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What The "No Excuses" Model Really Teaches Us About Education Reform


"It gives us five policies to consider, but doesn’t really isolate the unique effects of each of the five policies implemented (for example, by varying them between schools)." So what? Could this be like asking which of the five ingredients in a cake is the "real" cake (flour, sugar, eggs, butter, water)?

It is difficult to determine whether a program works because it is still based on the artificial test. The test measures winning but not learning. "No excuses" is just more Rhetoric. Kids learn in different ways, demonstrate learning in different ways and blossom at different times due to a whole bunch of reasons. When we quit treating them like the Stepford Kids and demanding educational purity, then and only then will we succeed.

At Lee High School, celebrated as the most successful Apollo school, scores on the math TAKS did go up. But the way those gains were achieved were by math tutors and teachers sacrificing the math curriculum to drill students on guess-and-check test taking methods. What will those students do if asked to solve a math question that doesn't come with 4 answers, one that is guaranteed to be correct? All the other tenets - firing teachers, extended hours that wasted on excessive testing - produced no results in reading. So the only benefit from Apollo was the tutoring. Everything else cancelled each other out. That's using Fryer's own metrics. (By the way, those should be considered distorted at best and invalid at worst, because Grier and Fryer made it very clear to principals that their jobs were on the line if those particular numbers didn't come out looking good.) Worse, if you consider other metrics, Apollo actually harmed education in Houston. At Lee High School, the number of AP exams on which students earned 3's or higher fell by nearly half: At the flagship Apollo school, tutoring helped students pass a low-level math test. The other four tenets were implemented so badly as to actually harm education at the school. If that's the best of the Apollo schools, then how much worse was Apollo elsewhere?

It should be noted that while Fryer has said he identified the five characteristics of successful charter schools in 2009, he hasn't published or issued a working paper with that research. Everything available starts with different research questions and assumes the five characteristics.

The most important evidence here is the numbers, percentages, and types of students who did not stick out the No Excuses rigor. The district reported in January 2011 that 7,385 students were enrolled, with 86.6% being economically disadvantaged. On page 71, Fryer reports that the tested sample was 61% economically disadvantaged, and there were 8,693 "observations." Do you know what that term means? Should it be read as 8,693 tests, and two tests were given, mean that 1/2 of them stuck it out to the end? Or does it mean something completely different indicating that Fryer did not address the attrition number? Either way, Fryer writes clearly, at the beginning of the paper, that the program had about 7,000 students. Why did he not write a second, clear prose sentence saying how many were tested in the spring?

Do you know how many teachers left SHS by mid-year last year. Entire hallways of teachers will not be returning. Good teachers. 30 to 40 percent of the kids act like animal, holding fellow students and teachers hostage. A WAR zone. Sickening. The system is broken.


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