June 14, 2021

Joanne W. Golann: Why are no-excuses schools moving beyond no excuses?

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Joanne W. Golann is an assistant professor of Public Policy and Education at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University. She has just released a book about culture and control in no excuses charters. In this piece from the Hechinger Report, she considers the question of why, at last, big name charter chains that built their reputation on the “no excuses” approach have been changing direction.

This past year has forced schools to make significant changes to their practices. It has also prompted teachers and administrators to reimagine education and to rearticulate a new vision for their schools — as I’ve seen at “no excuses” charter schools, which I have spent the last decade studying and observing.

In March, Noble, the largest charter network in Chicago, apologized to its alumni for its “assimilationist, patriarchal, white supremacist and anti-black” discipline practices. Last June, Achievement First promised not to “be hyper-focused on students’ body positioning,” and ended its requirement for students to sit with their hands folded at their desks. KIPP, the nation’s largest charter school network, retired its founding motto, “Work hard. Be nice,” explaining that it “ignores the significant effort required to dismantle systemic racism, places value on being compliant and submissive, supports the illusion of meritocracy, and does not align with our vision of students being free to create the future they want.”

The Wall Street Journal described KIPP’s statement as “woke nonsense.”

If the dual pandemics of the coronavirus and systemic racism have spurred these schools to speak out, what they are recognizing is not “woke nonsense.” As a sociologist of education who spent 1 1/2 years inside a no-excuses school eight years ago, I found that students, parents and teachers clearly understood the deeply problematic underpinning of the no-excuses model. The findings in my new book echo the three points articulated in KIPP’s statement. No-excuses schools like the one I studied often demand compliance and promote a meritocratic myth while failing to empower low-income Black and Latinx students to make their own decisions.

Read the full op-ed here.

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