Study Suggests Bringing “No Excuses” Discipline Policies from Charter to Public Schools



The teacher begins class by taking out her Glock.


She casually walks to the front of the room and shoots a misbehaving student in the head.


All the others immediately begin working on their assignment.


It sounds like something from a horror movie. But it’s actually not all that far away from what real researchers at the Brookings Institution and Princeton University are suggesting we do.


Sarah Cohodes has written a new report called “Charter Schools and the Achievement Gap” that praises “No Excuses” discipline policies at urban charter schools and suggests they be more widely implemented at traditional public schools serving the poor and students of color.


I wish I were kidding.


Let’s return to the hyperbolic situation with which I began this article.


The noise of a gunshot brings the principal racing to the classroom.


She notices the slumped bleeding body of the shot child and walks up to the teacher ready to physically disarm and arrest her. But then she notices all the rows of neatly placed desks and the children diligently doing their work.


She glances down at a paper here and there and notices that the children are getting most of their work correct.


So she turns to the teacher and says, “Carry on, Ms. C. You seem to have everything under control here.”


That’s perhaps the most immediate concern brought by Cohodes research – it proposes to evaluate a discipline model based solely on its academic results and completely ignores other aspects of the student experience. For instance, how does the model affect students’ social and emotional development? Is it harmful to students’ curiosity, self-motivation and psychological well-being?


Pardon me, but these are important issues.


I don’t care if my fictional teacher’s shoot first discipline policy gets students to do exceptional classwork. My daughter will not be enrolled in that class – nor do I expect anyone would want their child to learn in such an environment regardless of how well it maximized test scores.


Let me be clear. This is hyperbole, but with a point.


“No Excuses” discipline policies don’t result in any gunshot wounds or deaths (to my knowledge), but they do create environments that are not conducive to the flourishing of children.



For instance, at a New Orleans charter school, students were punished for not standing straight, not sitting up straight, for putting their heads down, for closing their eyes for too long, for not tracking speakers correctly with their eyes! Between classes students had to walk single file between the wall and a line marked with orange tape. And they had strict dress codes.


This is not school. It is prison.


And it’s unsurprising that these sorts of discipline policies are found at urban charter schools like the KIPP network serving mostly poor and minority students.


Cohodes champions them because – in her view – they get results.


I say that she is missing the point.


Her view of what is important in school is far too narrow.


Moreover, it’s based on a misconception of what constitutes academic success.


Cohodes concludes “No Excuses” policies work solely because schools with such policies tend to have students who get higher test scores.


This is to make a few assumptions.


First, it assumes that the number of students weeded out by such discipline policies isn’t significant enough to wipe out the apparent increase in scores. The punishment for breaking the rules at these schools is often detention, suspension or expulsion. Every child who is enrolled at the beginning of the year isn’t there by testing time. How do we know that the school hasn’t lost so many students who couldn’t obey the rules that they wipe out any gains in testing?


Second, she is assuming standardized testing provide accurate assessments of knowledge and skills. This is far from an accepted premise. These tests have repeatedly been shown to be both economically and racially biased. Cohodes is assuming that since the students scoring better on the assessments are still poor and predominantly black, what they’re being tested on is fair.


Standardized tests are poor assessments. Multiple choice exams do not possess the flexibility to allow for creativity and depth of knowledge. They simply expect a “standard” student to think a certain way and reward dissimilar students for conforming to that standard.


“No Excuses” charter schools may be better at getting different children to act and think alike, but that is not necessarily an endorsement.


Cohodes concludes that these gains in test scores are ultimately beneficial because they will lead to success at college. However, numerous studies have shown that charter school students end up dropping out of college at higher rates than traditional public school students. They simply haven’t learned how to motivate themselves to learn without the rigid, military structures of the charter school environment. One can imagine similar outcomes for charter students (successful charter students) who immediately enter the workforce.


None of these considerations make it into Cohodes research.


She jumps from the brilliant standardized success of “No Excuses” charter schools to the need to include these policies in traditional public schools.


Cohodes worries that the charter school sector can never fully compete with traditional public schools, so we need to make traditional public schools more like charter schools.


However, I cannot imagine many parents would jump at the chance to have their children treated like prison inmates for the chance of higher test scores.


Unlike charter schools, public schools have school boards. They have to make their decisions in public and are accountable to voters who can come to the public meeting, protest and even run for a seat on the board themselves.


In short, this is a terrible idea.


It is somewhat staggering that a grown adult could look exclusively at the data and come to such a conclusion without considering what it means for flesh-and-blood students.


Not only that, but we’re talking about predominantly black and brown students. Is it somehow more acceptable because we’re talking about turning schools serving darker skinned students into Guantanamo Bay? Would it be as acceptable for rosy cheeked affluent white kids?


This is what happens when you let economists set public policy.


It is essential that we include parents, teachers, psychologist and even students in the processes. Otherwise, we’ll continue to get heartless number crunching offered as sincere solutions to our problems.

21 thoughts on “Study Suggests Bringing “No Excuses” Discipline Policies from Charter to Public Schools

  1. A few thousand years ago, Sun Tzu did something like this to motivate an army to fight and win a war. He took the emperors concubines and told them what they had to do — act like soldiers and attack. They laughed. Sun Tzu beheaded the concubine with the most rank, blaming her for the laughter and the rest of the emperor’s concubines stopped laughing and started learning how to fight.

    And we are at war with a few hundred Alt-Right, lying, extremist conservatives that want to tear up the U.S. Constitution and turn the U.S. into a theocratic kleptocracy where the wealthiest 0.1-percent can do whatever they want — like shoot kids in the head when they are not doing what the teacher said. Once the K-12 executions start, everyone will forget about rape and sexual molestation, and Trump will be jealous because no one will be reading his rabid tweets.


  2. Discipline is necessary for the successful pursuit of any goal. It is absolutely necessary in our schools. Interestingly the kids who are from the more affluent parents and communities are reasonably disciplined in class, often needing little reprimanding. It means that they take it from their parents and immediate home community.
    Attempts to humiliate the individual while disciplining him is destructive discipline. I do not see anything inherently wrong with detentions and suspensions in order to address student problems. The only thing I notice is that Betty might be in there every week until the end of the year and one begins to wonder if it is improving Betty’s behavior or academic performance; at times Betty even looks sad, very sad and one wonders if some other type of treatment does not need to be sought.
    Giving teachers more autonomy in schools can allow them to meet and develop more creative means of discipline. They can monitor and easily make adjustments to their methods so as to get the best out of what they implement.
    Particularly in poorer schools there is a huge need for some well planned means of informing parents on matters of parenting and bringing them up to date on the best practices. The planning will need to include repeat seminars, so the parents do not forget what has been shared with them. It would incur a little more spending since teachers would need more time to meet and plan, and which would mean an added teacher or two per school.


    • No doubt that discipline is necessary in schools. The question is what makes good discipline? It’s a problem we continue to grapple with and I do not claim to have all the answers. However, we must realize we’re dealing with children. Our expectations need to be age appropriate and we should not expect them to be good soldiers marching in line. We want to foster individuality, not blind compliance.

      Liked by 1 person

    • “Particularly in poorer schools there is a huge need for some well planned means of informing parents on matters of parenting and bringing them up to date on the best practices. The planning will need to include repeat seminars, so the parents do not forget what has been shared with them. It would incur a little more spending since teachers would need more time to meet and plan, and which would mean an added teacher or two per school.”

      Wow. Just, wow. So them poor colored folk just don’t know how to raise they kids, huh? And even when we nice white folk tell ’em, they’re so stupid they just forget it right away.

      Have you ever considered that the way poor and minority parents raise their kids stems directly from circumstances imposed on them by white society? For instance, black parents especially tend to be more physically punitive (corporal punishment). I don’t condone that, but the reality is that black parents have to teach their kids to mind at a very early age to try to keep them safe from the racism of whites. There’s also the reality that it’s much, much harder to parent well when you’re working three part-time jobs just to keep food on the table. Parents can’t always be around to supervise and interact with their kids, and when they are around, there’s a lot that needs to get done, so things like play time in the bath or reading a book together before bed get shunted aside.

      Check your privilege, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

    • “Particularly in poorer schools, there is a huge need for some well-planned means of informing parents on matters of parenting and bringing them up to date on the best practices”

      Good luck with that.

      When poverty is a factor, many of the parents are working two or more jobs earning poverty wages without medical or benefits, and many children living in poverty have a single parent and the missing father doesn’t pay child support because he doesn’t earn enough money to. No matter if a single parent or both parents, many that live in poverty aren’t home to be a parent. Their children are known as latchkey kids and when they get home, the TV is their babysitter (or a local street gang) because the parents can’t afford to pay for childcare.

      Then there is the fact that not all families as functional. Many are dysfunctional and poverty often is part of the dysfunction.


    • You found the beginning shocking? Good. It was meant to shock. I am shocked and appalled at the real stories from “No Excuses” charter schools. Watch the video I included from Success Academy. THAT shocks me. I’m sorry if I got under your skin, but that was my intention.

      Liked by 1 person

      • No, sir. I expect that kind of tactic from the Trumpians, not people I should find on the same side as me. Please don’t attempt to rationalize or justify hyperbole and fearmongering.


      • Tribucks, you’re not always going to agree with me or my methods. That’s called being human. It’s perfectly healthy. I hope it won’t prove insurmountable because we need all the allies we can get. However, I refuse to apologize for doing things my way. I would be no use to the cause if I did things like someone else. It’s also somewhat ironic to be both criticized for using hyperbole and then called “Trumpian” in the same breath.


      • Perhaps you should re-read my post before ascribing things to it that aren’t there. I didn’t call you “Trumpian,” I said I expect that kind of tactic from the Trumpians. What I expect from you, or at least used to, was a little more intellectual honesty.


      • Tribucks, people have to be able to disagree without resorting to petty name calling. You didn’t like what I did. Sorry. I don’t think it’s fearmongering. It may be an oversimplification, but “No Excuses” discipline policies cause literal fear. I was trying to draw them out to their logical conclusion and show how ridiculous supporting such policies are. If you disagree, fine. You’re not going to agree with me all the time. That has to be okay. If the only view you will accept is your own, stop reading what other people write and just meditate. My view is not Trumpianism. It’s the opposite.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The reality though is that a lot of these practices *already have* been adopted by public schools. At least, some public schools. My younger daughter’s public school requires uniforms with some pretty persnickity rules (socks, for instance, can only be black, gray or white – my daughter got busted for having navy blue socks, even though the uniform pants are navy blue). Some of the schools have lines painted on the floors and kids are expected to only walk on those lines in a “bubble hug” (hold a bubble in your mouth and hug your arms around yourself). They only get 15 minutes each for lunch and recess, which times can be lost to detention for anything and everything (and the same kids are on detention nearly every day – one has to wonder what’s wrong with educators who don’t see that this “discipline” (sic) system isn’t working). Most public schools use PBIS or some variation, which is just a token economy bribe and punish system typically found in mental hospitals. If you walk in to a lot of public schools, especially those in poor, urban areas, you just might think you’re in a KIPP or SA charter school.


  4. […] First of all, if the school doesn’t have open meetings and public documentation, you have no way of knowing whether these lotteries are fair and unbiased. Operators are often charged with cherry picking the best and brightest and denying students with disabilities or behavioral problems – they’ve even been known to discriminate based on race and class. […]


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