By Fernando Pauret
“Democracy has to born anew every generation and education is its midwife.”
– John Dewey (Educational Creed, 1987)
This paper consists of a survey of two prominent school reform models. In the introduction I set the framework for the comparison of two different school archetypes. In my literature review I begin to define what are both “No Excuses” and “Essential” schools by talking about their mission statements, referencing articles, and analyzing content on the schools websites. The three main criteria, which I will utilize to make this comparison is the ability to raise funds, the effects of testing, and lastly the development holistic development of the student. In my discussion I delve into a more theoretical and macro analysis of the differences. In my conclusion I delve into more broad implications and ways in which we can extrapolate certain attributes of these school models and learn to make schools that serve everyone across the board equally. Both No Excuses and Essential Schools will have long-lasting effects on our citizenry and the state of our democracy therefore it is critical understand these schools and the impact they are having on future generations of Americans.
- I. Introduction
On a cold February morning, I found myself sitting in a sparsely filled church space ready to witness a debate on educational policy between members of the school board and prominent community leaders in North Hartford. The debate was centered on one of the most important subjects in the education sector, what does the ideal school look like and would this school be the solution to educating underprivileged students. Chris Stallings, Secretary of the Hartford Board of Education, spoke much about the folly that was the “millions of dollars wasted” in the process busing students from the North Hartford neighborhood to schools in more affluent areas. When we attempt to define the ideal school we have to focus on three things; what skills students are attaining, how accountable is this schooling model to parents and governmental agencies, and the economic cost of the model on our country. Busing as a policy does work, but it is neither a very cost-effective nor an efficient system to maintain. School’s are more complex beings, and should be judged and graded with this premise in mind. Is a school preparing students to live and succeed in our 21st century world? Or are they teaching student to pass the test?
Scholars tend to point to the increase of standardized test in the post NCLB era as the main source of a rising mediocrity in the American Education system. The origins of the movement to “standardize education” stems from a report that was published by the Regan Administration titled “ A Nation at Risk”. This report shocked instilled fear in America and became the biggest catalyst of educational reform since its release in 1983. The report summarized researchers findings on the decadent state of American education, students were losing interest and as a result were learning less (A Nation at Risk, 1983) Overall, the report states that we need to restructure our schools and students need to learn ‘critical skills’, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and a love for learning that, according to the authors, had disappeared in the majority of modern American classrooms. Furthermore, they outlined a set of recommendations, which included more personalized form of education, smaller class sizes for students who need them, teacher autonomy, more incentives so as to attract more highly qualified individuals into the field of teaching, and suggested increased testing as a way to make sure students were learning what they were supposed to (A Nation at Risk, 1983) It is imperative for any movement to acknowledge the various levels of student performance they need to address in order to become the revolutionary movement the authors of a Nation at risk stated our students need.
The Essential Schools movement embodies the spirit of the recommendations of “A Nation at Risk”. Theodore Sizer launched the Coalition of Essential Schools in 1982 with a vision of building modern 21st century schools that “ equips all students with the emotional, intellectual, and social habits to become powerful and informed citizens who contribute actively toward a democratic and equitable society” (CES Website). The report referenced above sewed the seeds for educational reform; the coalition for essential schools was a response to that call for action. The coalition focuses on the skills and habits they believe students need to learn in order to thrive in the modern world. The coalition created a framework that clearly states the ways in which they address the needs of students, in particular students from low-income backgrounds and at the same time all students in general. These ten common principles lay the foundation for what many believe to be a well-rounded education.
The Coalition of Essential schools educational dogma is centered on the 10 common principles that every student and school must abide by:
- • Learning to use one’s mind well
- • Less is more: depth over coverage
- • Goals apply to all students
- • Personalization
- • Student-as-worker, teacher-as-coach T
- • Demonstration of mastery
- • A tone of decency and trust
- • Commitment to the entire school
- • Resources dedicated to teaching and learning
- • Democracy and equity
The most salient among these principles are; student as worker and teacher as coach, a tone of decency and trust, learning to use one’s mind well, and democracy and equity. Smaller classrooms, more emphasis on teaching of essential and critical thinking skills is part of what the coalition values above all else. Rather than trying to teach students as much content matter as possible to demonstrate statistical gains to a board of investors with little instructional know how, this movement focuses on finding ways to make more profound changes in the educational track of all students across the spectrum. Essentially they want to promote an environment where more power is given to the individuals responsible with educating the students (Sizer, 2009). One of the main issues teachers in the modern era face is less connection to their students and more administrative barriers (Flaxman, 2009) Unlike most movements their approach is very unorthodox and progressive which demonstrates a desire to experiment and find new, innovative methods to educate all students.
Essential schools operate under notion that cultural deprivation is a detriment to the educational experiences of many students. The theory was first proposed by Pierre Bourdieu, it associates low performance from underprivileged students in low-income communities with a lack of empowerment they experience. Students come from different background therefore it is critical for schools to address this fact. In Pierre Bourdieu and Cultural Theory: Critical Investigations, Brideget Fowek discusses the way that the lack of cultural capital ( Pierre Bordieu, 1974) . Kathleen Cushman wrote her paper “Why Small Schools are Essential” in 1997 the way the critical skills students learn at no excuses schools help them come to terms with their reality and nurtures a desire to become and agent of change, Essential schools empower kids who (Cushman, 1997). As stated previously, schools need to focus more on the application of skills in the real world rather than attainment of knowledge.
Contrary to the Essential School’s movement stands the movement many have coined the “No Excuses” Movement (Thernstrom, 2004) No Excuses take a different approach to combat the growing educational disparity in the US, that is one focused on discipline, academics, and better teacher’s. The movements inception came about in 1994, Mark Feinberg and Dave Levine, opened up two schools in Houston and New York. The KIPP schools created their own counterpart to CES’ 10 habits of mind and heart; they are called the “Five Pillars” of KIPP (KIPP Website) Namely, They believe that students from low-income backgrounds lack knowledge and discipline to be succesful in school. One main source of criticism and praise of KIPP schools is their use of statistics to track student achievement. interestingly, this focus on testing has created an intense enviroment of high discipline and attrition problems that critics tend to point to when judging the efficacy of No Excuses schools such as the KIPP schools. The tests highlight a darker aspect of the No Excuses schools that often goes unnoticed.
Paul Tough wrote, “Whatever it takes” about Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone. He wrote about Canada expelling a whole class of 6th graders three years after they first attended the Harlem Children’s Zone because of their low-test scores (Tough, 2008) KIPP schools are known for the high attrition rates among black males and students with limited knowledge of the English language int heir schools, a 2012 Mathematica study found “ students who transferred out early were likely to be black males and significantly less likely the have significant limited English proficiency.” (Ira Nichols-Barrer, Brian P. Gill, Philip Gleason, and Christina Clark Tuttle, 2012). No Excuses schools have also come under fire for the longer school days that tkae the fun out of learning and increasing the workload of their teacher’s and not compensating them properly. Furthermore, critics also have a an issue with the way the pedagogy the employ which molds passive and submissive students (Akron Beacon Journal, 2012) Is a school preparing students to live and succeed in our 21st century world? Or are they teaching students to pass the test?
In my paper I will focus on why a combination of both the Coalition of Essential Schools and No Excuses model presents the best archetype moving forward for american public schools. This comparison and analysis will be based on some of the recommendations made in a Nation at Risk and the works of Educational theorists to make the argument for a more liberal and democratic education but also focus on the accountability aspect that the models may be lacking in. My paper will not use statistics but will talk about the role of statistics and the benefit the use of statistics provides in out ability to measure the efficacy of a school’s missions, practices, and pedagogues. Coalition schools excel in providing students with the skills they need to be succesful moving forward and they don’t face as many issues such as attrition and harsh discipline tactics. They do however lack the funds the finance their projects and methods to increase student achievement. No Excuses Schools on the other hand excel in this aspect as well as in the fund-raising aspect. Both schools posses attributes than when combined could give a prototype for formulating an institution that gives students the most well-rounded education in our country. The ten common principles of the CES movement and the five pillars encompass of KIPP cover various levels of the education needs of most children across the social spectrum. As the authors of a Nation at Risk mentioned, students need to be prepared to thrive in a modern 21st century economy, and schools should be judged on their ability to do just that within the means of our nation as a whole.
This comparison and analysis was built upon the research and statistical analysis of various articles published on websites such as Google scholar, published books and reports from Mathematica and the MIT School of economics. Furthermore my research utilizes many work of an ideological nature to make the links between theories on education and the mission statements if Essential and No excuses schools. During my research I found there to be more extensive research done on No Excuses schools because of their ability to present their students achievement in a more tangible and substantive manner. The comparison in this paper centers on the ideals presented in the government study “ A Nation at Risk” which first proposed a decline in American education and spurred future pieces of legislation (No Child Left Behind, 2001), which paves the way for an increase in independent charter schools. In this paper I analyze No Excuses schools by using the KIPP schools as my point of reference for this movement. Furthermore, as I stated before I did not have much scholarly material on Essential schools therefore my analysis of this movement is limited to their mission and linking their ideals with the works and theories of famed and prominent sociologists in the field of Education.
- II. Lit review
A. Historical Background
Many scholars and educational reformists cite the Regan administration report “A Nation At Risk” as their crucial landmark piece of evidence the period from 1980’s to the 1990’s. (Khon, 2000) It is imperative tu understanding the development of ideologies at the time of what the role of schools should be and what should schools look like in order to tackle the issues highlighted in this report. One of the key responses to this report came from Albert Shanker, president of the American Teachers federation in 1984. Together with Ray Budde, Shanker laid down the foundations for a schooling model that would define schools as sorts of laboratories that experiment with unorthodox methods to find solutions to the ills that plagued American education according to a nation at risk (Budde, Shanker, 1988) No Excuses schools encompass a broad set of institutions that operate in a very autonomous manner but operate under the same strict discipline ideology and are made up primarily of charter schools. The first bill that allowed for the rise in these autonomous charter schools was the passing of a bill in Minnesota that defines what a charter schools’ purpose is and gave these schools rights and a legal pathway for their formation (124D.10 Charter Schools, 1991)
After the charter school act in Minnesota, many states followed suit and enacted laws that permitted the founding of charter schools in their state (The Center for Education Reform) In 2001, following complaints about the lack of accountability of charter schools combined with increasingly low test scores, the Bush Administration passed the No Child left Behind act (No Child Left Behind, 2001). The law was intended to increase the level of accountability of autonomous schools, set a benchmark to allow schools to fight for extra funding, and let ineffective school wither away if they fail to prove their efficacy in educating students (U.S. Department of Education, 2007) This measure has led to standardized test becoming the sole measurement of the efficacy of schools and the problematic overuse of testing by schools and school districts (Khon, 2000) In this paper I will present arguments that will help create a pathway to a more integrated system of schooling and frameworking the ideologies and practices that guide schools and can lead them forwards and towards a more conducive and fruitful means to the education of Americas youth.
Two former TFA corps members, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, first founded the KIPP schools in 1994 (KIPP Website) They represent the branch of the school movement coined “No Excuses” because of their strict back-to-basics approach to educational inequality. They stick to a strategy that underlines three main principles; Character development, parental involvement, and time spent in the classroom (Fordham institute, 2014) This approach has been adopted by many schools across the country, some of the most prominent being The Harlem Children’s Zone (Brooklyn, NY), The Success Academies (Manhattan, NY), The Promise Academies (Los, Mastery Charter Schools, and American Indian Charter schools (Oakland, CA), and Marcus Garvey School (Los Angeles). These schools state in their school mission their dedication to the improved instruction and success of poor, low-income, and minority students through a highly rigorous and intensive curriculum. In essence they train students to adopt behaviors and modalities, which will help them, be successful in the No Excuses schools and, according to supporters later on in life.
No excuses schools have adopted a dogma that was clearly stated and professed time and time again in the book written by the two Thernstrom sisters, Abigail and Stephan, and has become a manifesto for the movement (Thernstorm and Thernstorm, 2004). They argue for an approach, which the founders of these sorts of schools formulated, and make a claim about the correctness of the implementation of a school wide ideology centered on discipline and rigor. Unlike the Essential Schools, there is no direct network that has been set up to link these schools together. They all operate under the idea; more time in the classroom, higher discipline, harder working students will lead to success and higher levels of achievement amongst disenfranchised and underserved Americans. No Excuses schools typically operate in smaller networks, for example The Harlem Children’s Zone, KIPP schools and Promise Academies are examples of this form of organization (Carter, 2000)
No excuses schools are also major proponents of the use of data and standardized tests as the sole measure to student achievement and assessment of the skills students obtain while they are enrolled in their schools. There are many benefits to this approach but also quite often pundits find it problematic by stating that it limits what students learn and their ability to truly measure growth (Khon, 2000). This paper will take into account both the benefits and detraction of this approach in regards to the education of students. For KIPP schools, the use of data has allowed them to market their schooling model and create a comprehensive, proven way to present their success. Essential schools operate in a manner that is the complete opposite of No Excuses schools on various levels of the educational process, meaning the pedagogues and ideologies that shape the instruction in the classroom and they way that success and academic success is measured.
Theodore Sizer founded the Coalition of Essential Schools in 1988. A graduate of Harvard University and Yale University, Sizer dedicated his career to studying the trials and tribulations of educators and that they encountered in the American public school system. He wrote a five book series called ‘Horace’s Compromise’ in 1984, about a fictional teacher and his frustration with the broken down system that overworked public school teachers provided them with little time or support to learn proper ways to educate and connect with students (Sizer, 1984) Like Shanker and Budde before him, Sizer saw the potential to have schools that find way educate all students in a way that promotes student independence, teacher empowerment, and learner centered forms of education. What Sizer envisioned was a cross-national network of schools that provide each other with the support and counseling that ordinary public schools lack. With this high level of support, the Coalition of Essential Schools has grown from a mere 12 schools when Horace’s compromise was published to a little over 600 schools just last year, a number taken from the CES website.
The CES model is a bit more centralized then the KIPP schools and the No excuses network in general. They are highly decentralized, but still allowing schools to operate in their own discreet manner so long as they comply with the basic principles of CES; teacher autonomy, learner centered, teacher as coach student as worker, respect between students, and teaching critical skills for participation in a modern society. teachers are able to better construct curriculum that is more relatable to the their specific geographic regions and the students the teach. School leaders are for the most part teachers themselves, seasoned veterans who understand the challenges of running a schools and education diverse groups of students. The basic principle of Coalition of Essential schools is the premise that the current ways in which students are evaluated is wrong, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.
In 2009, Theodore Sizer, his wife Nancy, and three young teachers published a very well written account describing the structure of their schools, the autonomy awarded to their schools and the forms of assistance a school receives when it joins CES. The book covers many different aspects of the schools but I will focus above all on three different aspects of the schools, their ideology and some of the issues with the coalition, cultivating professional learner communities, and why their style of pedagogy stands out amongst the schools proportion a traditional type of education. In the book, the scholars spend a lot of time explaining the bureaucratic wrangling’s that are detrimental to educating students and the need for more support systems for teachers. Essentially, the created a system in which students and teacher learn from each other and there is no one person dictating what happens in the classroom.
There is a certain freedom that Sizer envisioned which makes the teachers job more pleasant and less regulated. Students learn skills that are marketable in the college process and job market, such as critical thinking, teamwork and purpose driven reasoning. They provide stability, supporting the community and engaging with the community in changing their schools and improving them. They do this by aligning themselves closely with community organizations, parents, and by empowering students through new age concepts empowerment and progressive education(Sizer, 2009). The stories of young, urban, minority students helps people understand the reasoning behind the coalitions attempt to address the issues that the communities in which they operate face. Essential schools focus on providing students the skills needed in order to feel more comfortable as students and as citizens of the country. Learning at an essential school is more community driven and teachers’ work around the clock to refine their teaching style and make their lessons more entertaining. In Chapter 7 of Small Schools Big Ideas, Maria Benitez describes the way in Coalition of Essential Schools deal with unruly students (Benitez, 2009) they work with other instructors from different coalition members who have successfully dealt with a similar issue. As stated in later on in the book, these schools focus on turning students into life long learners through the development of essential and critical skills (Flaxman, 2009)
The biggest problem facing the coalition as stated earlier in the book is the large amounts of backlash they encounter when dealing with school boards. In chapter 1, Flaxman talks about the theory of ‘Disruptive Innovation’ and how this prevents the coalition from working on many of the projects they would like to implement (Flaxman, 2009). Across the nation they are engaged in “ logistical, administrative, bargaining issues at the high levels of school management, that take away from the use of resources in the more important levels of school change and operation” (Flaxman, 2009) The schools focus on aligning teachers with the ideals that gave life to the movement. The coalition, as I stated before, is a loose network of schools that provide each other with support and follow the following ten principles. For this comparison, it is important to understand the ways in which each school operates and how they differ from each other.
The first level of comparison will be the ability of these schools to attain the funds needed to provide students with the resources that are essential for a proper education. I have stated earlier that a monetary discrepancy is evident between the two model movements, as affirmed by reports, news articles and scholars. A source of criticism comes from Rick Kahlenberg and Halley Potter about the way in which No Excuses schools market themselves to philanthropies (Kahlenberg and Potter, 2009) In their book, a smarter charter, the two talk about the high levels of segregation at schools like KIPP, whose main principle is the network wide mission to serve a particular racial and socioeconomic group. In chapter 3 they present evidence of school administrators purposefully doing this by stating that their purpose and the way they outline the neighborhoods they serve is done through financial and racial composition of the area. One can attribute the large amounts of success of the KIPP to raise a lot of funds from corporate sponsors. What’s more? They don’t cut costs and usually operate under a much larger budget because of their ability to raise large amounts of public funds.
KIPP schools, the more prominent of the No Excuses schools movement, spend more time in the classroom, compensate teacher’s less for the extra work time they are required to commit to and spend more than traditional public schools when we take into account per pupil spending (figure 1). According to Bruce D. Baker, KIPP schools spend as much as 25% more per pupil than public schools.
The Coalition of Essential Schools has notoriously had a difficult time raising private funds for its schools to operate in a desirable manner. Even more recently, they had trouble maintaining their recognition as a national organization. In Reform and Resistance in the Classroom, Muncey and Mquillan wrote and ethnography of the early years of the Essential schools movement. In one of their ethnographical studies they studied one school called the Leis school (Muncey, Mquillan; 1996) According to the authors, decreasing class sizes to 20 students at the Lewis Essential School would led to a 30% increase in operation costs. The authors also reported a lack of administrative cohesion at Essential Schools. The lack of funds meant the sometimes were distributed unfairly and there was a lot of favoritism that played a role in the distribution of funds. In 2011, the Gates foundation Awarded the Coalition of Essential Schools $18.7 Million dollars. This was a grant to fund ten new CES schools in the city of Oakland (Gates Foundation), but when we consider the administrative costs and the inconstancy of these sorts of large donations it is clear there is a discrepancy between No Excuses and Essential schools.
Like most socially progressive movements, the Coalition relied on the star power and charisma of their leader. Theodore Sizer was the charismatic leader that the paved the way for the rise of Essential Schools. According to McQuillan and Muncey, The main reason the movement gained so much traction was because of “ the personal qualities of Theodore Sizer were the most critical factor of the schools that joined.”(Muncey, McQuillan; 1996) According to social theorist Max Weber, it is the combined ideas, personality traits, and accomplishments that define a charismatic leader (Weber, 1968) Ted Sizer was the perfect example of rule by charisma. Charismatic leaders are usually found in Authoritarian regimes, they tend to be repressive and based on a cult of personality. Once the are gone, the group they leave behind struggles to retain the same level of success since they are unable ti fill the vacuum with a similar individual. As noted in Muncey and Mquillan, the validity and the commitment to the CES project by teachers at CES schools came to be because Ted Sizer instilled trust and confidence in the teacher and donors (Muncey, McQuillan; 1996) With the death of SIzer, the coalition lost its uniting force and it’s cohesive ability to raise funds. The Essential schools presents a model that is less effective at providing the monetary resources to run an essential school as defined in the book Small Schools, Big Ideas (2009).
The financial comparison of these schools yields different results from both. On the one hand, KIPP schools have money to spend, a report from NPR shows that KIPP schools “ on average have spent $1,000 more per student compared to public schools and $3,000 more than the typical charter” (NPR, 2011) With this information we can conclude that neither model helps us find a schooling model that will allow public schools to be funded as they are now. CES schools lost their ability to market with their charismatic leader, the No excuses approach to fundraising is everlasting, that is data and test results. There are many who position themselves on either side if the debate on the “standardization of education”. There are issues with the Standardized test data approach, but as I have stated before, I will present an argument for both sides of the debate on this topic.
A response to the US’s dismal performance in international standardized tests and reports demanding change was shaped in the form of a new type of school coined by critics and scholars as the “No Excuses” Schools. These schools profess that when a student underperforms, it is because of his lack hard work (Thernstrom, 2003). Some claim that this ideology represents traditional right-wing of order in the classroom, return to the basics, and data led accountability for schools that focus on tests. The ‘No Excuses’ schools claim that getting back to the basics and teaching the test, that is the amount of knowledge acquired, is the best way to combat educational inequality. Although as a metric they can be very helpful and effective, standardized tests can be detrimental to children’s educational prospects and the overall capability of the school to effectively teach students.
The critics of the excessive use of testing as means to measure achievement have noted the lack of marketable skills that are taught when the sole metric implemented is standardized test data. An article published in the National Center for fair and open testing demonstrates some of the negative side effects of Standardized tests. Some of the examples provided are narrowing of the curriculum, teaching to the test, pushing students out of school, driving teachers out of the profession, and undermining student and school climate (National Center for Fair and Open Testing, 2014) The article goes on and talks about the fact that school that over test don’t focus enough on imparting “ skills and habits needed for success in college and skilled work”(National Center for Fair and Open Testing, 2014) In chapter 4 of A Smarter Charter, Kahlneberg and Potter attribute the idea of “creaming” to the success of No excuses schools such as the KIPP schools to “creaming” (Kahlenberg and Potter, 2009) it is quite well-known that KIPP students and parents share higher rates of motivation and commitment to the mission of the school. It is for this reason that using this metric can be problematic. With the recent testing scandal in Atlanta, we can clearly see that high stakes testing can create huge problems and conflicts of interests for schools and administrators at these schools.
In Small Schools: Big Ideas, Nancy and Theodore Sizer clearly state the fact that the main mantra of Essential Schools is to impart the critical and essential skills students need in order to succeed in a modern economy (Sizer, 2009) In this respect it can be said that the model of essential school possesses the upper hand. Michael Apple defends the need for schools to harvest Essential skills and teach relevant knowledge to students. In Whose Market, Whose Knowledge? (Apple, 2007) Apple condemns the hegemonic curriculum and argues that American schools need to implement curriculum that is more culturally,
“Although it is true that the United States is constituted by people from all over the world and that is one of the things that makes it so culturally rich and vital such a perspective such a perspective constitutes and erasure of historical memory.” (Apple, 2007)
According to this logic, schools need to focus more on the students they teach. According the Apple’s theory of the benefits of a democratic education, students would benefit more from the acquisition of skills that promote democratic ideals such as critical thinking and analytical skills.
Standardized tests have also been identified as tests that measure in many respects accumulation of cultural capital, Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital, the transfer on knowledge and skills that occur through the transmission of certain types of knowledge that are highly valued by schools. If we combine Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital and Apple’s theory of a democratic education, standardized tests become representative of a very ineffective and harmful metric to measure student achievement. No excuses schools profess that they teach valuable skills that prepare students to be successful in life after high school, namely university and skilled work. There is a large amount of teaching to the test, which defeats that argument because if the skills that are omitted from the learning as a by-product of the focus on test scores. In light of their information, the Essential school movement represents a step towards a more democratic educational model that would be beneficial not just to student of low-income background but the larger populace of students as a whole.
C. Skills taught and student development
Another big critic of the No Excuses movement is the educational scholar Diane Ravitch. Much of Ravitch’s criticism of No Excuses school networks is their inability to teach the children that have been failed by regular public schools, their misuses of large swaths of capital, their autocratic styles of pedagogy; but above all is the negativity associated with privatization and the lack of skills learned by students. In an example from her book, Ben Chavis took over a large Charter school chain in Oakland, CA. Chavis engaged in activities that have been found at many other charter schools (Ravitch, 2012) He manipulated the demographics and the school that was known for serving the mostly underserved Native American communities of the city was now composed primarily of Asian Americans. While the increase in Asian students in itself isn’t a bad thing, again we see an example of a charter school that teaches to the test without a regard to the students and the skills they a relearning that will help them succeed in all stages of life. Furthermore, Chavis was funneling large amounts of the funds donated by private corporations into businesses owned by him and his wife. The issue with conflicting interests and standardized tests again and proves that No Excuses schools teach to the test and their ability to teach students is secondary to the interests of public individuals.
No excuses schools have a great message, relieving the underserved and marginalized communities of the burden placed in them by inadequate schools and public intuitions by providing them better schools and schools with more resources. Instead the opposite is happening and while the test scores are going up for the poor minority students in their schools, their attainment of crucial social and cultural capital is hampered by “the drill and kill” method (Ravitch, 2012) Furthermore, the focus on testing takes away from the development of critical thinking, one of the key skills large swaths of students in America lack, according to A Nation at Risk (1983) This contributes to Apple’s theory of hegemony, large corporations and philanthropists praise these schools in a way because they allow for the persistence of the status quo by depriving underserved communities of skills that are critical to success in college and skilled labor (Apple, 1979)
Critics are often few in numbers, but those few base their criticism on the strategies on the kind of students that KIPP schools mold. Brian Lack hits at the culture of docility and passiveness at KIPP schools. He claims that teachers in KIPP schools exert a lot of authority over students, not allowing the students to think on their own and make their own decisions. Lack continues his criticism my giving specific examples, one of students being punished by having to stand with their backs against the wall or wearing their shirts inside out (Lack, 2009). Furthermore, while many studies attest to the success and efficacy of KIPP schools, Lack presents studies that have either disproven the universality of their success and or shown a gradual decline in test scores.
One of the biggest sources of criticism for KIPP schools is their terrible attrition rates for African-American students, “who traditionally are labeled as the trouble makers”. Diane Ravitch, in her most recent book lambasted the same sort of domineering and harsh tactics that undermine student freedoms (Ravitch, 2014) The behavioral control strategy she makes a reference to is SLANT; Sit up, listen, ask questions, nod, track the teacher with your eyes. This produces passive students, characteristics that are not conducive to success in life (Halperin, 1999). No Excuses schools teach to the test and impart habits that turn the student into a receptacle rather than an independent a scholar. It is not clearly stated in their mission statement that a No excuses education is supposed to provide a student with such skills.
The purpose of charter schools from their inception was to create schools that would be able to teach all children and prepare them tu be successful either in college or in the modern labor force. Albert Shanker and Ray Budde’s original dream of charter schools was that they be a sort of ‘ educational laboratory’ in order to find solutions, to have school share and work together. No Excuses have steered away from the original message and on a path to becoming factories that mold students into the perfect receptacle for acquiring endless amount of pointless knowledge. It is critical that the students learn critical thinking skills and receives the proper intellectual stimulation in order for them to learn to become learners for life. It is imperative for a comparison to extrapolate, that which works for each model, and create the perfect model for schools that would encompass all layers in regard to what schools should be providing its students. The perfect school can exist, it is a matter of working with all that we have and identifying what we need to keep and what we practices we need to discard.
IV-6. Conclusion and Policy Recommendations
The main purpose of the essay was to present the problem of schools that operate only to solve only a small part of the issue that is occurring in American schools and then compare the two models in order to come an understanding of what the ideal schooling model should look like. In essence, No excuses schools to a better job a teaching discipline and demonstrating the success of their model in a way that anyone can understand that is easy to believe. In this aspect, Essential schools fail to relate with the common American what success at their schools looks like. Their success is measured in abstract ways and completely disregards the ability data has to validate a movement, particularly in the field of education. With the loss of their leader, it is quintessential for them to find anew form of validity in order to be able to market their approach to wealthy donors and gain the confidence of educators once more. Counter to that, No Excuses schools need to focus in the skills that student develop while at their school and focus on developing students that love learning rather than students who are trained to learn because they have to.
Part of the issue with No Excuses schools is their lack of autonomy, they answer to the board of directors that provides them with funds to run their schools. The message here is that schools need to revert back to the ideas of Shanker and Budde if they are to adopt styles of pedagogy that aloe them to teach large swaths of diverse students. There need to be less business men taking control of the school (see the ben Chavis example above) that focus on superficial gains that gain them enough power to take advantage of their position. One thing that was not talked about but is an issue that was reference in the Muncey and Mquillan piece is the lack of discipline at some Essential schools. There were examples of students leaving for the bathroom and not returning to class and other detrimental behavior that occurred in some classroom of the schools that were a part of their ethnographical study. While Essential schools need to learn to implement some form of strict discipline, it is also true that No excuses schools need to relax a bit in the excessive nature of discipline at their schools. No student will learn to be independent unless they are given the chance to either sink or swim. Schools need to allow students to learn to hold themselves accountable and foster an environment where learning is understood to be a prerogative by the students themselves.
My three proposals for schools are as follows; firstly, all schools need to create networks of support that are more regions specific and decentralized. What does this entail? Forming support groups between teachers in the same city or geographically accessible region. Holding conferences to discuss best practices for student success (ie how to teach certain skills, what skills should they learn, what are the best ways to deal out discipline, what should be considered excessive when it comes to punishing students, what should tests look like, etc) Testing is one of the major issues, tests at the moment test specific types of knowledge rather than skills. By creating tests that test student ability to think critically and analytically, we will be creating a new metric in which success means skills attained rather than knowledge accumulated.
Second, using tests as only a part of the whole rubric to measuring student success. The teacher should have the ability to create tests that measure what students learn in his/her course which also relieves the instructor of the burden that comes with Standardized testing. Third and lastly, making sure that there is a purpose driven pedagogy present in the classroom. This is somewhat related to the first in that I mean that students need to learn to posses skills which allow them to become their own teachers. These recommendations are based on the research I have done on ethnographical studies, theoretical writings, and reports I used for my research. My research does not include the opinions of specific students and would be complete if it to contain such a layer of research. This study is limited to the articles I have found and in such a way it should only be interpreted as a product of the material I had to work with. Even so, there is still a basis to the claims made in this essay, which is that schools need to change and an educational revolution is needed, one that creates a schooling model that addresses every level and need of American students in the modern era.
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