clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

A proven success or unnecessarily abusive? The emotional debate about ‘no excuses’ discipline

Erica Murphy, school director of Brownsville Ascend Lower Charter School in New York, oversees students in a fourth-grade English class.
Erica Murphy, school director of Brownsville Ascend Lower Charter School in New York, oversees students in a fourth-grade English class.
Stephanie Snyder

Should teachers be policing “deep sighing” in the classroom? Can tipping over a desk help get a kid on track? How about flinging a student’s binder across the room?

All those practices have been employed in charter schools that espouse a “no excuses” philosophy that advocates for strict discipline as a critical foundation for learning.

The approach has come in for greater scrutiny since the New York Times published a video of a New York City charter school teacher scolding a first-grader and ripping her paper in half.

In an in-depth piece published today on our sister site in New York, Chalkbeat CEO and editor-in-chief Elizabeth Green examines the history, controversy and competing claims about the no-excuses brand of schooling — and reaches her own conclusions. You can read it here.

Not all no-excuses charter schools look the same, and not all would embrace the kind of in-your-face tactics listed above. As Green notes, the movement also has evolved, with some schools rejecting the label in favor of more positive tags like “high expectations.”

Some charter operators — including the KIPP network, which has a presence in Denver — have described changes in their approach to school discipline. One KIPP official described stronger network interest in restorative justice, which downplays harsh consequences in favor of rehabilitation. Denver Public Schools — which has been criticized for racial discrepancies in discipline — has championed restorative justice.

The debate over no-excuses is personal, complex and heavily weighted by issues of race, as Green reports. Proponents say the approach, when done right, solves racial and class inequities and leads to proven academic results. To others, it is systematically abusive and a form of institutional racism.

Green, who wrote a bestselling book on teaching, has been asked plenty about the video of the teacher from New York. Her answer also applies more broadly to what to make of the no-excuses model and how it might change:

“It’s complicated, more so than you might think.”

The COVID-19 outbreak is changing our daily reality

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing the information families and educators need, but this kind of work isn't possible without your help.

Sign up for the How I Teach Newsletter

A monthly roundup of stories for educators from across the country.