The Heritage Foundation has recently published a report entitled No Excuses: Lessons From 21 High-Performing High-Poverty Schools, based on research conducted by Samuel Casey Carter, a Bradley Fellow at the Foundation. I strongly recommend it to anyone remotely concerned with the state of public education in this country. Carter’s research comprised a nationwide survey of the best practices used by successful schools that serve above average “at-risk” populations. For all the differences in these schools, they share certain core beliefs and traits. Seven traits are common to all: (1) principals are free to run their schools, (2) principals use measurable goals to establish a culture of achievement, (3) master teachers bring out the best in a faculty and effective principals turn their schools into schools for teachers, (4) rigorous and regular testing leads to continuous student achievement, (5) achievement is the key to discipline, (6) principals work actively with parents to make the home a center for learning, and (7) effort creates ability, or time on task is the key to success in school. These traits translate into a set of practices common to all the successful high at-risk schools. The two most common themes throughout the study are the importance of leadership from the principal’s office and the high expectations for all students held by these schools. Universally, these successful schools dismiss the popular wisdom that poor or otherwise socially disadvantaged children are doomed to lag behind their peers or that only “developmentally appropriate” instructional models should be used with these children. To these principals, this is a cop-out that has been used to blame the children, the family, or the society for the failures of the schools. Of the hundreds of U. S. schools surveyed, 21 were selected to be profiled in the final report. It has been my privilege to have worked closely for several years with the leadership of one of these schools, Thaddeus Lott and Wilma Rimes of Houston’s Wesley Elementary, in the development of an early intervention reading initiative in Houston sponsored by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. From this experience as well as close observation of practices, methodologies, and results in a range of environments, I can testify as a layman that we know what works. We know how to be successful in high-poverty, low socioeconomic environments. We have known these things from research and common sense observation for years. So why is it that, as indicated in the Heritage study, 58% of low-income fourth graders can’t read? There are many culprits and not enough room here to give them their due, but the malpractice of the education establishment is staggering. Friends, there are no excuses.
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