A ‘no excuses’ school day

A Day in the Life of a No Excuses Charter School Student is highly regimented and repressive, writes Sarah Goodis-Orenstein on the Center for Teaching Quality site. After four years teaching English at a “no excuses” charter in Brooklyn, she switched to a more progressive charter school. She blogs at Making Room for Excuses.

At 7:40, the first period teacher rolls her cart in and immediately begins to issue commands. “Aside from two pencils, and your IR book in the top left corner of your desk, your desk should be cleared. As soon as you get your classwork packet, begin on your Do Now. You have 3 minutes.” A timer is set and placed under the document camera, and any students not on-task within thirty seconds are first reminded to get started, and then issued a demerit, sometimes privately, sometimes publicly.

Class proceeds to enfold in a highly-systematic structure with a review of the warm-up, some sort of mini-lesson, some sort of guided practice, and a chunk of independent practice before the exit ticket is collected. Packets in hands high over their heads, the teacher snaps, and the last page is signaled to be torn from the staple in a crisp sound of unison tearing.

The teacher bustles out as the next teacher and her cart rolls in, ideally with less than 1 minute wasted in this transition, a transactional cost that, over the course of the year, equates to literal days of wasted learning.

Mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks  of 10 or 15 minutes are “the only opportunities for unbridled conversation,” she writes. “Otherwise, during and between classes, students’ voices are to be ‘off’ unless specific accountable talk procedures or partner share expectations have been put into place.”

Students learn “that rigidity and compliance are predictors of success, and that imagination and interpersonal skills are of nominal use,” Goodis-Orenstein concludes. “They also likely learn that school is boring, that it has little relevance to their lives, or in the case of my last school, it is a place where white ladies try to control Black and Latino children.”

And, yet, no excuses schools narrow the achievement gap, giving students choice in life they wouldn’t have otherwise. And they tend to have long wait lists.

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  1. This level of structure may not be right for every kid, but may provide much-needed structure and predictability for kids who have little or none of either, outside of the school day. For such kids, this structure may be the security blanket that allows them to concentrate on academics. The one-size-fits-all model, so beloved of the traditional public schools, really does NOT fit all.

    • Yes, but the one-size-fits-all model has the virtue of making life easier for administrators and elected officials then it would be if they had to try to accommodate the differences between kids.

      It’s really a matter of determining priorities.

      There are lots of kids, they have to show up and they’re not around for all that long. Why should their needs drive the organization?

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    Sarah Goodis-Orenstein may be right that these students think “that school is boring, that it has little relevance to their lives.” Or that may be her cultural chauvinism talking. I personally find playing video games or watching basketball to be useless and boring–but lots of people feel differently.

    And, boy, do I know lots of people in mainstream public schools who think it is boring and has little relevance to their lives. I doubt this cartoon was inspired by a “no excuses” school:


  3. Stacy in NJ says:

    It’s a charter school. Don’t like the philosophy? Don’t send your kid there.

  4. PhillipMarlowe says:

    So, why don’t public schools systems offer this choice?
    Because there will be a parent or politician/school board member or advocacy group to object.

  5. PhillipMarlowe says:

    And, yet, no excuses schools narrow the achievement gap
    Please don’t insult our intelligence.
    No excuse schools choose the kids who come, from the pool of those who want to come.
    The no excuse schools come up without a lot of excuses as to why they refuse to take over a school, keeping all the students already there.
    Witness KIPP and its failure in Colorado and Camden.

  6. Crimson Wife says:

    Sounds like an old-fashioned Catholic school minus the nuns & prayers. I’m an upper-middle class white parent- where do I sign my kids up for a tuition-free school like this with rigorous academics and firm discipline?