Time for ‘no excuses’ charter school violence to end

Galtung (1969) defines violence in part as that which increases the distance between the potential and the actual. ‘No excuses’ charter schools treat children as behavioural pawns and do nothing to make the world a more humane place. Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools, pulls in a salary of over half a million dollars a year to run Success Academies all over New York. Her salary comes from a mix of private and public funds but there is no public accountability. A couple of days ago PBS Newshour ran a section on kindergarten suspensions, ostensibly at Success Academy schools throughout New York. A zero tolerance policy sees five-year-old children automatically suspended for swearing, and Moskowitz does not see this as problematic. Suspensions may also come from calling out the right answer twice without being called on and getting out of your seat without permission. My last couple of blog posts discussed ‘zero tolerance’ policies at ‘no excuses’ charter schools. The first time I read about discipline measures put on children in these schools I was physically nauseous. This Newshour segment makes me angry more than anything else. Test scores are all that SAs are about, and clean clothes are on hand for when children pee in their pants during test prep. Suspending very young children for trivial matters goes against anything any sane person would want for their children, and others’. All a five-year-old child learns from being suspended for getting out of his or her chair is fear of authority. Fear is no way to build a classroom climate that respects all in the room. ‘No excuses’ charter schools make it an offence to talk unless called upon. This is potentially the most egregious element of a ‘no excuses’ policy, but it’s up against stiff competition. We all learn best in a social environment. We are social beings and need to talk about our world, about our opinions, about trivial matters, and more. It angers me that I even need to spell that out. Fear breeds resentment, and fear of suspension for simply being a child, and being a human being, is an awful lesson to teach our children. Moskowitz says that suspending children early means less suspensions in later years. If Success Academies really were about the children, their suspension rate would not be three to four times higher than in public schools. It is incomprehensible that Eva Moskowitz sees a ‘zero tolerance’ approach as fair and equitable. It goes against all we know about child development. I worry that these five-year-old children will either turn into automatons by following rules that build neither empathy nor compassion; or become so resentful of a system that is constantly pulling them down, that violence will ensue. Violence is already being carried out against all children in ‘no excuses’ charter schools. It is time for the violence against young children to end.

Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, Peace, and Peace Research. Journal of Peace Research, 6(3), 167–191.

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5 thoughts on “Time for ‘no excuses’ charter school violence to end

  1. How do kids end up attending these schools? When we complained that our kids’ last school’s policies were too strict, other parents sided with those policies and policy makers, preventing us from getting anything changed.

    1. These schools have a massive PR machine and students get very high test scores-the children who haven’t been counselled out. The problem is that the public schools are not being funded as they should be, so families might think that a charter like these ‘no excuses’ schools is a better option. There’s a lottery process that may make them seem more alluring. Despite the lottery process though, they enrol a lot less children with special needs and a lot less children who are English learners so their test scores are tweaked that way too. Their 100% graduation rate doesn’t count students who leave, let’s say between 9th and 12th grade. Cuomo is all behind ‘no excuses’ charter schools as well as lots of other policy makers. I doubt any of them would send their kids to a Success Academy though. It’s education for ‘other people’s children’. They wear their suspension rate almost as a badge of pride, and that is so wrong. In San Francisco the average suspension rate is 4%-K-12. KIPP Bay Academy has a 25% suspension rate. I don’t think they are held accountable. I’m going to look more into that. The push towards ‘rigour’, ‘grit’ and ‘perseverance’ as key qualities for students denies what is human in education. Yes perseverance is important, and in context rigour and grit have their place, but we also need to allow children to experiment and play and take risks. They also need a bunch of downtime. It’s not boot camp. I think there’s a fear that the test scores will mark out their child’s life, but the reason for all the testing is simply to make people like Pearson, like ETS, like AP extremely wealthy. A quote I like is “you don’t fatten a pig by weighing it.” Does this give you some sort of an answer? I’m happy to dialogue more, it’s also good for me to consolidate positions.

      1. It’s cool, my experience is a grim one in that the parents are complicit, PR machine or not, the real political battle in the U.S. lies in the hearts and minds of those who allow the leadership to continue these policies. The poor in the U.S. are not angry about poverty, they are not angry at an imbalance of wealth–they are angry because they are not wealthy. Remember, America has no working class, only tens of millions of temporarily embarrassed millionaires (as Ronald Wright pointed out). Many of the poorest families are strict, religious, and patriarchal. And honestly, it’s not competition that bothers me, it’s competition for a lame goal, like college, student debt, and being tossed into a jobless economy. But as long as our population is willing to be mirrors for Bill Gates, Donald Trump, and to a lesser extent Cuomo, this is what we will have. How does one win over people’s allegiance, without showing them a prettier pearl than ethics?

  2. I agree about winning the hearts and minds and I agree that pushing ethics alone won’t necessarily win people over. What is so troubling is that the people in power engage in such immoral and unethical behaviour. They see poor and disadvantaged children, and their families, as pawns. High test scores will never equate to a higher salary than that afforded to children with lower test scores. We all know that in our hearts but the push for data pushes out art teachers, music teachers, gym teachers, counselors, social workers, nurses, librarians in exchange for laptops and teaching to the test. All that makes us human is not taken into consideration. The ‘no-excuses’ charters I wrote about are an extreme, but they are not going away any time soon. Regarding my current focus on exclusionary and disproportionate disciplinary measures, this was sparked off when my goddaughter, who has just started kindergarten, received yellow stars for talking too much in class (yellow being a warning). I had certainly come across articles referencing the rise in early years suspensions, along with disproportionate punishment based on race, but it took this personal connection to really get me to look into the issue on a national level. K is not going to be suspended, and her mom, who is a strong advocate for her children, has already talked to K’s teacher about the yellow stars that upset K so I’m not worried about that, but this was my impetus. So back to your point about hearts and minds, it’s very true that most people will not respond to all the damage Bill Gates and other vulture philanthropists do if laid out to them on a platter. A litany of injustices will not always work. There needs to be a personal connection, and people need to see how this affects their children’s life directly. The scary part is that the voices of many educators and specialists in the field are drowned out by the chi-ching of the money coming in. Do you think you could write a horror story about all this?

    1. Yes, we had this issue when Maddy was being put in the hallway for talking for indefinite periods of time, then being made to stay in from recess after not completing one out of five assigned homework pages. Her teacher would flip-flop between saying, “Well, all the other kids can do it,” then saying she wouldn’t do it again, then just doing it AGAIN! The principal was no help, was irritable and argumentative. They are at a better school now, but honestly, we have had a terrible time with education, I don’t have hours every week to spend on this, yet I feel I’m failing my kids.

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