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Thompson: The No Excuses School Debate

School,_Katni,_MP,_IndiaAs a student, I would have despised the "No Excuses" pedagogy, but I understand why some students and their families choose it.  Some people enjoy competition and structure and, in the inner city many students will choose anything over the chronic chaos of dysfunctional schools. While I see no chance that KIPP-style schools can be successfully scaled up, I always learn from Mike Goldstein's observations on what it would take to replicate his charter schools' successes.

I would go farther than Goldstein's The Softer Side of "No Excuses" in challenging the common statement, "Traditional schools can copy nearly all the KIPP playbook, if they wish to try." Such a statement is intellectually dishonest. Goldstein also questions it and says that all charter schools with a negative school culture could emulate the best No Excuses models. Then he adds that it's harder to copy the KIPP playbook than many realize.  Moreover, he wishes "there was more of an ethic among charter supporters to 'get our own house in order' before fixing traditional schools. "

Goldstein addresses a key dilemma faced by all high-poverty schools, but that is far harder for neighborhood schools to address. Ask new teachers what is expected of them if a kid hits another kid, or is 15 minutes late, or violates the school's academic rules and, as Goldstein says, KIPP teachers would more typically be able to answer those questions. And, he is equally correct in saying that reasonable people can and should disagree on what the answers to those questions are.

I agree that it is not possible for teachers in a traditional public school to agree on these policies, but that is because we are a part of systems that serve all kids, not just those who can handle the "No Excuses" regime.  We can't enforce rules without the backing of principals. Those school administrators can't agree on whether to allow teachers to enforce the school's policies, and that is partially because they aren't allowed to enforce them without permission from central office administrators.  Central office administrators, I bet, mostly realize that the resulting chaos is bad for students, but they are constrained by the larger society.  Stakeholders can't agree on whether schools should be allowed to uphold behavioral and academic standards because our stakeholders come from all parts of our diverse democracy.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.