No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning

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Black and Hispanic students are not learning enough in our public schools. Their typically poor performance is the most important source of ongoing racial inequality in America today. Thus, say Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom, the racial gap in school achievement is the nation's most critical civil rights issue and an educational crisis. It's no wonder that "No Child Left Behind," the 2001 revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, made closing the racial gap in ...
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Overview

Black and Hispanic students are not learning enough in our public schools. Their typically poor performance is the most important source of ongoing racial inequality in America today. Thus, say Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom, the racial gap in school achievement is the nation's most critical civil rights issue and an educational crisis. It's no wonder that "No Child Left Behind," the 2001 revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, made closing the racial gap in education its central goal.

An employer hiring the typical black high school graduate or the college that admits the average black student is choosing a youngster who has only an eighth-grade education. In most subjects, the majority of twelfth-grade black students do not have even a "partial mastery" of the skills and knowledge that the authoritative National Assessment of Educational Progress calls "fundamental for proficient work" at their grade.

No Excuses marshals facts to examine the depth of the problem, the inadequacy of conventional explanations, and the limited impact of Title I, Head Start, and other familiar reforms. Its message, however, is one of hope: Scattered across the country are excellent schools getting terrific results with high-needs kids. These rare schools share a distinctive vision of what great schooling looks like and are free of many of the constraints that compromise education in traditional public schools.

In a society that espouses equal opportunity we still have a racially identifiable group of educational have-nots -- young African Americans and Latinos whose opportunities in life will almost inevitably be limited by their inadequate education. When students leave high school without high school skills, their futures -- and that of the nation -- are in jeopardy. With successful schools already showing the way, no decent society can continue to turn a blind eye to such racial and ethnic inequality.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom, she a Manhattan Institute fellow and he a Harvard history professor, are leading opponents of affirmative action. They have observed, like other critics, that if we could just get equality of opportunity right at the K-12 level, we wouldn't need affirmative action policies at all. Instead of using that argument as a convenient dodge for addressing inequality at any level, the Thernstroms, to their credit, have accepted the challenge in their new book. In a strikingly egalitarian vein, they argue that it is not good enough to boost test scores among all racial groups, as reforms in Texas and North Carolina have; the racial gap itself must close. — Richard D. Kahlenberg
Publishers Weekly
The Thernstroms, senior fellows at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, deliver "a tough message" about how "to close the racial gap in academic achievement." Although the 48 graphs and tables, 566 footnotes and statistics galore may muffle the work's polemical aspects, the Thernstroms produce a case for standards-based testing and charter schools. Despite caveats (e.g., "Not all Asian parents and their children fit the stereotype... and Asian Americans are not actually one `group' "), the authors' assessment of success and failure attributes much to ethnic cultural factors. Family expectations and hard work lead to success for Asian-Americans, who embrace "the American work ethic with life-or-death fervor," while "the limited education of many Hispanic parents" and "their propensity to work in unskilled jobs that don't require a knowledge of English" underlie the poor performance of Latino students. African-American failure rests in "the special role of television in the life of black children and the low expectations of their parents." "Conventional wisdom" about improving schools (more money, improved cleanliness, smaller classes, etc.) is inadequate, they say. Title I and Head Start appear to have accomplished little, they lament, but Bush's No Child Left Behind (and its mandatory testing program) gets high praise. For the Thernstroms, ideal schools break from tradition and are liberated from such "roadblocks to change" as "hands-tied administrators" and unions. Enter vouchers (implicitly) and charter schools (quite explicitly), where the Thernstroms seem particularly taken by students chanting "answers-with claps and stomps and fists held high" and reciting "rules in unison." Agent, Glen Hartley. (Oct.) Forecast: This argument for standards-based testing and charter schools is sure to set off enough controversy to garner it major reviews and much attention. The book was funded by the John M. Olin Foundation and the Earhart Foundation, both of which finance right-wing research. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743204460
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 10/7/2003
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.48 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author


Abigail Thernstrom is a member of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute in New York. She is the author of Whose Votes Count? Affirmative Action and Minority Voting Rights and, with her husband, Stephan, of America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible.
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Table of Contents

List of Figures
Introduction
1 The Problem
2 Great Teaching
3 Culture Matters
4 The Conventional Wisdom
5 Serious Effort, Limited Results
Conclusion
Notes
Index
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2004

    Oversimplified Arguments - One More Time

    I was disappointed in Mrs. Thernstrom's book. The societal cause(s) of the black/white gap in academic achievement is certainly a matter of concern and the causes of such are well established from years of empirical literature. It has been clearly shown that what children bring to school far more influences how well they do in school than anything that educators can do at school. Until we fix the problems in society, we will never fix the schools. Many of Mrs. Thernstrom's arguments are the same half-informed perspectives we've heard for years that are not supported by data, but instead by anecdotal stories of success, some of which are questionable. When it comes to the question of teacher quality, she ignores the plethora of data linking a teacher's verbal skills and the possession of a higher academic degree to student success. (How can the possession of a master's degree be considered a 'crude' measure by which to compare student performance? p. 206). But she does call attention to some necessary points, particularly that the racial gap is established early and once established, stays throughout a student's school life. She also makes some good points on the question of school segregation, and how single race schools of today are a matter of choice, not Pre-Civil Rights law. Overall, somewhat interesting reading but very few compelling or well supported arguments.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2004

    Oversimplified Analysis of a Cultural Problem

    After years of research of the problem of inequality in the educational system, I was disappointed to see a book (sponsored by a foundation) pesent such a one-sided perspective on a very complex issue. Charter schools are but one of scores of band-aid solutions being proposed today that fail to alter the structure of a system designed to advance a conservative policy justification at a time when the gap is becoming wider. To bring about excellence in our schools through equity-minded long-term strategies, a scientific rather than a political approach is needed. This book fails to transcend politics and leaves a lot to be desired in terms of developing an effective strategic plan for restructuring education with less ethnocentric constraints. The flawed logic behind using a few exceptional case studies to fix a massive societal problem is likely to distract the layperson. In ensuring all students, regardless of their background, are taught well enough to master grade level standards, a more comprehensive analysis and strategy are required. It is likely to attract those who prefer to blame the victims of a system that in turn,is still designed to stratify our society. Fortunately, an alternative is now available in the book, 'Dismantling the Achievement gap' by the reviewer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2004

    Lighting the way to true and lasting reform.

    As a public school teacher I approached No Excuses with a certain apprehension. Yet the integrity, intelligence and courage of Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom in books such as America in Black and White (1997), gave me the confidence that whether I agreed with them or not they would have much to say, they would say it well and they would provide strong documentary evidence. The Thernstroms¿s book is divided into five basic parts. The FIRST PART is the PROBLEM: We have a serious problem in American public schools, particularly but not exclusively inner-city public schools. The SECOND PART is the necessity of creating a culture of learning. This is done principally by great teaching. The THIRD PART discusses how this culture is achieved. The Thernstroms discuss Asians, Hispanics and Blacks as case studies. The FOURTH PART discusses CONVENTIONAL WISDOM on educational issues. THE FIFTH and final part discusses the political failures, the need for authentic standards and lastly ¿roadblocks to change¿ such as sclerotic unions and impotent administrators. No Excuses examines the performance of Public schools that are in their words ¿spectacularly good ¿and have prevailed against the odds. The Thernstroms suggest the evidence from theses successful schools ¿mostly charter schools- might provide models for educational reform. The Thernstroms give us an analysis of modern American education which by any standard is telling and devastating. American students of all ethnicities are graduating from high school with marginal basic skills in NAEP¿s basic categories of reading, math, science, U.S. history, Civic Education and geography. The Thernstroms say ¿the formula for these terrific schools is not a mystery¿. All of their prize examples are charter schools such as the KIPP academies with certain key characteristics; 1) The are autonomous of district control 2) They generally speaking are free to hire non-union teachers 3) Have considerable discretionary power over their budgets 4) No one tells them how to organize their instructional day or what textbooks to buy. These characteristics can exist in a public school setting. Perhaps in big cities, however, the union rules are so stultifying that liberation from the system is the only way to go. Unlike other public school teachers I am not afraid of school choice though I am skeptical vouchers per se will make any difference. The Thernstroms are right when they say in the introduction that schools that aim to transform the culture of their students are on the right track. As Victor Davis Hanson and Allan Bloom have observed American pop culture is notoriously anti-intellectual, shallowly materialistic and hedonistic. Good teachers, therefore, like Marine D.I.¿s must be counter-cultural. Then they can, as the Thernstroms write, ¿instill the desire, discipline and dedication ¿the will to succeed- that will enable disadvantaged youth to climb the educational ladder of opportunity.¿ The Thernstroms say that not all cultures are the same, some are academically advantageous but at the same time ¿neither poverty nor culture is educational destiny¿. As I often tell my students there is no divine ¿kismet¿: You sweat you get, you snooze you lose¿ Throughout NO EXCUSES the Thernstroms are level-headed and sensible. Our progressive friends Deborah Meier, Theodore Sizer and Jonathan Kozol attack, not without some validity, the excessive reliance on standardized tests. The Thernstroms, however, sensibly stress the need for testing. Testing doesn¿t tell us everything but it does give us some facts. There are wonderful quotes from Gregory Hodge of the Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem who says: ¿Without an education, these children are slaves to the world they live in.¿ They also quote Jaime Escalante whom I remember from the 1998 prop 227 campaign ¿Teachers need to teach ethics, morals and responsibility to the kids¿things¿lacking in our curriculum.¿ The Third Part o

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2004

    Racist Rehash

    Readers should consult New York University historian Robin D.G. Kelley's book 'Yo Mama's Dysfunktional!' for a review of the long legacy of culturally-based racism in the field of Sociology of which 'No Excuses' is but a sorry rehashing. For serious scholarship on the ways that knowledge is produced, distributed, and valued hierarchically to replicate class and cultural inequalities and the ways this undermines the possibilities for a more democratic, equal, free, and just society see the work of Pierre Bourdieu, Raymond Williams, Michael Apple, Henry Giroux, Jean Anyon, Ann Ferguson, Bowles & Gintis, Paul Willis, Angela McRobbie, bell hooks among others.

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