcuffed.

A few weeks before, a video had appeared on YouTube. It showed two small boys, 5 and 6 years old, throwing feeble punches at a larger boy as he walked away, while other kids tagged along, some yelling. The scuffle took place off school grounds, after a game of pickup basketball. One kid insulted another kid’s mother, is what started it all.

The police were at Hobgood [Elementary School] because of that video. But they hadn’t come for the boys who threw punches. They were here for the children who looked on. The police in Murfreesboro, a fast-growing city about 30 miles southeast of Nashville, had secured juvenile petitions for 10 children in all who were accused of failing to stop the fight. Officers were now rounding up kids, even though the department couldn’t identify a single one in the video, which was posted with a filter that made faces fuzzy. What was clear were the voices, including that of one girl trying to break up the fight, saying: “Stop, Tay-Tay. Stop, Tay-Tay. Stop, Tay-Tay.” She was a fourth grader at Hobgood. Her initials were E.J…

In Rutherford County, a juvenile court judge had been directing police on what she called “our process” for arresting children, and she appointed the jailer, who employed a “filter system” to determine which children to hold.

The judge was proud of what she had helped build, despite some alarming numbers buried in state reports.

Among cases referred to juvenile court, the statewide average for how often children were locked up was 5%.

In Rutherford County, it was 48%…

What happened on that Friday and in the days after, when police rounded up even more kids, would expose an ugly and unsettling culture in Rutherford County, one spanning decades. In the wake of these mass arrests, lawyers would see inside a secretive legal system that’s supposed to protect kids, but in this county did the opposite. Officials flouted the law by wrongfully arresting and jailing children. One of their worst practices was stopped following the events at Hobgood, but the conditions that allowed the lawlessness remain. The adults in charge failed. Yet they’re still in charge. Tennessee’s systems for protecting children failed. Yet they haven’t been fixed…

Eleven children in all were arrested over the video, including the 8-year-old taken in by mistake. Media picked up the story. Parents and community leaders condemned the actions of police. “Unimaginable, unfathomable,” a Nashville pastor said. “Unconscionable,” “inexcusable,” “insane,” three state legislators said. But Rutherford County’s juvenile court judge focused instead on the state of youth, telling a local TV station: “We are in a crisis with our children in Rutherford County. … I’ve never seen it this bad.”

Rutherford County established the position of elected juvenile court judge in 2000, and ever since, Donna Scott Davenport has been the job’s only holder. She sometimes calls herself the “mother of the county.”

Davenport runs the juvenile justice system, appointing magistrates, setting rules and presiding over cases that include everything from children accused of breaking the law to parents accused of neglecting their children. While the county’s mayor, sheriff and commissioners have turned over, she has stayed on, becoming a looming figure for thousands of families. “She’s been the judge ever since I was a kid,” said one mother whose own kids have cycled through Davenport’s courtroom. One man, now in his late 20s, said that when he was a kid in trouble, he would pray for a magistrate instead of Davenport: “If she’s having a bad day, most definitely, you’re going to have a bad day.”

While juvenile court is mostly private, Davenport keeps a highly public profile. For the past 10 years she’s had a monthly radio segment on WGNS, a local station where she talks about her work.

She sees a breakdown in morals. Children lack respect: “It’s worse now than I’ve ever seen it,” she said in 2012. Parents don’t parent: “It’s just the worst I’ve ever seen,” she said in 2017. On WGNS, Davenport reminisces with the show’s host about a time when families ate dinner together and parents always knew where their children were and what friends they were with because kids called home from a landline, not some could-be-anywhere cellphone. Video games, the internet, social media — it’s all poison for children, the judge says.

Davenport describes her work as a calling. “I’m here on a mission. It’s not a job. It’s God’s mission,” she told a local newspaper. The children in her courtroom aren’t hers, but she calls them hers. “I’m seeing a lot of aggression in my 9- and 10-year-olds,” she says in one radio segment…

Scrutinizing the inner workings of Tennessee’s juvenile courts can be difficult. Court files are mostly off-limits; proceedings can be closed at a judge’s discretion. But on the radio, Davenport provides listeners a glimpse of the court’s work. “I’ve locked up one 7-year-old in 13 years, and that was a heartbreak,” she said in 2012. “But 8- and 9-year-olds, and older, are very common now.”

The article is long and heartbreaking, to anyone with a heart. In the past five years, the county has been forced to pay out more than $11 million to the children and families who were mistreated. But Judge Davenport plans to run for another eight year term..

This is a case that should be viewed through the lens of critical race theory.

Valerie Strauss posted an important essay on her blog “The Answer Sheet” by Steve Bumbaugh, a former member of the D.C. Public Charter School Board from 2015 until early this year. Bumbaugh graduated from Yale University and Stanford School of Business. His parents were ministers.

He writes:

Let’s travel back to September 2017. I was in Southeast Washington, D.C., scheduled to tour a school in an hour. I remember visiting 25 years ago when it was part of the D.C. public school system. That school was closed in 2009 — one of dozens closed in the last 15 years — and now several charter schools occupy the campus.

At the time of this visit, I was a member of board of the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB), having started my tenure in 2015 and serving until early this year. In that capacity, I visited dozens of D.C.-based charter schools. Sometimes, I left those visits saddened, even defeated.

This was one of those times.

Over several decades of work at the intersection of education and poverty, I have learned that much of a school’s character can be divined through its start-of-the-day ritual. So on that day in 2017, I arrived early and sat in my car, far enough away that no one seemed to notice me, but near enough so that I could observe the comings and goings. Several young Black women arrived at school with their children who look to be 5 or 6 years old. They were greeted by staff members, and I observed them having what appeared to be tense conversations with the women. Some of these women left with their children in tow. Others handed their children over to staff members and departed.

When I entered the school for my scheduled visit, I was greeted by one of the founders, a 30-something man with energy and charm. He was joined by the school’s board chair, a distinguished senior partner from one of D.C.’s blue-chip law firms. They took me on a tour of several classrooms. I noticed that the leadership of the school was entirely White as were many of the teachers. All of the students were African American, most from families that struggle financially.

For the most part, the school looked like most other “no excuses” charter schools in the nation’s capital, dotting low-income African American neighborhoods, and in other places across the country.

These schools start with the belief that there is no good reason for the huge academic gaps between privileged and poor minority students — and that strict discipline, obedience, uniform teaching methods and other policies could erase the gaps. A feature of many of these schools, and one evident on this site visit, are lines painted on the hallway floors. Students are expected to walk on these lines as they move from classroom to classroom. Any deviation is likely to result in punishment. The only other places I had seen this before was at correctional facilities.

I entered a preschool classroom where students were gathered in a semi-circle on a rug. Like curious 4-year-olds everywhere, the students turned their heads to scrutinize us. Many smiled widely and some even waved. The teacher snapped at the children, demanding their attention. I was startled by her aggression. They were, after all, 4-year old children engaging in age-appropriate behavior.

That evening I called a staff person from this school who I’ve known for several years. I asked her to translate the scenes I witnessed outside the school. The conversation went something like this:

–“Those scholars probably had uniform violations. The staff persons were probably telling the moms to go home to have the kids change.”

–“I didn’t notice that they were wearing anything different from the other children.”

–“Well, they may have had the wrong color shoes. Or maybe they had the correct color shirt, but it didn’t have the school’s insignia on it.”

–“They have to go back home for that?”

–“Unless they want to spend the day in a behavior support room.”

Incredulous, I pressed my friend for details. I discovered that children as young as 3 years old could spend an entire day in seclusion, away from their classmates, if they were wearing the wrong color shoes. I am dumbstruck. Is this even legal?
This sort of interaction between students and staff was not uncommon in no-excuses charter schools I visited over the years.

Occasionally I did visit schools that combine academic rigor and kindness with student bodies that are mostly Black and low-income. But those schools were the exception. I’ve seen schools where children are taught to track the teachers with their eyes, move their mouths in a specific way, and engage in other humiliating rituals that have little educational value.

I visited a school that suspended 40 percent of its 5-year-old children who had been diagnosed with disabilities. At some schools, when children are sick, their parents were forced to produce a doctor’s note because school leaders believed the parents were lying. But some of these parents were uninsured and there weren’t — and still aren’t — many doctors in their neighborhoods. Obtaining a doctor’s note required them to take their children onto packed public buses so they could go to public health clinics or emergency rooms.

Schools that still do this are telling these parents that they are not trusted. And while children in these schools are taught computational math and textual analysis, they also learn that they are congenitally profane.

Charter schools arose a generation ago in Washington, D.C. when the city was poor and in the grips of a decade-long homicide epidemic. I was part of a group of 20-somethings frustrated with the lack of progress in the city’s long-troubled public school system. We had been creating programs for the D.C. Public Schools system that dramatically outpaced the district’s regular academic outcomes, and we wanted to turn these programs into actual schools.

We talked about forging solutions with parents and students, working to retain every single student, exhorting patience about building the infrastructure from which improved academic outcomes would spring.

But little of this vision was attractive to an emerging cadre of funders and policymakers who placed huge bets on charter schools. They submitted to a vision, not based on a shred of evidence, that Black and Brown children would thrive if they were taught “character” and “grit.” The way to do this, apparently, was to create an assembly-line model of instruction with rigid rules. Children who could not abide by these rules were “counseled out” to return to traditional public schools. Now about one-third of D.C. charter schools are in the no-excuses category, enrolling at least half of the charter student population. (Some of these schools say they are changing, but I haven’t seen real evidence of that.)…

The D.C. Public Charter School Board was created in 1996, at a time when homicide rates in the District were so high the city was dubbed the “murder capital.” It is no wonder the D.C. Public Charter School Board jumped on the “no-excuses” bandwagon.

What have we gained from this system? As of 2018-19 — the latest data available on the website of the charter school board website — only 8.5 percent of Black high school students (about 80 percent of the student population) in charter schools were deemed proficient in math and 21 percent in English Language Arts, according to scores on the standardized PARCC exam.

There are some charter schools that are doing amazing work, but the system itself is ineffective. The vast majority of our students are not remotely ready for the rigors of college coursework.

After untold millions of dollars of investment and the creation of scores of schools — there were 128 operating this year — it is time for us to admit that this experiment is not working as it should.
So what must be done?

The District must rethink its charter schools, and more specifically, charter schools must be integrated. “Chocolate City” has been replaced by a city where upper-income White residents and a more diverse spectrum of Black residents exist in equal numbers.

One of the few scalable policies that dramatically improved academic outcomes for Black students was the integration of American public schools in the 1970s and ’80s. The Performance Management Framework that ranks the quality of each charter school should ensure that schools reflect the demographics of the city as it is today, particularly given that charter schools are not constrained by neighborhood boundaries that enforce segregation in traditional public schools…

“Separate and equal” should not stand in one of the most liberal cities in the United States.

In addition to recommending the racial integration of charter schools, Bumbaugh proposes that low-income parents of charter schools students be added to the D.C. Public Charter School Board.

Moreover power needs to be distributed more evenly. At first glance, the concentration of institutional power is not evident at the Public Charter School Board.

Most of the board members, including the current executive director, are Black or Latino. A closer look — and I am including myself in this observation — reveals that we are not remotely similar to most of the families with children attending D.C. public charter schools. Fully 80 percent of these families are African Americans who qualify for free and reduced lunch, which is not the same as at risk, but which is generally seen as a proxy for school poverty.

The people who are on the charter school board are highly educated professionals. Since I began serving on the panel — which has seven rotating volunteers, all appointed by the D.C. mayor — there have been 10 sitting members, half of whom attended Yale, Stanford or Harvard universities, or some combination of the three. We are well-versed in the contours of institutional power and know how to operate inside of its rarely articulated but clearly delineated boundaries. We’ve been rewarded for decoding these rules and abiding by them, which is precisely why we are selected for these coveted roles. We provide cover through optical diversity.

But if we really want to embrace equity, it’s time to rethink the make-up of the Public Charter School Board. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will have a unique opportunity to reshape this board over the coming year as five of its seven members will be termed out.

We need a board with members who reflect the communities served by D.C. charter sector. As cities move away from elected school boards to mayoral appointments, it’s critical that the voices that used to represent low-income communities continue to be present.

In the District, 80 percent of families attending charters are eligible for free and reduced lunch, but the charter school board has not in its 25-year history appointed a single board member who lives in poverty. Why not adjust the PCSB’s contours to reflect the communities in which these schools are located instead of incessantly asking poor Black people to acclimate?

Imagine that: Charter schools authorized by those most affected by them.

I read this excerpt from a new book, published in the Washington Post, and was mesmerized by the account. The book’s author is Lizzie Johnson, a Post reporter. I hope the Post will forgive me for reprinting it. I promise to delete the post if they object. Read it while you can and buy the book to make amends for reading this preview. Subscribe to the Washington Post so you can see the pictures that the two teachers took from inside the bus. The story is moving not only because of the bravery of the bus driver and the teachers and children, but because of the generosity they encountered along the way.

This story is adapted from “Paradise: One Town’s Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire,” which was published this week by Penguin Random House.

The flames were just a mile from Ponderosa Elementary School when Kevin McKay opened the door of Bus 963 to about two dozen children, their eyes wide with fear.

It was 8:45 a.m. on Nov. 8, 2018, and the deadliest wildfire in California history was tearing toward Paradise, a working-class town in a region once again being devastated by conflagration.

The children being evacuated included the twin daughters of an immigrant couple who owned a local Thai restaurant. The 10-year-old daughter of a bartender. A 7-year-old whose father was in nearby Tehama, painting the small-town mayor’s front door.

Their parents commuted to distant communities or worked low-wage jobs that they couldn’t walk away from, even in an emergency. They weren’t able to collect their sons and daughters as the wind-fueled Camp Fire advanced on their Northern California community of 26,000 with astonishing speed.

School bus driver Kevin McKay was responsible for the safety of 22 children and two teachers as a wildfire tore through Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 8, 2018.

McKay, a part-time driver who made $11 an hour, had to find a way to get the children and two of their teachers to safety. He knew that the few roads out of Paradise would be clogged with other motorists trying to escape.

He turned the 35,000-pound bus onto Pentz Road, peering through the dark smoke. Cinders tumbled from the clouds, igniting thousands of small fires along the roadside. McKay planned to cut across town to reach Clark Road — the second-largest thoroughfare in Paradise, able to accommodate 900 cars per hour — then head to Oroville, 24 miles away. Traffic was piling up on Pentz Road, and he didn’t want to get stuck.

Behind him, the 22 schoolchildren on the bus were si­lent, an eerie contrast to the din of his regular route. When the wildfire was reported, he was the bus driver closest to Ponderosa Elementary and offered to help.

The chil­dren, too small to see over the tops of the seats, were nearly invisible in his rearview mirror. McKay, 41, spotted a golden yellow beanie and a blue tie-dyed baseball cap. He didn’t know their names; they didn’t know his.

“Who are you?” Mary Ludwig, a second-grade teacher, had asked when McKay pulled up at the school.

She had never seen him before, which she found odd. Ludwig, 50, had taught in the district since 1994, and she thought she knew every bus driver. She was friendly with a lot of people in Paradise; she and her nine siblings had grown up there.

McKay had spent much of his life there, too, moving to town when he was 12. He’d been captain of the Paradise High School football team before graduating in 1995. Now, he was a twice-divorced father of two who’d worked as a manager at a distant Walgreens until the long hours and commute wore him out. In 2018, he’d quit and gotten the job driving the school bus, which would give him time to start classes at the community college. He wanted to get an education degree and teach history at Paradise High.

McKay told Ludwig that he was new to the school district, but not new to Paradise.

Mary Ludwig hadn’t expected to get on Bus 963 when she walked her last three students out of the building that morning. The fire had swept down from the Feather River Canyon with almost no warning.

Chunks of burned bark were raining down on the playground. A firebrand landed in her hair, singeing it. She guided her second-graders to the bus, as the other teachers had.

“I need you to come with me,” McKay implored. Someone had to look after the children as he drove.
Ludwig was a devoted teacher, who liked crafting creative lesson plans. She’d recently read her kids “James and the Giant Peach” in a bad British accent. Then she’d taught them about the momentum of the peach by having the children toss balls down a knoll, studying how slope affected speed.

Now, with the fire gaining its own momentum, Ludwig wanted to drive home to check on her teenage son. But she knew that if her own child were boarding a bus with a new driver during a natural disaster, she would want a teacher to be with them.

She persuaded Abbie Davis, a first-year kindergarten instructor, to join her.
Davis was 29 and newly engaged. Now, as she boarded the bus, she worried whether she and her fiance would survive to see their wedding day. Ludwig clambered up behind her.

“You’d better be a good driver,” she told McKay.

In his rearview mirror, McKay watched the playground at Pon­derosa Elementary disappear in the distance. He turned off Pentz Road and onto Wag­staff Road, where flames were roaring along the edges.

The air was stifling, greased with carcinogens from burning household products. Embers lunged sideways on the downdraft.

McKay called Ludwig and Davis to the front, pointing out the fire extinguisher and the first aid kit. He gestured to the two emergency exits and emphasized that they were not going to leave the bus unless they absolutely had to. It was the safest place to be.

Ludwig thanked him. He told the teach­ers to take attendance and pair older children with younger ones.

“And handwrite three copies as you take roll,” he said, “so each one of us has a manifest of the kids in our care.”

“Why?” Ludwig asked.

“If something happens,” McKay answered, “authorities need to know who was on this bus.”

“Is it 10 p.m.?’


The teachers walked down the aisle of the bus, following McKay’s instructions.

Rowan Stovall, who had just turned 10, was seated beside a kindergartner. She tried to comfort her.
“You’ll see your mom and dad again,” she said, clutching the little girl’s hand. “The bus isn’t going to catch on fire. We are going to be okay, I promise.”

A boy in a flannel shirt tugged on Ludwig’s shirt sleeve as she passed him.

“Is it 10 p.m.?” he asked. He was confused; it was so dark outside.

Another boy was in a panic, ripping at his hair as he babbled about how his “94-year-old” cat was going to burn up. Even more worrisome were the ones who didn’t speak at all.

“How do I distract the children and reassure them at the same time?” Ludwig thought.


She knelt beside a tiny girl in a zipped fleece jacket, asking her name for the manifest. The girl was so terrified that she couldn’t remember her last name. Ludwig rubbed her back.


Across the row, she saw a backpack resting on an empty seat. A kindergartner had curled up beneath the bench, cocooning herself from the unfolding nightmare outside the bus.


McKay went over different scenarios in his head, trying to fig­ure out the best way to get down Clark Road.

An RV cut in front of him. “How dare you,” McKay thought, seething. “Can’t you see there are children on board?”


He was not going to panic. He knew that children were sensitive to the energy of those around them. He could see the kids’ hysteria escalate whenever the teachers took a break to stare out the windows, or take photos on their cellphones, or call their loved ones. The women’s voices warbled with fear.
Ludwig’s son hadn’t evacuated soon enough and was now trapped on Pearson Road, which dropped into a gully known as Dead Man’s Hole for its lack of cell service.


Davis worried that her fiance, Matt Gerspacher, who was refusing to leave their house until he saw the bus pass by, might die because of his stubbornness.


McKay flicked on the ceiling light so other drivers could see the children in the back of the bus. He asked that Davis be his scout, pacing in the aisle and calling out new spot fires along Clark Road so he would know when to change lanes and keep some distance from the flames.


He learned to read the arc of Davis’s eyebrow and the tilt of her head, the subtle ways she signaled the presence of flames, not wanting to speak aloud and scare the children. Meanwhile, Ludwig continued scribbling down their names.


Two of the school district’s assistant superintendents emerged from the smoke and knocked on the glass door. McKay was startled, then opened it for them.

Their truck had caught fire in the parking lot of Ponderosa Elementary, and they had decided to proceed on foot. It was faster than driving anyway. Boarding the bus for a few minutes, they warned McKay to avoid Paradise Elementary — an evacuation center and for years the town’s only elementary school — because it was already on fire. Then the two got off to continue their walk. They planned to help direct traffic.

Now the blaze was everywhere, scorching the mountains and hillsides with unprecedented fury. The red and blue spin of police lights ricocheted past as officers drove into ditches and around fallen trees, rushing in response to reports about a cluster of people trapped in the basement of Feather River Hospital. They were also trying to track down a woman who had gone into labor in the Fastrip gas station parking lot.

Ludwig pointed out the first responders to the children.
“Look at those brave men coming to help us!” she said.
The children screamed through the locked windows: “Thank you! We love you!” Their noses left smudges on the glass.

They passed beloved landmarks: Paradise Alliance Church, Moun­tain Mike’s Pizza, McDonald’s, Dollar General. The Black Bear Diner, with its carved wooden bear propped out front, holding a sign reading, “Welcome to Bearadise.”
The familiar sights offered a sense of hope. “Who likes pancakes?” Ludwig yelled, smiling broadly and raising her hand. A smattering of small palms followed.

McKay commented that he also kept a wooden bear statue in front of his house. The children laughed, because they knew that couldn’t be true — there was only one “Welcome to Bearadise” sign!
The sky broke, the velvet black fading to light gray. Then the darkness closed in again. They’d been on the bus for two hours now and had gone little more than a mile. Flames cat­apulted onto the roofs of the Black Bear Diner and the McDon­ald’s, then spread towards the KFC restaurant down the block.

Ludwig fell silent. So did the children.

As they turned onto Pearson Road and passed the intersection of Black Olive Drive, an officer directed the bus south, away from the Skyway, the main thoroughfare out of Paradise. They had been one block away. For a short distance, they moved easily, without stopping.

McKay was trying to escape along routes that only a native would know — but he was turned away repeatedly by law enforcement officers with out-of-town uniforms who claimed to know better.

The bus was pushed off Pearson Road to smaller streets: south on Foster, east on Buschmann, south on Scottwood. Miraculously, a text had made it through the cellphone gridlock from McKay’s girlfriend letting him know that his family was safe in Chico. She had gotten a hotel room for his son and mother. A small mercy.

Roe Road appeared before them. It was dangerously narrow, its sides flanked by dead brush and ponderosa pines. All morning, McKay had referred to the timber in Paradise as fuel — a phrase that Ludwig and Davis had never heard.
To them, trees were a source of beauty. Ludwig described the town’s ponderosa pine groves as the “rainforest” of Paradise. But looking ahead, McKay’s word choice made sense. Roe Road was claustrophobic. It was harrowing on an ordinary day because the line of sight was so limited. Now it looked as though the brush could ignite at any moment.

A Paradise police officer flagged McKay down.
“Do you have kids on this bus?” the officer said, peering up as McKay cranked open the driver’s window. “I’m about to shut this road down, but you go first. Get out of here.”

“Hey, man, Roe Road is highly overgrown,” McKay said. “I’m worried about getting through there.”
“Just go,” the officer replied. “There’s no other way out.”

McKay halted in the middle of the intersection of Scottwood and Roe, trying to leave a football field’s length between the bus and the car ahead. The pause also gave him an opportunity to attempt a getaway: He tried, very slowly, to pivot away from Roe Road and take a different route, against the officer’s recommendation. The drivers behind him laid on their horns, livid that he wasn’t moving forward. They wedged their vehicles into the clearance, and the patrolman directed a few more cars forward into the intersection, trapping McKay in place.

In the confusion, an elderly driver scraped the back of the bus, jostling the children from their seats. McKay was stuck. The decision had been made for him: The only way out was forward.

Ludwig, who had been helping calm a student, recognized the road. She walked to the front of the bus.

“What the heck, Kevin?” she said, her voice cracking. “Why are you taking us down Roe Road?”

She begged him to go a different way. “You know it’s a death trap,” Ludwig said. “Please do not take us down this road.”

McKay gripped the steering wheel. They didn’t have a choice, he said.

Davis interrupted, saying she thought some of the children were in shock. She didn’t know what to do.

Ludwig switched places with her, sitting with a young girl who usually had a lively personality but was now morose.

The children grew drowsy, some on the verge of passing out, nauseated by the carbon monox­ide and exhaust fumes. Hours had passed since they’d last had food or water. The bus was unbearably hot.

McKay kept his eyes locked on the road ahead. The canopy ruffled, ready to catch flame. Ludwig squeezed the girl’s hand once more, then walked back to the front of the bus, sliding into a seat with Davis. She was depleted.

For a moment, the two women found solace in each other.

“Look out the window, Mary,” Davis whispered. “I don’t think we’re going to make it.”

They clutched hands, imprinting tiny half moons on each other’s skin with their nails, Davis’s fist as small as a songbird. She revealed that she had already lost one fiance in a riverboating accident — and now the man who had offered her a sec­ond chance at marriage was refusing to leave town for her sake. What if he died while waiting for her?
Together, she and Ludwig whispered prayers. Ludwig wondered whether the school district might later fire her for this public show of faith. Perhaps, she thought, administrators would understand that this was a special circumstance.
“Please,” the teachers pleaded, “let the smoke kill us first.”

‘Way too dangerous’

The brake lights ahead of McKay dimmed, and traffic moved forward. Roe Road, with its drooping oak and pine boughs and tangled brush, lay ahead. Glancing in the rearview mir­ror, he saw the two teachers huddled together in a single seat. He didn’t like seeing them so upset.

“All right, girls, we’ve got a job to do!” he hollered.
Davis, her prayer finished, darted forward and stood by his seat. Her eyes were bloodshot from the six hours she had spent in the smoke.

Earlier, she had told Ludwig that she was worried that they would lose a kinder­gartner to smoke inhalation or carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Hey, Kevin,” Davis said now, “the kids are starting to pass out. They can’t breathe. What should we do?”

McKay slithered out of his black polo and yanked his extra-large undershirt over his head, tossing it at Davis. She held it gingerly.

“Tear it into 25 squares, so we each have one,” McKay explained, pulling the polo back over his belly. He put his foot on the brake and showed her how to rip the cotton undershirt into rags. “We’ll douse it with some water, and the kids can use them as masks.

Ludwig helped shred the thin shirt into pieces, and Davis soaked them with water from a half-full plastic bottle in her purse — the only water on the bus. She dispensed the dampened masks to the children and instructed them to hold the fabric over their mouths.

“I want you guys to suck on the rag a little bit,” Ludwig told them. “It’ll make your throats feel better. But I have to warn you, I don’t know when bus driver Kevin last washed his undershirt!”
The students giggled.

Davis walked down the aisle with the last dregs of water, giving each child a sip. She would have loved some herself: Her chest ached, her head swam and each inhalation scratched her throat like gravel. But she had to save as much as she could. Some­one might need it more.

Ludwig took over to give Davis a second to rest. As she walked down the bus aisle with the bottle, she tripped, spilling the precious water.

“Kevin, I need to get off this bus to get more water,” she said as she returned to the driver’s seat.
“I’m not letting you off. It’s way too dangerous out there,” he said.

“I don’t care, Kevin,” Ludwig replied. “We need water.”

He knew she was right. He opened the door, and she descended into the darkness.


Feeling her way along Roe Road, Ludwig bumped into a tall, rangy figure. He was a young man in his 20s, inked with tattoos, who had aban­doned his car to see why traffic wasn’t moving.


“Do you have any water?” Ludwig asked, uncertain how he would react. “I have 22 kids on a bus, and we need it badly.”


“Let me check my car,” he said, cutting back through traffic.


“Thank you,” Ludwig said.

A few minutes later, he reappeared with two plastic bottles. They were crunched and nearly empty, as though they had been rolling around his floorboards for a year, but they contained some water. His generosity felt staggering.


She returned to the bus, which hadn’t gone far: Every 10 minutes or so, it would shudder forward an inch, if that. They had been trapped on Roe Road for more than an hour, although they were only half a mile from merging onto Neal Road, which promised a direct route to Oroville — and safety.


Ludwig and Davis were resoaking the rags when McKay noticed an older man hosing down his travel trailer. He asked Ludwig to hop off the bus to fill up their three water bottles. The teacher did, feet crunching across the desiccated grass. Reach­ing the man, she held out the three bottles and asked if he would fill them.


“Of course,” he replied. “How many kids do you have?”


She told him and he ducked inside his home, returning with half a case of water bottles. He handed the flat to Ludwig without a word, then picked up his hose again.

“If the bus catches fire, can we come huddle with you?” Ludwig asked.

“Sure,” the man said, splashing more water onto his trailer.

“Mary,” McKay yelled to her. “Get back on board!”
The bus was creeping forward, and although they weren’t going far, he didn’t want her out of sight.
Ludwig sprinted back. She and Davis drizzled more water into the children’s mouths. Their lips were chapped from the smoke and dehydration, and their faces were pink with exertion.


The students did whatever was asked of them with­out complaint, although they were exhausted. The fire outside had heated up the metal bus like a pizza oven. Ludwig estimated that it had to be at least 100 degrees. The children were sweating through their clothing.


One young boy had undone the buttons on his flannel shirt, exposing his pale, bare chest.


A few rows back, 10-year-old Rowan Stovall couldn’t tear her eyes away from the bus window and the wildfire consuming Paradise.


The days of fishing for bluegill at the Aquatic Park, baiting them with dandelions, seemed like a thing of the past. She feared there would be no more collecting crystals or skipping rocks at Paradise Lake with her mom, no more karate or horseback riding lessons.


Rowan, who was nicknamed Rowboat by her mother, was tough. She never cried when she skinned her knee or bit her lip — she had been raised with male cousins — but she couldn’t hide her emotions if someone hurt her feelings. She loved animals with a tenderness that her mother found endearing: She doted on their three cats and tracked the speckled fawns that munched on their lawn in the evening.

Now, as Rowan stared out at the burning forest, she saw a deer trapped by a burning log. Its spotted body stumbled forward, then slumped to the ground, overtaken by flames.


‘We’re moving!’


McKay cranked open the bus door.
“Do you need a ride?” he asked a young woman who looked lost on the side of Roe Road.


The 20-year-old preschool teacher gratefully boarded Bus 963. Her car had run out of gas a few blocks back, she said, and she no longer had a way out of town. She slid into a seat in the back, passing rows of quiet children, uninter­ested in the presence of a stranger. They were too worn out to care.


The intersection with Neal Road neared. As the car in front of him turned, McKay finally got a glimpse of the crossroads. Vehicles were crammed into every lane. Panicked drivers wouldn’t let the bus merge.


Everything ahead of them was ablaze: houses, trees, shrubs. If McKay didn’t kick the bus into gear, they were going to get caught, too — but there was nothing he could do, nowhere he could go.


In the back of the bus, Ludwig gripped her inhaler, her asthma aggravated by the dense smoke. Davis closed her eyes and thought of her fiance. McKay pictured the 22 children running for their lives, scattering into the forest in every direction.


Just then, a truck cut around the bus and blocked a lane of traf­fic on Neal Road. McKay accelerated into the space and made a wide turn onto the evacuation route. The truck belonged to the Ponderosa Elementary School principal, who had been tailing the bus for miles to make sure the children got to safety.

McKay swung the bus onto the road and hit the gas. “We’re moving!” he exclaimed, incredu­lous.
Davis turned to look out the window. They were passing a fa­miliar property — the home of her future in-laws, where she had enjoyed many holiday meals and Sunday dinners.


She spotted her fiance’s truck parked in the driveway, and his father standing alongside it in a reflective yellow vest. Neither of the men was budging until they knew she was safe. She had argued with Gerspacher about it on the phone earlier, begging him to leave.


“Nope, not doing it,” he had replied. To see him now felt like the greatest gift. Davis waved at him, awash in emotion.


Bus 963’s final stop


An officer by a barricade blocked the school bus from entering Chico, and traffic toward Oroville was gridlocked. So McKay drove 25 miles south to the tiny town of Biggs, arriving around 2 p.m. More than six hours had passed since they’d boarded the bus.


After a food and bathroom break, the children were taken to Biggs Elementary, where Ludwig’s father had once taught. She nearly cried at the sight of the familiar brick building.


Her own school, Ponderosa Elementary, had been badly damaged in the wildfire, which, they would learn later, had claimed 85 lives and 11,000 homes. McKay’s house was gone. So was Davis’s. Ludwig’s had survived, but she knew that Paradise would never be the same.

Kevin McKay’s house was destroyed by the fire. He doesn’t plan to rebuild it and has since moved to Chico, although he still owns the property.
They’d reckon with those losses in the days and weeks to come.

Now McKay locked Bus 963, its ceiling encrusted with layers of black soot and dust, and followed the coughing children into Biggs Elementary.

Some of their parents, including Rowan Stovall’s mother, Nicole Alderman, had spent the past few hours at a Mormon temple in Chico waiting to learn the fate of their kids.

Alderman tried not to give in to fear, but wondered if Rowan “was scared, if she was alone. I was just trying to stay calm and focused, because being panicked wasn’t going to help me find her.”
Then a text arrived. It contained a snapshot of a Bus 963 manifest, the names of the students aboard scribbled in pen on a piece of paper. A school administrator read the list out loud and asked the parents to make the half-an-hour drive to Biggs.
Their children were alive.

Lizzie Johnson is an enterprise reporter at The Washington Post and the author of “Paradise: One Town’s Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire.”

Gary Rubenstein has written about the failed promises of charter schools many times. In this post, he reports on the latest sex scandal at KIPP. Maybe there’s something about the power dynamics of a “no excuses” school that encourages adult domination of children in their care.

He writes:

Today the US Attorney’s office for the southern district tweeted this [Open the link to see the tweet!].

The description of the charges gets pretty graphic so I will not quote it all here, but part of it says:

From at least in or about 2002 through at least in or about 2007, CONCEPCION singled out the Minor Victims for personal attention. He gave them money, clothing, jewelry, and other gifts, and he provided them with alcohol. He told several of the Minor Victims that they were in romantic relationships with him and provided each of the Minor Victims with a cellphone so that they could communicate with him without their parents’ knowledge. CONCEPCION used the cellphones he provided and other devices to maintain his “relationships” with the Minor Victims and to arrange sexual encounters.

The press release does not identify the school, but I recognized the name of this teacher since he was featured in the chapter about KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) in the 2008 book published by The Thomas B. Fordham Institute called ‘Sweating The Small Stuff — Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism’ (you can get it on Amazon for $0.99 or you can get the full pdf for free here.) It’s basically a book that glorifies the abusive practices of ‘no-excuses’ schools because they get good standardized test results. The Fordham Institute is one of these think tanks that basically creates ed reform propaganda but makes it look like actual research. Their president Michael Petrilli is a nice enough guy, we have had some friendly exchanges, but he knows absolutely nothing about education. I would feel bad for him if he weren’t making so much money.

In the chapter of ‘Sweating The Small Stuff’ entitled ‘”KIPP-Notizing” through music’ there is this passage that has not aged well:

In two days, the orchestra will give its commencement concert in this auditorium in the South Bronx to honor the eighth-grade graduates of KIPP Academy, housed in a wing on the fourth floor of Lou Gehrig Junior High. But rehearsal in the stifling auditorium is going poorly. Jesus Concepcion, the dapper conductor and benevolent baton-wielding despot on the podium, is not pleased.


“Sit down!” Concepcion tells a seventh grader playing string bass at the back of the orchestra. The bass player had refused to help a fellow cello player pick up his music when it slid off his music stand, kicking the sheet music back to the student instead. “You want to be nasty?” Concepcion asks rhetorically. “I’ll teach you nasty. You don’t deserve to play! You let down your teammates. And that music you kicked, I arranged. Get off the stage!” After the student glumly exits the stage, orchestra members keep their eyes glued to Concepcion during a soaring version of “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway show Rent. But as at many rehearsals of the string and rhythm orchestra, the cycle of disruption and discipline continues. A few minutes later, the graduating eighth graders start chatting animatedly in the hallway as they practice lining up.

“Unbelievable!” Concepcion exclaims. Mitch Brenner, KIPP Academy’s Director of Institutional Solutions and enforcer of all things KIPP, hops up to straighten out the excited eighth graders. “Not a word!” Brenner calls out. “Do not speak! You are our graduates. Do not open your mouth!”

KIPP has had to do a lot of apologizing and self-reflecting over the past few years. First there were the sexual abuse allegations that caused them to fire co-founder Michael Feinberg. Even though Feinberg’s accuser was not able to definitively prove her case in court, he was far from exonerated and has pretty much been shunned by most of the education reform community. Then, about a year ago, the other co-founder Dave Levin wrote an apologyto the KIPP alumni about some of the racist practices that KIPP has employed over the years, things that charter critics have been accusing them of over the years, but KIPP never cared then because they felt it was helping them get the statics they needed to get the donations they needed.

Samuel Abrams worked for many years as a teacher in a New York City public school. After earning his doctorate, he became executive director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. The Center consistently produces valuable reports about privatization. Consider joining its mailing list.

Here, Abrams reviews Joanne Golann’s recent book Scripting the Moves, a close analysis of “no excuses” charter schools. Open the link to read the full review and an excerpt from the book.

Abrams writes:

Few education initiatives have generated as much praise as well as philanthropic funding as the “no-excuses” charter school movement. Yet criticism of the movement has recently been growing, from both inside and out, so much so that KIPP (short for Knowledge Is Power Program), the movement’s standard-bearer, dropped its motto—“Work Hard. Be Nice.”—one year ago in acknowledgement of the conflict between the organization’s rigid code of conduct and its goal of fostering student independence.

No book captures the tension between these competing forces as well as Joanne W. Golann’s Scripting the Moves: Culture and Control in a “No-Excuses” Charter School (Princeton University Press, 2021). In this NCSPE excerpt, Golann lays the foundation for her analysis, a sociological case study based on 18 months of observations at a “no-excuses” charter middle school beginning in March 2012. In keeping with much case study research, Golann, an assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, does not identify the school or its location, other than to note it is not part of a large network of charter schools and is situated in a medium-sized former industrial city in the northeast. Golann gives the school a pseudonym: Dream Academy.

As Golann recounts, the “no-excuses” movement began with the founding of one KIPP middle school serving low-income minority students in Houston in 1994. Another KIPP middle school serving low-income minority students in the Bronx opened in 1995. With students at both schools posting top scores on state reading and math exams, KIPP won acclaim. “For its first eight years, KIPP Academy Houston was recognized as a Texas Exemplary School,” Golann notes, “and KIPP Academy New York was rated the highest performing middle school in the Bronx for eight consecutive years.”

A segment on 60 Minutes in 1999 made that acclaim national and brought to the fore the school’s “no-excuses” pedagogical strategy: a much longer school day (running from 7:25 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.), strict behavioral expectations, and unyielding commitments by parents and teachers alike to student success, all in the name of guaranteeing that every student makes it to and through college.

Embodying KIPP’s unrelenting focus on deportment has been its ubiquitous prescriptive acronym, SLANT, standing for Sit up straight at one’s desk; Listen attentively to teachers and peers alike; Ask and answer questions; Nod in acknowledgment of instructions; and Track the speaker with one’s eyes.

In the wake of the segment on 60 Minutes, more positive coverage followed. In addition to a subsequent segment on 60 Minutes, laudatory articles appeared by David Grann in The New Republic, Bob Herbert and Thomas Friedman in The New York Times, Stanley Crouch in The New York Daily News, Leonard Pitts in The Miami Herald, and Jay Mathews in The Washington Post. Mathews built on those articles in his book about KIPP called Work Hard. Be Nice (Algonquin, 2009). The husband-and-wife team of historian Stephan Thernstrom and political scientist Abigail Thernstrom earlier praised KIPP for its resolve and methods in their book No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning (Simon & Schuster, 2003). Malcolm Gladwell devoted a chapter of his book Outliers (Little Brown, 2008) to KIPP’s impressive academic outcomes and linked them to the extended hours required of both students and teachers. Paul Tough likewise commended KIPP for its dedication to character education in his book How Children Succeed (Houghton Mifflin, 2012).

In conjunction with this positive coverage, the philanthropic spigot opened up. Doris and Donald Fisher, founders and owners of The Gap, gave $15 million to KIPP in 2000 to start replicating and afterward continued to give the organization about $5 million a year to that same end. Other foundations, including those steered by the Waltons and Gates, have since contributed many millions more. And in 2010, the U.S. Department of Education gave KIPP an Investing in Innovation grant of $50 million to further replicate.

By 2020, Golann reports, KIPP served 110,000 students in 255 schools across the country. Of these students, 88 percent came from low-income families; 95 percent were Black or Latino. Thirteen similar “no-excuses” networks evolved in KIPP’s shadow. By 2020, these networks, from Achievement First and Aspire to Success Academy and YES Prep, together enrolled another 200,000 students in 433 schools across the country. The demographics of Dream Academy, in particular, reflected those of KIPP: over 80 percent came from low-income families; about 67 percent were Black; about 33 percent were Latino.

To Golann, the problem with these “no-excuses” schools is not scalability, though scaling up these networks is indeed difficult. These schools depend on a finite number of young teachers who can work such long hours. They also depend on a finite amount of philanthropic funding to cover the cost of after-school music programs, supplementary tutoring, field trips, and college visits. More fundamentally, these schools depend on students and families that can handle the steep behavioral and academic expectations.

This last constraint is indisputable. In this regard, Golann cites the failure of Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD). “In 2010, Tennessee created the ASD to take over and contract with charter management organizations (CMOs) to turn around the state’s lowest-performing schools,” Golann explains later in her book. “By 2014-15, eighteen of the twenty-three ASD schools were managed by CMOs, many operating from a ‘no-excuses’ framework. After five years of turnaround efforts, the ASD schools failed to show any significant gains in students’ academic outcomes.” The key difference between conventional “no-excuses” charter schools and those in the ASD, writes Golann, is that the former involve an application process as well as specific commitments from parents and students alike to follow a contract while the latter simply enrolled all students from the designated neighborhood.

As I document in “Education and the Commercial Mindset” (Harvard University Press, 2016), a similar story unfolded over the same time period in Houston, where the economist Roland Fryer applied the KIPP curriculum to nine district high schools and eleven middle schools in an undertaking called Apollo 20. Without the application process as well as student and parent contracts defining KIPP, Apollo 20, like Tennessee’s ASD, lacked the buy-in critical to the everyday operation of “no-excuses” schools.

Please open the link to complete the review and to read an excerpt from the book.

In this post, Jan Resseger reviews Joanne W. Golann’s Scripting the Moves: Culture & Control in a No-Excuses Charter School. What she describes is a culture of behaviorism and strict control.

Resseger writes:

Joanne W. Golann’s new book is all about schools that insist their teachers follow the guidance of Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion instead of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, but whose principals and teachers have convinced themselves they are liberating students from oppression.

Lured by the promise that their middle school will put them on the path to college, many of the students in Scripting the Moves: Culture & Control in a “No-Excuses” Charter School quickly become angry and disgruntled as teachers assign them demerits for failing to sit at attention or whispering or speaking as they walk in straight lines marked by squares on the hallway floors. At Dream Academy, teachers are driven obsessively to “sweat the small stuff.” School leaders warn teachers that the whole system might collapse if anyone loses control.

Golann explains that, Dream Academy, the pseudonymous name of the school where she conducted her ethnographic study, typifies to one degree or another no-excuses charter schools managed by many of the huge charter management organizations, beginning with KIPP, but also including Achievement First, Aspire, Democracy Prep, Green Dot, IDEA, Mastery, Match, Noble Network, Promise Academies, Rocketship, Success Academies, Uncommon Schools, and YES Prep.

Anyone with the most rudimentary, university-based, public school teacher certification training—including philosophy of education, educational psychology and learning theory—will likely find it shocking to read what Golann describes observing in her year-and-a-half ethnographic study. Yet Dream Academy exemplifies the kind of schooling so many families are choosing—based on a promise that college admission will follow…

Golann explores Dream Academy’s failure to work with students to develop critical thinking and the kinds of study and interactive skills they will need if they do go on to college: “Dream Academy was successful in getting its middle school students to think about college and in getting its high school graduates to apply to, and be admitted to, college. But… Dream Academy’s rigid behavioral scripts did not encourage students to develop the types of cultural capital that higher-income students use to gain advantages in college. Cultural capital, which I have defined as tools of interaction, comprises the attitudes, skills, and styles that allow individuals to navigate complex institutions and shifting expectations. These tools include skills like how to express an opinion, be flexible, display leadership, advocate a position, and make independent decisions.” (p. 58)

Finally Dream Academy teachers’ obsession with minute behavioral infractions undermines trust and generates anger and antagonism: “No-excuses schools ‘sweat the small stuff.’ Under a sweating-the-small-stuff approach, authority is exercised over ‘a multitude of items of conduct—dress, deportment, manners—that constantly occur and constantly come up for judgment.’… (A)s teachers took on the role of disciplinarians, they became enmeshed in a racist system that perpetuated stereotypes of Black and Brown bodies as needing to be controlled rather than one that humanized students as individuals to be understood, cared for, and respected. It is unlikely that belittling and shouting at students, for example, would be acceptable at an affluent White school, yet these practices are common at no-excuses schools, which serve almost exclusively Black and Latino students.” (pp. 86-99)

The term “sweating the small stuff” is the title of a book written by David Whitman and published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in 2008. It praises several no-excuses charter schools for their strict discipline and paternalistic control of students. The next year, Whitman became Arne Duncan’s chief speech writer.

The Noble Network is the leading charter chain in Chicago. It boasts of high test scores. It is the darling of the Chicago white elite, including such luminaries as former Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and billionaire Penny Pritzker, who served as Obama’s Secretary of Commerce. White apologists and admirers of the strict no-excuses discipline policy claimed that black and brown children needed the tough rules so that they could learn middle-class behaviors. David Whitman published a book praising “no-excuses” schools called Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism, in which he praised the high-performing schools (mostly charters) that enforced “no excuses.” His book was published in 2008; in 2009, he became the chief speech-writer for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who often lavished praise on “no excuses” charter schools.

The Noble Network wrote a letter to its alumni, apologizing for its strict “no excuses” policy, which it acknowledged was “racist.” Over the years, critics have said that the practices of “no excuses” schools are racist, but they were defended by charter advocates based on their test scores. They argued that the ends justified the punitive and harsh means. To be sure, the “no excuses” practices enabled charters to kick out the kids who did not conform and did not meet the school’s demands. The high suspension and attrition rates contributed to their “success.”

Chicago’s largest charter school network sent a letter to alumni this week admitting that its past discipline and promotion policies were racist and apologizing for them. The apology is notable not just as an acknowledgment of misguided policies, but as a repudiation of the “no-excuses” philosophy adopted by many charter schools during the 2000s.

For years, Noble Charter Network had an ultra-strict approach in which students, for example, got demerits for small offenses, such as not wearing a belt, not following a teacher with their eyes and failing to sit up straight or wear black dress shoes. After a certain number of demerits, students had to pay for behavior classes. If they continued to get demerits, they could be forced to repeat a grade, which led many to transfer out.

The email calls the discipline and promotion policies “assimilationist, patriarchal, white supremacist and anti-black,” according to the email sent to alumni on Monday. “We were disguising punishment as accountability and high expectations. We did not fulfill our mission to ALL students,” the email continues.

The letter set off a firestorm among former students, some of whom feel vindicated and others who say they think it was disingenuous. Some alumni point out the email did not explain what changes have been made, offer any type of reparations or ask for their feedback. Instead, the email includes a survey about whether they would want to participate in alumni events...

With about 13,000 mostly Black and Latino students, more than one in 10 Chicago public high school students goes to a Noble campus. For years, Noble’s “no-excuses, sweat the small stuff” philosophy was well-known and embraced by the school district and by some of the most prominent Chicagoans.

Its founder and chief executive officer Michael Milkie saw this approach as fundamental to the network’s success. He highlighted the fact that his schools, which don’t require a test for admission, out-performed neighborhood high schools. The Noble campuses are consistently highly rated with impressive high school graduation and college-going rates. Charter schools are largely publicly funded but privately managed.

Mayors touted Noble’s success and big donors such as former governor Bruce Rauner and the former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and her husband Bryan Traubert lined up to support them financially. The organization’s most recent audit shows it brought in nearly $200 million in fiscal year 2020, the vast majority from tuition payments from Chicago Public Schools, to run its 17 campuses. It also raised $9.4 million last year.

But Noble’s campuses also had high student suspension and expulsion rates. Charter schools can set their own student discipline codes, and even as CPS changed its disciplinary practices to move away from suspension and expulsions in district-run schools, it never held Noble accountable for its practices.

In fact, in recent years, charter school suspension data has not been publicly available through the school district. But CPS officials are now applauding the apology by Noble. “All schools should continually self-evaluate biases and act to change them if a student group is being disproportionately impacted,” they said in a statement.

Noble is one of a number of charter school networks across the country, opened in the 2000s, that touted strict discipline and high expectations. Like Noble, these schools serve mostly low-income Black and Latino students. Facing criticism, many of them have backed away from the rhetoric of no-excuses.

Noble might be the first to ask forgiveness from alumni...

Some students say the super-strict discipline made them dislike school and changed their vision of themselves as students.

“For the most part, it felt like every day going to high school was dreadful,” Collins said. “At most high schools, the goal is to graduate and go to college. When I hit Hansberry, my only goal was to get through the day without getting into detention or getting suspended.”

Collins said she will never get back the innocence, time or money that the school took from her. She said she started getting demerits her freshman year in 2015 for coming late or not wearing a black belt or leaving class to go to the bathroom without an escort.

Up until 2014, Noble charged students for each demerit, but that practice stopped after it was revealed that Noble was catapulting families into debt and sending a collection agency after them.

Collins, who rarely got in trouble in elementary school, got so many demerits at Hansberry that she had to pay for several behavior classes.

Collins said her mother started to see her as a troublemaker. Then, at the end of her sophomore year, her demerits rendered her unable to be promoted. She left and went to Hyde Park High School where she graduated early. She’s now a student at Jackson State University in Mississippi.

Success Academy charter network was directed by a federal district court judge to pay $2.4 million to families whose children with disabilities were pushed out.

Charter school network Success Academy, which touts its commitment to children “from all backgrounds,” has been ordered to pay over $2.4 million on a Judgment in a case brought by families of five young Black students with learning and other disabilities who sued after the children were pushed out of a Success Academy school in Brooklyn. Success Academy’s efforts to oust the children even included the creation of a “Got to Go” list, as reported by the New York Times in October 2015, which singled out the students they wanted to push out, including the five child plaintiffs.

The lawsuit, brought by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Advocates for Justice, and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, concluded on March 10, 2021 with Senior United States District Judge Frederic Block’s ruling, which included a precedent-setting determination that federal disability discrimination laws authorize reimbursement of expert fees.

The case charged that Success Academy engaged in practices targeting students with disabilities, in order to force them to withdraw. The practices detailed in the suit included regularly removing the children from the classroom and calling the parents multiple times daily.

“This Judgment provides justice to the children and families who suffered so much,” said Christopher Schuyler, a senior attorney in the Disability Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “It also underscores the need for schools to cease doling out harsh punishments for minor infractions that can interrupt children’s academic progress and divert them into the school-to-prison pipeline.”

“Success Academy’s harsh, inflexible, one-size-fits-all approach to discipline is at odds with its obligation to reasonably accommodate students’ disabilities,” noted Kayley McGrath, an associate in Stroock’s Litigation Group. “These children and their families were forced to withdraw from the Success Academy network not only because their educational needs were not being met, but also because they were explicitly not welcome there. This Judgment recognizes that children with disabilities deserve access to an accommodating learning environment that approaches their needs not with contempt, but with empathy.”

“Success Academy forced these families to withdraw their children by bullying and daily harassment, instead of providing a quality education free from discrimination,” said Laura D. Barbieri, Special Counsel to Advocates for Justice. “New York’s parents and children deserve better, and we are pleased these families achieved justice.”

The litigation centered on five children, then a mere 4 to 5 years old, with diagnosed or perceived disabilities. Success Academy did not provide appropriate accommodations, and frequently dismissed the students prior to the end of the school day – often for behaviors like fidgeting and pouting.  Success Academy also threatened to call child welfare authorities to investigate the children’s families, and even sent one child to a hospital psychiatric unit. Each family eventually removed their child from the Success Academy network.


This is a beautiful https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/swans-for-relief-raises-money-for-dancers-amid-covid-19-47449883?fbclid=IwAR0VmXIqHyeeNP0X7SGh9mR-YShob4sj9yXYToYexWwlzJ1Bg02pGMgEp6Y of 32 talented dancers from around the world performing “Swan Lake.”

They are raising money for dancers whose income has been cut off.

Each dancer is alone, in isolation caused by the pandemic

They give a different meaning to the word “discipline,” which is often associated with punishment. These dancers are models of exquisite self-discipline.

The performances are beautiful and sad, when you consider that these young women practiced and worked for years to reach the peak of their profession and now have no audiences.

Certainly there are more tragic stories today, about lives and livings lost.

But pause for a few moments of beauty.

Gary Rubinstein explores a curious phenomenon at Success Academy. Fully one-seventh of its senior class fail to graduate.

How can this be? They have persisted through 11 years of the school’s harsh discipline, yet are told midway through their senior year that they must repeat the grade or leave.

Public data shows that very few students who begin at Success Academy actually graduate from Success Academy. The class of 2018 started with 72 students and only 16 graduated. The class of 2019 started with 80 students and only 27 graduated. The class of 2020 started with 350 students and only 98 graduated. Success Academy argues that this is normal attrition over 12 years, but one of the most jarring statistics I have ever seen about Success Academy is the attrition rate from students who are in the school at the beginning of their senior year but who do not graduate with their class 10 months later.

For the recent class of 2020 there were 114 seniors in the school in November 2019. But by graduation time in June there were only 98 graduating seniors.

Why?