‘Excuse’ Factories vs. Training Centers

Published February 1, 2000

While schools that can turn poor and minority children into high achievers are generally credited with having visionary leaders and top-notch teachers, those in charge of failing schools frequently seem to view the students themselves as the major reason for the failure of their schools. The following are frequently cited “excuses” for schools failing to educate their students:

  • poverty
  • minority status
  • a fear-ridden environment
  • limited English proficiency
  • single-parent families
  • lack of books in the home
  • lack of role models
  • low expectations of teachers
  • dilapidated schools
  • inadequate school funding

However, poor or minority parents don’t buy these excuses, according to the comments of Texas parents who took advantage of the Horizon private voucher program to remove their children from the public schools in San Antonio’s Edgewood School District.

When an evaluation team from Mathematica and Harvard University conducted a focus group session with Horizon parents last year, nearly two-thirds were very satisfied with the teaching at their child’s private schools; less than half of the public school parents reported similar satisfaction. It was the teaching that made the difference.

A Horizon mother put it this way. “Let’s say I have a dog,” she said. “I take it to the trainer. This trainer will bring back the dog and the dog comes back like an idiot, doesn’t do nothing. Now I take that same dog to another trainer. And the dog comes back and does all these tricks that I want him to do. Who are you going to blame? . . . Use your common sense. Who are you going to blame, the dog or the trainer?”