The authors of “No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning,” examine the dismal performance of black and Hispanic students in public schools, where black kids lag about four years behind their white peers. But the authors did discover some bright spots. Here’s what they said:
“Scattered across the American landscape are what some call ‘break-the-mold’ schools- high poverty public schools with students who score well on statewide tests. There aren’t many of them, and all are atypical within their own districts. Nevertheless, their record of success suggests that truly radical educational innovation can change the lives of inner-city students, whatever their race or ethnicity. The goal is thus clear. But how to get there? The road is littered with obstacles. We focus on a handful of remarkable schools….We chose these particular examples of fabulous education only because they came to our attention and we visited them.” (page 43)
The authors did mention that they found impressive private schools, as well, but chose to limit their descriptions to public schools since a majority of American kids attend public school. All of the above exceptional schools are charter schools. The authors ask whether this success can be replicated in “regular” public schools. They emphasize the autonomy of these schools as a primary factor in their achievement: “They are largely independent of district control, generally able to hire nonunion teachers, and have considerable discretionary power over their budgets. No one tells them which textbooks to buy or how to organize their instructional day.” (page 44).
The authors remind readers that there are “good charter schools and bad ones.” In their footnotes, they comment that failing charter schools in Massachusetts will be shut down but no regular public school in that state had been closed due to poor student performance.
So how do these schools use their autonomy? What characterizes these success stories? Stay tuned for the next post.