In this well-regarded volume entitled “No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning,” the authors begin with “The Problem” in our public schools. Despite the authors’ contention that their goal encompasses more than painting a bleak picture, their descriptions of black and Hispanic student performance are heartbreaking. On every measure of academic success, black and Hispanic kids fall far behind their white and Asian peers. The problem, a four-year gap between white and black achievement in American schools, means that black students are functioning at an eighth grade level when (if) they complete high school. Even among middle class black families, kids are lagging far behind their white peers. The book explores the cultural heritage of black, Hispanic, and Asian families. When describing the cultural heritage of black students, for instance, the authors state that it is “the product of a very long history of racial oppression-centuries of slavery, followed by disfranchisement, legally mandated segregation, and subordination in the Jim Crow South and intense prejudice in the North.” (page 121) Despite “Americanization,” Asian students equal or outperform whites. The authors quote a researcher who surveyed 20,000 Asian kids, finding that “They are much more engaged in school than their peers.” (page 91)
The authors turn their attention to the commonly suggested panacea for all these problems: spend more money. They examine Title 1 and Head Start programs, which have failed to deliver despite pouring billions of dollars into the public schools. Hiring more teachers to reduce class size has had no effect on the racial achievement gap. The authors suggest that money is best spent to attract and keep exceptional teachers and administrators.
Is there any hope for public schools? Yes! But the authors only found successful schools and classes among charter schools which were not bound by a pervasive system which tolerates mediocre teachers and administrators, bureaucratic inertia, and negative cultural influences. These highly successful schools communicated a powerful message to their students and families: No Excuses.
My next post will examine the characteristics of these excellent schools in greater detail.