Child Abuse in the form of the “No Excuses” education model

The new Jumoke Academy at Dunbar (AKA The Paul Dunbar School, A FUSE Family Urban Schools of Excellence) recently posted job announcements that it was looking for four new teachers.

Putting aside why Jumoke, the charter school management company that was hired to take over and run the Dunbar elementary school is looking for four new teachers, over a month into the new school year, the job posting announces that the charter school company wants educators who will “sweat the small stuff” and are committed to “embracing the challenges facing urban schools with a mantra of ‘No Excuses’ and a willingness to do ‘Whatever it takes.’”

In this case, the phrase “sweat the small stuff” is a euphemism that explains that anyone unwilling to implement Jumoke’s “get tough, ”No Excuses” education model need not apply.

The “No Excuses” approach to education has become a rallying cry for the corporate education reform industry.

Many parents, teachers and proponents of schools, education and learning might mistakenly think the term “no excuses” describes the obligation society, government, schools and parents have to ensuring that every child in America gets a quality education.

But the term “No Excuses” is really a placeholder for a militaristic, highly disciplined, autocratic system in which children are forced to understand that discipline, conformity and following rules is the fundamental cornerstone that leads to academic achievement.

The adherents of the “No Excuse” model believe that the best route to creating safe, healthy and productive school environments is to ensure that children don’t deviate from the rules and that the price of non-compliance is punishments that are so disproportionate that the children  learn to comply or leave the school for good.

The fact that we are dealing with children or that the United States is constitutionally bound to the principle of individualism rather than fascism or collectivism is nothing more than a concept to be overlooked.

Most “No Excuses” schools actually lose more than half their students along the way.

At the Harlem Success Academy Charter Schools, CEO Eva Moskowitz has created a system in which, “New students are initiated at ‘kindergarten boot camp,’ where they get drilled for two weeks on how to behave in the “zero noise” corridors (straight lines, mouths shut, arms at one’s sides).”

Achievement First, Inc., the charter school management company that was co-founded by Stefan Pryor and owns and operates charter schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island utilizes the draconian techniques of excessive school suspensions and a “re-orientation” room.

As we learned earlier is year, “The incidence of suspension of kindergartners and first graders at Achievement First Hartford Academy last year was an estimated nine times the rate in Hartford public schools.

Put another way, an estimated 11.7 percent of kindergartners and first-graders at Achievement First Hartford Academy were suspended last year an average of 5.4 times each. In the Hartford public school system, 3.3 percent of kindergartners and first-graders were suspended an average of 2.1 times.”

At the time, Achievement First’s Dean of School Culture told the Hartford Courant that they instituted, “a very high bar for the conduct of our students and that’s because we’ve made a promise to our scholars and our families that we are going to prepare them for college.”

It figures it would take someone with the title of “dean of school culture” to come up with a phrase that brings together kindergartners, a high bar of conduct and preparing them for college.

At these “No Excuses” schools, the strategies to force conformity follow the children all the way through their primary and secondary education.  At Achievement First’s Hartford high school, “Rolling one’s eyes at a teacher will get a freshman sent to the school’s Reorientation Room where…’they get the extra culture they need.’”

As parents and children at Bridgeport’s “new” Dunbar School will come to find out, the discipline policies at the schools run by FUSE/Jumoke are similar in scope to those used by Achievement First, Inc.  Jumoke also relies on the suspensions and a “reorientation” room, although at Jumoke it apparently goes by a different name.

Even the most casual observer will recognize that the “No Excuses” education model drifts into the realm of what reasonable people would call child abuse.

Perhaps the most disturbing point of all is that while people like Governor Malloy, Commissioner Pryor, Paul Vallas and Steven Adamowski tout the “No Excuses” model, not one of them would ever suggest that such a model be used in Connecticut’s suburban communities.

It is quite a commentary that here we are in the 21st century and  we’ve got “mainstream” political leaders who promote policies that are essentially child abuse….as long as those policies only apply to children who are attending urban schools that serve our minority and poor students.

  • David Topitzer

    This is where so many educators get it wrong. Discipline, order clear expectations, memorization, teacher directed instruction are not hurting students’ creativity or self-esteem. In fact, its the opposite. (You should check out Joanne Lipman’s article in the Wall Street journal : The problem is that its not reform, but privatization, and its end game that will put profits ahead of student needs, skim-off the better students and leave neighborhood schools under funded.

    • jonpelto

      David, I understand what you are saying and as a parent I recognize the importance of discipline as a vehicle for respecting teachers and having a good learning environment – but what I’m referring to isn’t traditional or appropriate tools and strategies for creating a good atmosphere.

    • Linda174


      Their methods of control are over the top…tracking, folding hands, constant eye contact, chanting , slanting, etc. see this excerpt and video posted on edushyster:

      According to this inspirational video, champion teachers 1) are white 2) use many hand gestures 3) inspire their students to “work harder” through the strategic use of insults, slogans and analogies in order to 4) keep the actual content of what they are teaching a closely held secret. In other words, this is a career that no actual human being with a heart could engage in for more than two years…

      • David Lynch Topitzer

        I think I understand your point. But, I know first-hand the subtle, yet enormous disadvantage that many students have in terms education “readiness.” There are sets of expectations, habits, modes of behavior that middle class people take for granted, which are conducive to learning. Yet, many students do not have these for often complicated reasons, but the common one is usually low income and education level of their parents. So, some charter schools are trying to retrain students in ways that might seem abhorrent to us. Disadvantaged students usually do horribly in a constructivist learning environment. But even advantaged students are not harmed by a more traditional educational environment. Jeanne Chall – the consummate progressive educator at Harvard – in her last book “The Achievement Challenge,” conceded that traditional teaching methods are best, particularly for disadvantaged students. I have seen this as a teacher for over 20 years and with my own children. With that said, I am totally against the privatisation movement.

        • Repairman632

          I echo jonpelto’s comment below. Clarification, are you equating charters with traditional education? If so, from everything I have seen, that is a huge miscategorization. What constitutes traditional education in the first place?

        • David Lynch Topitzer

          See the article form my original post – Wall Street Journal. Some charters are trying provide that which is not evident and available in many public school environments – structure, clear expectations, discipline consequences, memorization, drill. These are abhorrent to many educators, but we must look reevaluate as a profession, and that was the point of the original post – (see article from Wall Street Journal). I believe school should be free through college. Secondary school must be challenging and meaningful, which includes athletics for all, art, music and academics. Only one in five of these charters perform better than nearby public schools – in short they tend to be crap. But we must admit that public education has really dropped the ball in some ways – again the article from the original post.

        • Mary Gallucci

          Why is it so hard to accept that most urban schools districts and those that have large numbers of children living at or near the poverty line, are underfunded?
          Let’s just think about that for a moment, rather than dragging out the “culture of poverty”/eugenics tirades. Of course I realize that poor children face many challenges and should not be told to “leave your excuses at the door” in the cruel and heartless way Michael Sharpe of Jumoke demands. Instead, schools should be islands of stability, with excellent libraries, a seasoned staff, and innovative materials–including a beautiful outdoor play area. In such an atmosphere, we could alleviate a lot of the difficulties children face. Instead charter school operators–more manager than humanist–strip schools of their best qualities and replace them with a factory, test-prep, quasi-prison model, with the message that any child who does not excel has only him/herself to blame.

        • David Lynch Topitzer

          Actually, per pupil spending is often higher in cities than in many suburban communities.

          The culture of poverty is real and powerful. I’m not sure that a nurturing school environment is enough. Nor is a no excuses mindset. We should start by raising the minimum wage and actively educating uninformed parents the way they do in countries like Sweden.

          We also must admit that there have been problems with public education, much of which have been at least exacerbated by the Ed school mind-set which tends to be overly constructivist and self-esteem based. (I refer again to the Wall Street article from the original post). This has attracted criticism over the years. Now charter companies and big tech want in. One is pushing a militaristic corporate mentality and the other is embracing constructivism because it bodes well with tablets – students don’t need to know anything because they can google it.

    • Repairman632

      I reject the assumption that traditional teachers, “educators” are not concerned with or are not effective at discipline as well as the other things you mention. It is a straw man argument, and reform does not own nor did it originate the items you reference. Charters methods for achieving those things are an abdication of education professionalism, pre-screening students to select those that will be most amenable to their discipline and other policies and thereby making traditional public schools deal with a greater share of discipline issues.

      • David Lynch Topitzer

        I think you are conflating something else into what I wrote. See the article link.

  • Sleepless in Bridgeport

    I have been waiting all day to put these two links on the blog. Malloy, Pryor, Finch, Holy Moly, Barth, Boaz, Duncan, Rhee, Vallas, Adamowski, Rudy Cruz, and Manny Rivera— put this in your pipe and smoke it:

    • jonpelto

      Thanks for posting – just re-posted the pieces so more people have the chance to read this incredible commentary piece

  • JMC

    Did CT Teacher Certification get any mention as a requirement in Jumoke’s listing?

    • jonpelto

      Great question!

      Since Dunbar remains part of the Bridgeport school system – all teachers must be certified.
      The Jumoke management team doesn’t have to be… Just the actual teachers and administrators that Jumoke is managing…

      • Sleepless in Bridgeport

        Certification……..we don’t need no stinkin certification. Mr. Vallas said laws don’t apply in Bridgeport. And we here that part of the salary deal for the new Dumjoke hires is a new 400 foot driveway right to their front door.

      • Ms.Wright

        Wouldn’t that also mean their disciplinary policy is set forth by the Bridgeport’s School Board? Isn’t suspension policy district wide usually?

  • Mary Gallucci

    The “sweat the-small-stuff-see-the-big-picture” model of Jumoke best practices sounds like a terrible joke. We are talking about a school! Have these charter school people ever taken classes in pedagogy, in philosophy, in the humanities? No teacher would recognize him or herself in the typical charter school job advert–these adverts seem to be written for a hybrid pep-squad leader-cum-prison guard. Charter school operator/owners always speak as though a traditionally trained teacher openly encourages failure and complacence. How’s this for a resume: I always settle for second best, I encourage mediocrity or worse in students, I am a banal, unmotivated, status-quo type individual with no compelling mission. I try at all costs not to sweat anything. My track record is anemic; I hate to drive; I thought we got to brow-beat and guilt trip children and parents at charter schools? As for fidelity, if my partner’s not complaining, the school shouldn’t either.
    That caricature is what Jumoke/(con)FUSE/Achievement First claims to oppose! It is a monster of its own creation, but charter schools are the real nightmare.

  • Linda174

    Essentially this is control. When you don’t understand the art of teaching and your only goal is to improve test scores via a constant churn of test prep Stepford newbies, your methods are solely focused on control and management of your customers.

    They do not respect the children, the parents, the teachers or the profession. It’s about constructing an image and creating highly paid positions for yourself and your cronies.

    And then you can tell other edudilettanates how once you tried to help “some of them”.

  • Linda174

    A principal sent this letter home with the standardized test results. I think this is New York:

    “We are concerned that these tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you– the way your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do. They do not know that many of you speak two languages. They do not know that you can play a musical instrument or that you can dance or paint a picture. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day. They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play or participate in sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister after school. They do not know that you have traveled to a really neat place or that you know how to tell a great story or that you really love spending time with special family members and friends. They do not know that you can be trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try, every day, to be your very best… the scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything. There are many ways of being smart.”

    My friend reported her daughter who did well on the test shrugged about her scores, but read the letter over and over and held it close to her heart announcing, “I really love this.”

  • ruswalsh

    First of all, thank you to Jonathan for taking on this issue, one that has bothered me since the first time I set foot in a “no excuses” charter. Second of all, please all read the articles in the CT post by Ann Evans de Bernard. Dr de Bernard nails it by calling “no excuses” and other corporate reforms colonialism. indeed that is what it is and I wish I had had the words for it earlier. These reformers, who do not send there own children to public school, dare to think they know best for our inner city children? Outrageous.

    One anecdote: In a “no excuses” school I had visited, all the students wore blue shirts and khaki pants. I noticed that while this were nearly universal, a few children had on yellow t-shirts over their blue shirts. When I inquired about this, I was told that these children were being punished for talking in class or the hallway or for disrupting class in some way. They were “on the bench.” In other words, restricted from some school activities due to behavior. Yellow shirts! Wear your shame for all to see. I guess Walmart was out of dunce caps. Now that is child abuse.

  • Repairman632

    This is a wide spread phenomenon. Here’s another fantastic piece on it. “The Lowest Expectation of Them All”

  • Repairman632

    And…….some research. Zero Tolerance, Zero Evidence.

  • jrp1900

    Jonathan is spot on. The “no excuses” mantra is just an excuse to intimidate and bully children into line. The Jumoke people are desperate to succeed. They are prepared to do anything to create the perception of their success. I once heard Michael Sharpe give his spiel about “no excuses.” I thought it was offensive and stupid. And I thought he was a bombastic, pompous ass.

    The worst thing about the “no excuses” line is that it is completely dismissive of the child’s own view of their own lives. Imagine: a child comes in one morning and acts up in the classroom. It is discovered that he is acting up because of a painful family tragedy–such as a cousin murdered, a father incarcerated, a brother killed overseas in the military (or any other ordeal often suffered by the poorest of the American working class). Now comes Michael Sharpe and other Jumoke “educators” who forthrightly dismiss the child’s frustration, anger and pain as a mere “excuse” for his/her bad behavior. The “no excuses” mantra is perfect for lazy, conceited adults like Mr Sharpe, who don’t want to take the trouble to really learn about the children in their schools. This kind of indifference is tantamount to abuse and it makes Jumoke and its promoters worthy of contempt.

    • Linda174

      Bravo, once again! Jrp1900 for SDE commissioner.

    • Repairman632

      Aren’t you being too kind to Jumoke?

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