May 15, 2008
In the US there is an unfortunate reality that exists among low-income K-12 public schools. This national tragedy is the failure to teach children of poor families the necessary skills to make it in the real world. Samuel Casey Carter’s No Excuses, states that roughly 20 million lower than average income children exist in the K-12 public school system. Of this number, 12 million are not learning the most fundamental skills (1). His opposition claims that the environment these students experience dooms them to a having a substandard education and as a result a life of poverty. “A child living in an inner city is in school for only so many hours. It’s in the rest of the day—as well as the rest of the neighborhood—that’s the big influence, and the big problem,” (2) Carter disagrees, he believes it is within the means of the public school system to make improvements for underprivileged children whether they are in the classroom or not. He demonstrates through 21 different examples how the principals of particular high- poverty K-12 schools took a leadership role against the “bureaucratic and cultural obstacles,” that was keeping their students behind (1). He dubbed these schools No Excuses Schools. “By studying the traits of these high-performing, high-poverty schools, other schools can replicate their success,” (8). His most important claim is in title of the book. That is, there is absolutely No Excuses for children of lesser income families to be subjected to a lower then par education. “All children can learn,” (1). “The [21 No Excuses Schools] are a disparate but representative group. Three are charter schools. Three are private. One is religious. One is rural. Fifteen are public schools that draw the majority of their students from their local attendance zones—even if they hardly act like local public schools… The stories told here represent the American experience of education north, south, east, and west—from the Bronx and Los Angeles to rural Arkansas,” (8). This book is not intended to outline how the public school system should be reformed. Instead to sets out to show: the recurrent attributes and effective practices needed to bring a school with low-income children not only out of obscurity but to the ranks of upper percentile scores in math and reading. Principals have a key role in producing this result. In order to reach excellence principals must be must be competent leaders. If they are not capable of producing results they need to be replaced. In order for a principal to be capable of success they need to be able to: spend their money effectively, recruit the help of parents, and measure and maintain a high quality curriculum. These three qualities together would create what Carter would call a “culture of achievement.” Budget constraints often lead to obstacles for the No Excuses principals, however what makes them so distinctive is partly their ability to make a small amount of money go a long way (30). One great example of this can be seen in the case of Michael Feinberg who is principal of the KIPP charter school in Houston. He says that he looked at KIPP as a business the first day he started working there (30). Feinberg claims that a large component of his success was due to his meticulously planned fiscal management. The law says that the school district can only provide so much money to KIPP for capital expenses. As a result KIPP functions at break-even costs. The school spends $5,650 per child per year. Of this the school has to raise $850 from private philanthropy. Impressively the average expenditure per child in Texas is $5462 (and that’s without private funding). With careful planning of coursework and personalized education, KIPP funding is used to give it’s students an education puts other Texas schools to shame with no greater resources (31). This is evident in their ability to perform in the 81st percentile for...