Over the past two decades, hundreds of elementary and middle schools across the country have embraced an uncompromisingly stern approach to educating low-income students of color. But only more recently have some of the charter networks that helped popularize strictness, including the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), opened high schools—an expansion that has tested the model in new, and divisive, ways. There’s no official name for this type of school, and not all of the informal terms please the educators in charge: the ethos is often described as “no excuses,” “paternalistic,” or devoted to “sweating the small stuff.” The schools, most of them urban charters, share an aversion to even minor signs of disorder and a pressing need to meet the test-based achievement standards of the No Child Left Behind era or else find themselves shuttered. Front and center in their defense of intensive regimentation for their predominantly minority students is a stirring goal beyond that bottom line: to send all their graduates, many of them first-generation college aspirants, on to higher education.Oh yeah. We're not torturing all the students. Only the poor and black kids.. or anyone who couldn't successfully navigate what we euphemistically call our "school choice" system to get into Lusher.
Yet a growing array of critics is concerned that the no-excuses approach more effectively contributes to very different results: a flagrant form of two-tiered education and a rise in racially skewed suspension and expulsion rates for low-level misbehavior—a trend that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has railed against repeatedly over the past year. Some go further, arguing that those taped lines point the way to prison rather than to college—that the harsh discipline is a civil-rights abomination, destined to push too many kids out of school and into trouble with the law. For the families involved, particularly the students, the story is more complicated. Many of them come to appreciate the intense structure, but only if they also come to trust the mostly young educators who enforce it. As school leaders in New Orleans are discovering, forging that trust is far harder than teaching someone to say thank you and toe an orange line.
But it's for our own good, of course. Remember that was why, after Katrina, we "brain gained" all these experts into town to tell us how to be less "chaotic" and uncivilized and stuff.
New Orleans schools, which have taken the experiment with paternalistic public education to a new extreme, have been at the forefront of extending regimented discipline to the high-school level. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the region in 2005, the city became a proving ground for the most popular and contentious reforms. The charter-school movement grew, spreading a heavy reliance on alternative teacher-recruiting programs like Teach for America—and, not least, a commitment to comprehensive, punitive discipline policies very different from the pedagogical flexibility and emphasis on individual expression favored by many traditional education schools.
In step with an energetic breed of charter advocates nationally, the reformers who descended on New Orleans were convinced that progressive pedagogy and discipline had an especially sorry record in low-income districts, where many children faced more than their share of disorder and violence. Chaotic classrooms, the newcomers argued, were a major reason schools floundered and failed. The controversial broken-windows theory—which holds that a firm response to minor signs of disarray, like broken windows, is essential to inhibiting more-serious criminal activity—was the reigning analogy, invoked by top administrators on down. No infraction was too small to address. A uniform violation, I heard one high-school teacher remark, “means a broken window, which means a broken path to college.”
So we're applying racist and oppressive policing tactics like "broken windows" to high school students now. I suppose the next move is have all the teachers wear body cameras.. but if you recall a few years ago, somebody already tried that.
A school district in Pennsylvania spied on students through web cameras installed on laptops provided by the district, according to a class action lawsuit filed this week."21st-century learning environment" or, you know, totalitarian nightmare, whatever comes first. At least these students will be ready for prison.
Lower Merion school district, in a well-heeled suburb of Philadelphia, provided 2,300 high-school students with Mac laptops last autumn in what its superintendent, Christopher McGinley, described as an effort to establish a "mobile, 21st-century learning environment".