Getting tough

Can a school-culture culture really be called
“no excuses” if it accepts low student achievement—even if that low student
achievement masks laudable incremental gains? Paul Tough says no. Yet this is
precisely the rhetoric espoused by some in the reform community. Instead of exulting
in its successes, the reform movement is increasingly defensive and given to
excuses. Defending the Bruce Randolph School (which doubled its writing
proficiency rates since 2007—but only to 15 percent), Jonathan Alter explained
that Randolph “should not be compared to other Colorado schools in affluent
neighborhoods.” Tough is right: While improvement should be acknowledged, 15
percent writing proficiency still stinks. Instead of getting defensive, reformers
should find some humility—and a willingness to change their plans and methods.
KIPP sets an estimable example here; when that organization learned that only 33
percent of its alums graduate from college—not bad, for kids from tough circumstances,
but a far cry from KIPP’s goal of 75 percent—it didn’t hide behind poverty or
whatever. It instead vowed to double-down
to reach its stated goal. We need more of that mentality.

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Click to listen to commentary on the "no excuses" culture from the Education Gadfly Show podcast


Seriously: No Excuses
,” by Paul Tough, New York Times Magazine, July
7, 2011.

CFED Launch Partnership for College Completion
,” by Staff, United Negro College Fund, June 22,