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Jersey Jazzman: What Makes a No-Excuses Charter School?

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Jersey Jazzman tries to figure out the definition of a no-excuses charter school. Is it in the eye of the beholder or is there actually a definition that is widely accepted. He traces the ideology back to Dtephan and Abigail Thernstrom’s 2003 book, “No Excuses.” I suggest he also take a look at David Whitman’s 2008 book “Sweating the Small Stuff,” which highlights several exemplary no-excuses schools. Whitman’s book was sponsored by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Soon after he finished it, Whitman became Arne Duncan’s chief speechwriter. That helps explain a lot about Duncan’s love of no-excuses charters. Even earlier was Samuel Casey Carter’s “No Excuses: Lessons from 21 High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools (2000), which was launched by the Heritage Foundation, thrilled by the idea that schools could get high test scores without spending more money or reducing poverty.

The impulse behind the no-excuses schools, I believe, is neo-colonialism, the desire to teach poor children of color to behave like affluent white children.

I continue to impressed by the Dobbie and Fryer study of charter schools in Texas that found that they had no bearing on test scores or earnings. Dobbie and Fryer are supporters of charters.

They wrote:

“We estimate the impact of charter schools on early-life labor market outcomes using administrative data from Texas. We find that, at the mean, charter schools have no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings. No Excuses charter schools increase test scores and four-year college enrollment, but have a small and statistically insignificant impact on earnings, while other types of charter schools decrease test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earn- ings. Moving to school-level estimates, we find that charter schools that decrease test scores also tend to decrease earnings, while charter schools that increase test scores have no discernible impact on earnings. In contrast, high school graduation effects are predictive of earnings effects throughout the distribution of school quality. The paper concludes with a speculative discussion of what might explain our set of facts.”

The paper concludes with this speculation:

“Charter schools, in particular No Excuses charter schools, are considered by many to be the most important education reform of the past quarter century. At the very least, however, this paper cautions that charter schools may not have the large effects on earnings many predicted. It is plausible this is due to the growing pains of an early charter sector that was “building the plane as they flew it.” This will be better known with the fullness of time. Much more troubling, it seems, is the possibility that what it takes to increase achievement among the poor in charter schools deprives them of other skills that are important for labor markets.”

Maybe conformity and obedience are not enough.

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