Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"No Excuses" Is a Powerful Idea in Education

Student rendition of my classroom, circa 06-07

Today on This Week in Education, Paul Bruno declared "No Excuses," the mantra made popular by KIPP and others in the charter school movement, a meaningless education phrase.  He was responding in part to reports of Washington, D.C. charter schools having high expulsion rates, implying that "No Excuses" is mainly used as a reason to kick out kids who cause problems.

Many charter schools and organizations have adopted the "No Excuses" idea from KIPP and used it for a number of reasons.  It is translated into very high expectations for teachers, staff, students and parents on all fronts.  It is sometimes (and in my admittedly narrow experience, very rarely) used as a reason to expel students.

Bruno is missing the most important meaning behind "No Excuses," the one that drives teachers and leaders at every one of these schools.

"No Excuses" means that poverty, race, the neighborhood you live in, and the innumerable issues challenging low-income students and their families should not be accepted by society as excuses for why they can't succeed. Those factors should not stand in the way of a great education and a path towards a better life. We've come a long way towards getting past the idea that certain students "can't learn," but we're not there yet. Indeed, those of us that have worked in low-income communities will tell you how much we have to fight this idea among our own students, parents and teachers.

"No Excuses" stands in defiance of that lingering fallacy.

To paraphrase my friend JoAnn Gama, Co-Founder of IDEA Public Schools and member of President Obama's White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, being born into a low-income community should not be a guarantee that every successive generation will live in poverty.  Education is a gateway out of poverty, and we should be making "No Excuses" as we push our students and ourselves on that path.