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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

'No excuses' school guru passes on: Will excellence survive?

Linda Brown, who trained hundreds of charter leaders as leader of (Building Excellent Schools (ES), has died at the age of 81. Many of the charters schools her BES fellows launched are now among the best in the country, writes Steven Wilson of the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

"Linda knew that the first step in building great schools was to stop making excuses," writes Wilson. "No longer would educators shift the blame for their failure to educate by invoking poverty, racism, or resources." She demanded that adults "do whatever it takes to ensure every child succeeds."

"No excuses" applied to adults, and it meant "job demands were difficult to sustain and the balance of warmth and strictness expected of teachers elusive," writes Wilson. Suspension rates were high. There was too little stress on the arts and enrichment. But they schools were evolving -- until the "racial reckoning of 2020."

Instead of taking aim at the persistently low expectations of the American classroom, social-justice advocates called for "dismantling systems of oppression," he writes.

Many schools eliminated clear and consistent consequences for minor infractions. And with test scores, achievement, and merit all newly problematic, the focus on instruction and academic excellence was lost.

As discipline deteriorated, results lagged. "By 2022, some No Excuses schools that had routinely performed well above the state average now sank to below that of their low-performing urban districts."

Linda Brown retired in 2018. Before launching BES, she'd run the Massachusetts Charter School Resource Center, writes Wilson. "She’d seen dozens of early charter schools that invoked progressive education shibboleths—including the 'critical pedagogy' of Paulo Friere — end in abject failure. But BES’s new leaders had not."

Wilson created a high-performing charter network in Brooklyn, Ascend. The board fired him in 2020 after he argued in The Promise of Intellectual Joy that diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives could be used to reduce intellectual expectations of students.

1 Comment

Darren Miller
Darren Miller
Jan 25

I've quoted this so many times, especially as a rebuttal to Friere and his ilk:

According to one Kieran Egan, “Bertrand Russell, after his first disastrous experiment in organizing a school, observed that the first task of education is to destroy the tyranny of the local and immediate over the child’s imagination."

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