There are good and bad urban public charter schools and there and good and bad urban non-charter public schools. Profound! Regardless of reformer and transformer interventions, mayoral control or not, instant principal and teacher schools, more money spent per student, more hours in the classroom, more alternative schools, less bureaucracy, less union interference, more firings and hirings, more school turn-arounds, closures and openings, and Arne’s focus on whatever works, the infamous “gap” continues, whether it be the real or perceived gap between the our and other advanced nations’ students or between disadvantaged and not-so-disadvantaged students. (Phew, and I surely missed a number of experiments.) So what does work? Why exactly do some school do better than others that yields significantly better test scores? And should the goal be to equalize test scores, assuming that tests are good indicators of student potential as well as current knowledge? Probably not. I think the best we can do is strive to equalize education opportunity.
It could be that the “no excuses” schools are on the right path but I’m also inclined to agree with the notion that “our urban public schools cannot succeed unless health, social and employment issues are addressed” (see Jay Mathews blog). My thoughts on this turn to basic management theory. Many will remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid: simply put, the majority of lower level needs (physiological, safety, love/belonging and esteem) must be met before one can experience self-actualization. As Deborah Meier observed
The poor kids I encountered in kindergarten were accustomed to more formal and more consistent good manners—whether it was in how to address their elders or how to dress properly. They were less whiney and more obedient.
Children of the poor get tougher and more unmannerly slowly. In time, they lose respect for authority. Perhaps because adults are rarely able (or willing) to protect them. Maybe because many public authorities quite openly treat them and their families disrespectfully. Over time, they come to depend on “the streets” and their “peer culture” for safety…
When children of the poor realize that their lower level needs are not being met, they begin to seek satisfaction elsewhere, usually from within a culture that does not place much value on education. Obviously a small percentage of urban poor children achieve educational self-actualization in spite of their communities and economic circumstances. I will bet that these children are somehow experiencing a greater degree of basic needs satisfaction than the majority as well as being indoctrinated with the no excuses concept.