The No-Excuses Charter School Movement

This page provides an overview of No-Excuses Charter Schools-- what they are, where they came from, how they're structured, and why you should care. It also examines, in some detail, the debate over how to interpret the data on the effectiveness of these schools. This page does not delve into the much more complex and profound debate over the actual pedagogical methods of these schools. I have been approaching that discussion bit by bit, through my posts, but it is too big to tackle here. (Click here for a list of posts on No-Excusesism.)

Overview and Origins

The no-excuses charter movement is an affiliation so new and so informally defined that it doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. As far as I know, there is no official list of no-excuses charter schools and no official list of attributes that define them. There is, however, a new model of schooling being practiced by a rapidly growing number of urban charter schools, and that approach is distinctive enough and consistent enough from school to school that it deserves a name and it deserves to be seen for what it is: a new movement in educational philosophy. Networks and schools within the movement like to call themselves "high performing charters," but I prefer a term that's more descriptive and less judgmental—thus, the No-Excuses Movement (let's give it capitals.)

A tentative history. To my knowledge, the No-Excuses Movement began with the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), a network of charters that opened its first two schools in 1995. Those schools were extremely successful in raising students' test-scores, and the network grew quickly—today, there are 99 KIPP schools in 20 different states, with a combined enrollment of over 26,000 students.[1] At the same time, forward-thinking educators outside the movement began opening independent charters modeled on the KIPP schools, by the late '90s. The movement now includes several charter networks—The Uncommon Schools, which opened its first school in 1997, and Democracy Prep Public Schools, which opened its first school in 2006, are two examples—as well as numerous stand-alone charters; and it is growing all the time.

No-Excuses charters have received a lot of glowing endorsements by politicians and a lot of vitriolic attacks by advocates of progressive education—who object to their rigid pedagogical methods—and by opponents of charter schools—who often see them as the most threatening and insidious form of a phenomenon capable, they fear, of dismantling public education in America. Like most public discussions in this lovely country, the debate has become highly polarized, to the detriment of everyone’s understanding and of progress in education. As an independent researcher interested in educational models, I find the discovery—for that’s what it is—of this new way of education fascinating; it contains plenty of flaws and plenty of beautiful insights, and I try to examine it as coolly as I can, because there’s plenty to learn from it. My first year teaching at a No-Excuses school, a friend of mine who teaches at St. Ann’s, a progressive private school in Brooklyn, came to observe a day of classes. It’s incredible, he told me afterwards, that that place and St. Ann’s are both called "schools," what’s going on inside them is so utterly different.


What Makes a No-Excuses School a No-Excuses School?

As I said above, there is no official list of defining features for No-Excuses charters, but most of them share a number of distinctive characteristics. Here is a very pared-down list:

  • High behavioral and academic expectations for all students—these expectations are applied without exception for extenuating circumstance, hence the designation No-Excuses. No-Excuses schools provide plenty of extra support—both emotional and academic—to any student who needs it, but they strive never to lower expectations. That means that no matter how troubling a student's home-life may be, no matter what difficulties she may have to overcome in her neighborhood or her family, she is still expected to work hard and follow the school's code of behavior (see the next item on this list); no student will receive special treatment, be exempted from punishment, or granted a passing grade when she has not mastered class material. To lower expectations, argue those in the movement, would be to give up on a student, to say to her, "We don't expect you to learn what other students learn; we don't expect you to behave in school, to pay attention, to respect your teachers. Your circumstances make you incapable of being a good student."
    This attitude arises from an idealistic and, in fact, very radical assumption that lies at the heart of the No-Excuses movement: that every student, no matter what his or her background, is capable of high academic achievement and success in life.
  • A strict behavioral and disciplinary code that leaves little room for ambiguity or inconsistency—rules and punishments are laid out in Talmudic detail, usually in a document that is required—and tested—reading for all students and faculty at the beginning of the year. In many schools, for example, lateness, even by a couple of minutes, and uniform violation (a missing belt, bright nail-polish, etc.) lead to automatic detentions; cursing in class or telling a teacher to shut up often spell automatic suspension.
  • More time on academics—an extended school-day and school-year, less recess time, Saturday and after-school tutoring, integration of math and literacy into all subjects, even art, theater, phys ed, etc.
  • A college preparatory curriculum for all students
  • A strong focus on building and teaching school culture and community values—No-Excuses schools invest a lot of time and energy in teaching kids how to behave in a classroom and how to be respectful to teachers and peers; they work hard to build school pride and instill in their students a belief in the school's core values, and in the importance and possiblity of their own college education.
  • Policies to hire and motivate great teachers—higher salaries, bonuses tied to performance, rigorous teacher assessment based on student achievement and observations, large amounts of time devoted to teacher-training.

There's a huge amount that could be said about the structure of a No Excuses charter—it's distinctive, elaborate, and consistent from school to school—but it's already fairly well documented by those within the movement, and I don't want to spend too much time on it at this juncture. For those who are curious, I'm including a slightly expanded list of common characteristics in Appendix A, below. I will touch on various details of No Excuses school-structure as they come up in my posts.


Effectiveness of the Movement

(I originally posted a different version of this discussion; that version contained a major oversight, and I have therefore replaced it with the revised version below. If you read this page when it was first posted, you will find that this and the following section are significantly modified.)

The reason we’re talking about No-Excuses Charter schools, and the reason they're proliferating so quickly, is that they appear to be highly successful—as measured, of course, by student scores on state exams. Schools within the movement measure their effectiveness, not merely by their students’ absolute test-scores, but by their students’ yearly progress—and they make that data very public. Here, for example, is a highlight from the KIPP website:

“The average KIPP student who stays with KIPP for four years starts fifth grade at the 41st percentile in mathematics and the 31st percentile in reading. After four years at KIPP, these same students are performing at the 80th percentile in math and the 58th percentile in reading, based on national norm-referenced tests.”[2]
Other No-Excuses charters boast similar gains in student achievement, and several third-party reports have confirmed the value of a KIPP education.

Like most charters, No Excuses schools have lottery admissions, so they're not skimming the best students off the top in any obvious way; and because they measure themselves by their students’ progress more than by absolute test-scores, differences in student demographics or innate talent might seem irrelevant, anyway. Nonetheless, there is a broad debate raging in education circles over how to interpret the data on No-Excuses schools, centering on differences in the student population between charter schools and public schools. That discussion gets pretty involved, and though the critics of charters have some good arguments, I think this is ultiamtely a very limited critique of No-Excuse schools, so I’m going to cover it in a separate section, below.

Of more concern, I believe, is the use of test-scores as measures of charter-school effectiveness. A lot of the tests being used are lousy tests, and No-Excuses charters are often subject to the same distortion of curriculum from high-stakes testing that we see in regular public schools (see my 8/16 post, Teaching for the Test.) Critics have argued that No-Excuses schools do much more rote test-prep than DOE schools, but I have no data on that issue.

As the movement matures, though, better measures of school effectiveness, like high-school graduation rates, college attendance rates, and college graduation rates, are becoming available, but only for the earliest No-Excuses schools. In another decade, we’ll be able to examine average adult earnings and crime rates, which are really excellent measures of a school’s long-term impact. If I had to bet, I'd bet that we will see a significant positive impact from No-Excuses education, in these data—assuming we’re keeping track of the data that we’ll need to make a reliable comparison(see footnote 6, third paragraph.)



Data-Based Critiques of the No-Excuses Movement

There are two ways in which a No-Excuses charter school ends up with a student population that is demographically different from the district public school down the block. The first has to do with incoming students, the second with departing ones.

Lottery Selection-Bias

Yes, charter admissions are lottery-based, but you have to enter the lottery. Only those kids whose parents have the wherewithal to put them in the charter lottery have a chance of getting into a No-Excuses school. That’s a big selection factor, actually. True, students at No-Excuses charters are mostly non-white, and most qualify for free or reduced-price lunches (that’s bureaucracy-speak for “they’re poor”)—but they probably have some major advantages over their peers at regular public schools. Parental involvement means better nutrition, a more consistent sleep schedule, more time spent on homework and studying, and more cooperation between faculty and parents to solve discipline problems and help struggling students; it also probably makes students more trusting of and invested in the school.

Charter schools do a lot outreach to get as many parents as possible to enter their kids in the lottery—but there is reason to think that No-Excuses schools would have trouble absorbing those kids whose parents don’t put them in the lottery. Parental involvement, cooperation, and communication is important to the No-Excuses model, and the long school-hours, heavy homework loads, afterschool tutoring, and frequent weekend classes and field-trips demand a big commitment from families. Even parents who voluntarily put their kids in the lottery often have trouble swallowing the rigid disciplinary code and huge time-demands of a No-Excuses school. If we removed the selection bias—for example, by automatically entering all eligible students in the lottery, with or without parental approval—No-Excuses schools might find their job considerably more difficult.[3]

Attrition Selection Bias

If most charters have little control over who enters the lottery, they certainly do have control over whom they expel. It’s extremely difficult for a DOE school to expel a student—it requires a mile-long paper trail and a pattern of egregious behavior. A charter school has much more leeway to expel—I’ll look into the precise details of this, but I think it’s pretty much up to the school to kick out whomever they choose. Also, the rigorous demands of No-Excuses schools may cause weaker students to switch out more frequently than stronger students. Now, these effects appear more pronounced at some No-Excuses schools than they do at others.

Harlem Village Academy (HVA), a very successful No-Excuses charter in East Harlem, provides an extreme example. HVA has incoming 5th-grade cohorts of sixty-odd students; within a year, those cohorts have usually been cut down by about 30%; by 8th grade, a cohort of HVA students numbers about half its original size.[4] I don’t have any information as to how many of those who leave are expelled, but I suspect it’s a lot of them—in other words, HVA is selecting out the best students. Now, that doesn’t mean HVA’s not doing some amazing work—there is little doubt that going to HVA improves educational outcomes for those students who don’t get expelled—but it does mean that HVA isn’t a school for everybody.

Some schools work much harder to serve all students. Democracy Prep Charter School (DPCS), for example, expels perhaps 5% of a cohort per year;[5] and Democracy Prep Public Schools superintendent Seth Andrew has been known to put a moratorium on expulsions, when too many occur in the same year. 5% is still a high expulsion rate, by the standards of non-No-Excuses schools, but it constitutes a much smaller selection bias, and we can probably expect the rate to decrease in higher grades. (DPCS is growing a grade per year, and its oldest cohort began 10th grade earlier month.)

No-Excuses schools damage their credibility, though, when they try to sweep these issues under the rug. HVA, for example, announces, on the main page of their network website, that “Harlem Village Academies recently made history as our students were the first class of eighth graders ever in Harlem to achieve 100% passing on the state math test.” That’s no lie, but it sure as heck is misleading—after all, only about 50% of the 5th grade cohort that entered their school three years earlier actually stayed at HVA to take that 8th grade math test. In fact, if only half their students are getting 100% on the state math test, that’s still great results—I’ve observed an 8th grade math class at HVA, and the work they’re doing is very high level; you’d probably be hard-pressed to find any schools in NYC where half the kids get 100% on the state math test.

(Why, then, does HVA feel compelled to provide misleading data on their school? I don’t want to delve too deeply into that question at this juncture, but I think it points to one of the negative side-effects of introducing competition into education. HVA is by no means a for-profit organization, but they are an independent organization, out to prove their worth within NYC’s rapidly-diversifying public-school community. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, education is a product whose quality is difficult to assess, and as such it is susceptible to various undesirable behaviors under market conditions.)

A Good Education for Those Who Can Cut It

That No-Excuses schools greatly improve educational outcomes for those students who get in and stay in, I think, is difficult to dispute. Even if No-Excuses charters select out the best kids, those kids are still progressing much faster and scoring much higher in the No-Excuses schools than they were in the district schools. Any attempt to use expulsion rates and selection-bias in lottery entrances to argue otherwise appears untenable in the face of the longitudinal data on individual student improvement at charter schools.

Several third-party studies further bolster that claim (though most of the studies I’ve seen focus on the KIPP network; I know of no third-party studies pertaining to No-Excuses schools in general.) Most notably, a study is currently underway at Mathematica, Policy and Research, Inc. of a representative sample of 22 KIPP schools across the country. The study is statistically rigorous and attempts to take into account both of the critiques discussed above. It uses unassailable methods to factor out the effect of student selection through expulsion; its methods for controlling out lottery selection-bias are pretty defensible, but they’re not impregnable.[6]

(Mathematica also tries to account for a third source of data distortion not discussed above, namely grade-retention. KIPP schools generally refuse to promote a kid to the next grade unless she has mastered the material of the grade she’s in; thus they hold kids back at significantly higher rates than ordinary schools, and this means that the weaker students in a given cohort will not take the 8th grade exam with their cohort, as they would have done had they gone to a DOE school. It’s actually very difficult to control for this statistically; Mathematica takes an approach which assumes that retention has, on average, zero impact on student achievement. That’s a compromise between those who argue that retention discourages a student and reduces her educational outcomes and those who argue that giving a weak student more time to master material ultimately improves her education.)
That Mathematica study published its first report this past year; according to the executive summary:

“For the vast majority of KIPP schools studied, impacts on students’ state assessment scores in mathematics and reading are positive, statistically significant, and educationally substantial. Estimated impacts are frequently large enough to substantially reduce race- and income-based achievement gaps within three years of entering KIPP.”[7]

What About Those Who Can’t?

Opponents of the movement who recognize the robustness of those data use the differences in student populations to launch a different kind of critique. No-Excuses schools, they argue, will eventually draw all the best kids out of the public schools, creating a tiered system in which the most disadvantaged kids are left to languish by themselves in the worst schools. They argue that we should focus instead on reforming the public schools, in order to create a single system where all kids are educated equally.[8]

I’m skeptical of this argument, because it seems to apply the value of equality unequally, considering the entrenched system of elite private and suburban public schools available to the middle and upper classes. To remove differentiation within the inner-city is to create, not equality for all, but equality at the bottom for the most underprivileged—it is to deny the poor-but-motivated the same advantages that we offer to every strata of society above them. In short, I dismiss the objection, because it is destructive of its own ends—i.e. equality. With charters, at least, inequality arises because some people cannot or will not help themselves; if we remove charters, on the other hand, we create an inequality that is insurmountable to those who seek to help themselves.

Still, if we’re going to embrace the charter movement as a solution to our education woes, we’d better start thinking about what we’re going to do for those kids whose parents won’t bother putting them in the charter-school lotteries. Of course, there’s nothing to stop us from using the No-Excuses model to reform regular public schools, but as the above arguments indicate, it’s not clear that the model will be so successful without supportive parents. Quite possibly, the solution here is not to be found in the schools, but in programs to educate and rehabilitate parents.




  • A first hand observation of the first day of school at a No-Excuses kindergarten: part 1; part 2.
  • People tend to conflate charter schools with No-Excuses schools. This post explains the difference: link
  • This post on empathy training contains a discussion of the approach to values education used at many No-Excuses schools and touches on more fundamental questions about how to teach behaviors and beliefs: link



[1]http://www.kipp.org/about-kipp.

[2]http://www.kipp.org/about-kipp/results

[3] I heard a story once from a state assemblyman involved in negotiations with a No-Excuses charter network that shall not be named. The network in question has, as one of its stated aims, a commitment to serving the most disadvantaged and learning-disabled students, but the assemblyman remained skeptical of the role played by selection-factors in the success of the schools in the charter network. He offered the superintendent of the network a deal in which all eligible students would automatically be entered in the lottery for the new school that the network wanted to open in the assemblyman’s state—the superintendent refused.

[4] I’ve actually observed HVA and seen this first hand, but some specific numbers can be found in this article from New York City Public School Parents, a blog that is highly critical of charter schools.

[5] This estimate is based on my own observations.

[6] To control out the effect of expulsion, Mathematica simply counts any student who attends KIPP for any period of time as part of the treatment group—in other words, the average impact of a KIPP education, as calculated by Mathematica, includes the impact on kids who leave the school before they graduate, either through expulsion or voluntary attrition.
     To control out the effect of lottery selection-bias, they use a couple standard statistical tricks. (They took a matched comparison set of non-KIPP students whose backgrounds and pre-5th grade test-scores closely match those of KIPP students and then used a regression model to control for any remaining differences between the matched comparison set and the actual students.)
     There’s a much simpler and 100% unassailable way to control for selection-bias in the lottery, and that is to use students who entered the lottery but did not get into the school as your comparison group—this generates an actual randomized experimental control group. This is something I’ve brought up previously on this blog. Admittedly, I’ve done nothing resembling a thorough literature review of statistical studies of charter school outcomes, but I haven’t seen a single study that uses the lottery to create a randomized control group. I hope somebody, somewhere, is collecting that kind of data.
     The entire report is available online, if you’re curious.

[7] Mathematica Policy and Research, "Student Characteristics and Achievement in 22 KIPP Middle Schools," Executive Summary

[8] It's interesting to look at this debate in terms of its philosophical affiliations. The commitment to a single, equal system for all students partakes of a progressive vision of social justice that has largely fallen out of fashion—a vision based in socialist, unionist politics of the first half of the last century. The new generation of social reformers takes a less idealistic, more pragmatic approach, wherein equality is abandoned in the name of efficacy. In this new paradigm, quantitative data and economic arguments dominate debate, and the goal is always to do the most good with available funds.
     I bring this up partly because it's interesting to trace these philosophical alignments, but partly to try to rid us of them. Such alignments only serve to blind us, to keep us dogmatically attached to certain positions as opposed to others. In my endless (and of course futile) struggle to keep this blog ideology-free, I must admit all these ideologies, so that we can step past them.




Appendix A: a long but surely incomplete list of common characteristics of No-Excuses charter schools. (back to main text)

  • An extended school day—usually from around 7:30am until around 5pm
  • weekend classes and extensive tutoring for struggling students
  • a college-preparatory curriculum for every student, without exception
  • high academic expectations for all students
  • data-driven instruction—data analysis of student performance is constant and ongoing at these schools, and that data is used in lesson planning and tutoring assignments. Instructional methods and curricula are based on those shown to be most effective in the past.
  • high teacher salaries
  • high expectations and rigorous assessment for teachers and administration
  • teacher bonuses tied to performance—teacher performance is typically measured in a number of ways, but test scores usually play a significant role.
  • a strict school uniform
  • a rigid disciplinary code, involving a strict system of consequences for rule-breaking: lateness and uniform violation are usually automatic detentions; cursing in a class is an in-school suspension; etc.
  • elaborate rewards for high-performing and hard-working students—these include camping trips, skiing trips, ice-cream and pizza parties, special events with students' favorite teachers, and even multi-day visits to foreign countries.
  • explicit teaching and building of culture
  • lengthy pre-start-of-year planning periods—these are often referred to as "professional development" for teachers, but in fact they serve several purposes. They typically constitute a full-time commitment for the entire faculty for the whole month of August, and they include curricular planning, culture building, teacher-training, and so on.
  • A one- to two-week induction period for new students, at the start of each school year—the purpose of this is to get kids invested in the school's culture and values and secondarily to familiarize new students with the school's discipline system.
  • Acronyms and specialized vocabulary—acronyms help kids remember community values and expectations, and allow teachers to quickly refer to those values and expectations. They differ from school to school, but they serve similar purposes. For example, some acronyms remind kids of proper classroom behavior. STAR, which is used at Democracy Prepschools, stands for "Sit up, Track the teacher, Ask questions, Raise hands," whereas SLANT, which is used at many other schools, stands for "Sit up, Lean forward, Ask questions, Nod yes and no, Track the teacher." Other acronyms remind kids of community values. DREAM (Democracy Prep) stands for "Discipline, Respect, Enthusiasm, Accountability, Maturity" whereas CREST (Ocean Hill Collegiate) stands for "Curiosity, Respect, Empathy, Scholarship, Teamwork."

7 comments:

  1. While I can claim no expertise in the debate over charter schools, I do question the aspiration to rise above ideology, itself a difficult concept to define in many ways.

    The post appears to identify committed parents as one key factor in the success of No-Excuses charter schools. The pragmatists are willing to abandon equality in favor of efficacy. The progressives believe in equality. You propose moving beyond such alignments because they blind us. Yet your discussion seems to support efficacy.

    Does moving beyond such alignments entail a commitment to no values at all? Do you view equality as part a blinding ideology? Can you really engage in this discussion with no commitment to values, or do you mean ideology in some other way?

    You close with the difficult question about whether the key challenge is "to educate and rehabilitate parents." Does that not require some attention to the economic factors involved? You say that richer, whiter parents are already committed. Does that not suggest that poverty may be a key variable, and policy should include addressing that fundamental problem? Or do you reject that as an ideological blinder?

    And that problem raises another question. There is no real historical dimension in the discussion. Has education gotten worse in recent decades? If so, what factors explain it? Real incomes of workers have fallen over the last 30 years, as there has been a massive redistribtution upward of wealth. Do you view that retreat from equality as another ideolgical blinder that hinders improving the education of poor children?

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  2. JB,

    You raise a deep and subtle problem. I’m not exactly taken by surprise—I’ve known, ever since I appended the subtitle “Ideology-Free Commentary, etc., etc.” to this blog, that someday someone would call me out on the wildness of that claim. I suppose I put the phrase there, at the very top of the blog, more as something to strive for than as something to obtain—but, you ask, what would it even mean to be without ideology?

    By “ideology-free,” I mean to describe, not a perspective that is without values, but rather one that is not bound unquestioningly to uphold one value over all others. I think it’s possible to avoid adherence to any one, strict moral paradigm without embracing relativism. That is, the idea of The Good—for society and for the individual—is a more fundamental concept than any particular description of The Good—viz. equality, efficiency, etc.—and we can preserve a commitment to the fixed, external nature of that concept even as we discard any simple or unary definition.

    By recognizing and setting aside simple and unary definitions, I hope to achieve a more penetrating examination, wherein we peel back successive layers of apparent truth conclusion towards deeper and more subtle understanding. I believe that it’s possible, by such limpid analysis, to find merit in certain positions and reject others, without partaking of the ideologies that are often brought to bear on those positions in the public debate.

    If I have shown a philosophical alignment in my discussion of No-Excuses schools, then I have failed early on in my purpose—but I think you mistake my position. I am no more indulgent of the fetish of efficacy than I am of the kitsch of universal equality. In fact, I value both efficacy and inequality highly, but I believe that the orthodox adherence to either distorts perceptions and leads to policy that is conducive of neither.

    For example, I am skeptical of objections to charter schools on the basis of their tendency to stratify public education—but not because I don’t mind inequality. Rather, I dismiss those objections because they apply the value of equality unequally. As I argued in my last post, any opposition to differentiation within the inner-city public school system is difficult to defend in the face of the entrenched system of elite schools available to the middle and upper classes. To remove differentiation within the inner-city is to create equality at the bottom for the most underprivileged students—it is to deny the poor-but-motivated the same advantages that we offer to every strata of society above them. In short, I dismiss the objection, because it is destructive of its own ends—i.e. equality. With charters, at least, inequality arises because some people cannot or will not help themselves; if we remove charters, on the other hand, we create an inequality that is insurmountable to those who seek to help themselves.

    (continued below)

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  3. As for the role of wealth inequality, you’re absolutely right, of course—poverty plays a huge role in educational outcomes. No one in the field of education fails to realize that, but because of an entirely different philosophical prejudice from those discussed above, that knowledge gets used—or fails to get used—in an odd way. Here’s how that plays out, as far as I understand it.

    Redistribution of wealth might be a good way to improve education—but how do we redistribute wealth? We tend to assume—incorrectly—that we’d better do so via the labor market. And how can we get better jobs for those with the least money? Why, by getting them better job skills—i.e. through better education. Thus a loop of standard assumptions leads us back to education, and we lay the burden of social and economic reform at the feet of our public schools. It is because we expect our schools to solve the massive and worsening problems of our society that we perceive our schools to be failing; in fact, it is the society that is failing, and the schools are merely incapable of carrying it all on their back.

    Of course, when enacting reform, you don’t have to start with education; you could start with wealth-inequality. In fact, I’ve seen a study—though I can’t quote it at the moment—on the effect of giving parents of young children a small sum of money per week. I believe the study found that this was an excellent way to improve educational outcomes for the children. That shouldn’t be a surprise, but around here, we never expect socialism to work.

    I could keep going—I could talk about the blindness born of efficacy-fetishism or the many ways in which income inequalities have affected education—but I hope that I have demonstrated my larger point: I am not planting my feet in any one camp. The problems facing education in America are vast and subtle. No single paradigm is sufficient to capture the full picture in all its detail, nor to formulate solutions to match the subtlety of the problem.

    mb

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  4. JB:

    I think you're right to "question the aspiration to rise above ideology". But your paradigm in which "pragmatists" favor efficacy over equality and "progressives" favor equality over efficacy is, um... mystifying. Isn't equality the ulterior purpose of efficacy in education?

    It is pretty clear that the No Excuses charter schools have both values and ideology. They share a consistent view of not only how to teach kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, but of the importance (i.e. value) of teaching them effectively – a value which accrues to society as a whole as well as to their students. The primary purpose of (public) education is to promote democracy and equality. If social equality weren't their ulterior goal, these schools wouldn't exist at all.

    So It's not a question of different goals, nor is it a question of values vs no values or ideology vs no ideology. There is basic agreement about values and goals. The disagreement is in the details of how to go about achieving our goals, educating our kids, how to measure and judge the results of education, etc.

    People who oppose charter schools make the claim that by improving education for some but not all "disadvantaged" kids, these schools create greater inequality. There is some truth in this. By improving conditions for some disadvantaged, which shrinks inequality between disadvantaged and privileged kids, you create greater inequality within the disadvantaged group. And it is possible, but not certain, that kids who are left behind in non-charter public schools may suffer because the public schools become even more abandoned by society. (Does anyone know that this is true, or is it conjecture?) In any case, it is not clear whether charter schools, by helping some disadvantaged kids, are on the whole helping or hurting the cause of the greater social equality. Is better (for some disadvantaged kids) really the enemy of good for all? Or even the enemy of good for disadvantaged kids in general? The answers to these questions aren't clear.

    It is also unclear to me whether these are questions of ideology (I don't think they are), or game theory, policy strategy, or ethics.

    MB's post states: "This attitude arises from an idealistic and, in fact, very radical assumption that lies at the heart of the No-Excuses movement: that every student, no matter what his or her background, is capable of high academic achievement and success in life."
    Doesn't progressive education make the same assumptions?

    BTW, JB, the word progressive is confusing here. It has one meaning in the realm of politics and a quite different meaning in the realm of education.


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    1. Leora is clearly Max using a different login. What a coincidence Leora was started a month later and then only follows Max's post. lol that's pathetic

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  5. apologies for the typo above. In the 4th paragraph of my first comment, the third sentence should read "In fact, I value both efficacy and equality highly..." not "efficacy and inequality." There's no way to edit comments on blogger, and I don't feel like deleting and reposting both comments to fix this issue.

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  6. Solid article, Max. Succinct and a good read for those trying to learn more about the charter school movement.

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