An Open Letter to Teachers and Staff at No Excuses Charter Schools

The former dean of students at a New Orleans charter school urges teachers and staff at No Excuses schools to ask some hard questions about the model’s social and emotional costs…

By Ramon Griffin

Dear You:

no excuses chalkboardYou were selected to teach at your school because of your intelligence, spunk, tenacity, vigor and, most of all, your passion for public education. You are a risk-taker. You have a can-do attitude with swag to match. You believe that every child has the capacity to achieve academically and are committing your life to ensuring that you affect change in every student you encounter. Your dedication to ensuring that traditionally marginalized students receive a first class education is commendable. But do you know how much power you hold? Do you truly understand the *No Excuses* school culture that you are part of? Do you know the psychological and emotional costs that the No Excuses model has on students of color? Furthermore, do you care to know? Continue reading →

All I Really Need to Know I (Should Have) Learned in Kindergarten

Are no-excuses charter schools setting kids up to struggle later by pushing academic skills too hard, too soon? 

By Emily Kaplan
backpack-schoolThe very youngest children at the charter school at which I taught all start their nine-hour school day in the same way: by reciting the school “creed.”

“I AM A…SCHOLAR,” the two hundred children chant. The principal weaves among the tables, making sure that the children “track” her by turning their heads in accordance with her movement. One child lets out a giggle. He is immediately sent to the Silent Area.

I HAVE THE POWER TO DETERMINE WHO I AM, WHO I WILL BECOME, AND WHAT I DO IN LIFE. They point their thumbs to their chests, extend their arms, and stack their fists in unison. I WILL STAY FOCUSED ON ACHIEVING EXCELLENCE. 

I notice that one of my second-grade students is wearing one neon green sock, in stark defiance of the dress code. I am contractually obligated to order him to take it off or to send him to the dean. I smile and look away.

I WILL MAKE SMART CHOICES BECAUSE I CARE ABOUT MYSELF, MY TEAMMATES, AND MY COMMUNITY. 

I turn my attention to the table of kindergartners next to me. They’re my favorite to watch, these tiny children who haven’t yet learned to be predictable.

Most mouth the words obediently: TODAY IS A STEP ON MY PATH TOWARD SUCCESS! On cue, their little fists shoot into the air.

The principal smiles and returns to the front of the cafeteria. Ignoring the group of children sitting stone-faced in the Silent Area, she announces that we’re about to sing a catchy song about self-determination.

But I am giggling. The kindergartner next to me didn’t say “path to success.” He said “path to recess.” Continue reading →

Most Likely 2 Succeed

Venture capitalist-turned-documentary-producer Ted Dintersmith is a fierce critic of test and measure, and no excuses charter schools. And he offers a compelling vision of what schools could look like….

Ted-Dintersmith-964x670-482x335EduShyster: Your new film, Most Likely to Succeed, makes a convincing case that the obsession with standardized testing is leading us over a cliff—and not into a sea of innovation. Why? And keep in mind that there is only one correct answer and that I’m timing you.

Ted Dintersmith: Well, it all depends on how you see the goal of education. If the goal is to teach kids year after year to shut down their creative thinking and stop asking questions, we’re doing a great job. Is school about learning vocabulary and math through repetition and drilling under time pressure? Or is it about doing complicated challenging things that you care about and learning to persevere and be creative and resourceful? Continue reading →

In the Future, All the Seats Will Be High Performing

I talk to Andy Smarick about the urban school system of the future…

future 8EduShyster: Let’s talk about the future. In your vision, urban parents will choose between their choice of high-performing charter schools. But one can’t help but observe that the cities that seem to be hurtling towards the future at the greatest velocity don’t seem to have all that much choice about where they’re headed.

Andy Smarick: I don’t agree with that at all. I believe that the systems that are going in that direction are places where families, communities and organizations have the most say. They’re places that have the longest charter school wait lists, or in some cities they have the longest scholarship or tax credit wait lists. What I do agree with you about is that in these systems where there are more and more autonomous schools, we don’t have a system yet for ensuring that there is democratic control of the entire system. I think these cities are showing us that parents desperately want a different kind of system, they want choices, they want to be able to exercise their options. But now it’s up to us to ensure that there is democratic control as well.  Continue reading →

The High-Stakes Pipeline

A Boston student explains the connection between high-stakes testing, harsh discipline policies and the school-to-prison pipeline…

By De’Anthony Robinson

De’Anthony Robinson addresses fellow students at the Statehouse. Robinson and his classmates won this year’s Generation Citizen Changemaker award for their research into harsh discipline policies and how they push kids into the school-to-prison pipeline.

I am De’Anthony Robinson and I am a student at Brighton High. I am just weeks away from graduating from high school.  I am incredibly proud of that.  But as I travel back and forth across the city for school every day, I see many of my friends who are not going to make it.  Out of all of my childhood friends, only two will graduate.  Like many young people of color in this city and country, they are struggling to finish school.  They feel alienated from their education because of issues like high stakes tests, unfair discipline policies and schools that just don’t help them feel successful.  My friends are not on a good path in life and there are so many that others like them.  In fact only 59 percent of young black men graduate from high school and only 65 percent of young Latino men graduate. One out of every three black men and one out of every six Latino men will serve time in prison. Continue reading →