No Excuses for Low Achievement

Published September 1, 2000

How to close the gap in academic achievement between minority and white students? Most observers would agree the solution lies in teaching to a higher level of expectations. Some argue this can be accomplished without additional resources, while others contend higher achievement is impossible without additional resources and support for disadvantaged minority children.

The editors of Rethinking Schools recently wrote, “It is unconscionable to hold all children to the same high standards but not give all children the resources and support necessary to meet the standards.” They admit this support “–smaller class sizes, newer buildings, more resources, more time for teacher collaboration and development–will cost more money.”

“It takes resources and support to perform well,” wrote the editors, who complained that “across the country, policymakers are instituting high-stakes test after high-stakes test, as if somehow children, schools, and districts in low-income areas are not performing well because they lack the will.”

After reading Samuel Casey Carter’s book, No Excuses: Lessons from 21 High-Performing High-Poverty Schools, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that many children, many schools, and many districts in low-income areas are in fact not performing well precisely because they lack the will. The low-income minority children in Carter’s 21 schools perform well not because their schools have been given more resources and support, but because they have principals with the will to see the children in their schools succeed.

Principal Lorraine Monroe established the Frederick Douglass Academy in 1991 on the site of a failed middle school in central Harlem to prove that low-income, inner-city minority children could meet the highest standards of achievement. Today, graduates from the Academy go on to Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Tufts, Amherst, and the best of the traditionally black colleges. In 1998, the middle school’s test scores ranked 12th out of 235 in New York City, 32 percentage points higher than the city average in reading and 26 points higher in math.

Gregory Hodge, principal of the Academy since 1996, frankly admitted he likes to compete with the best: Stuyvesant. With its brand-new building, science labs, elevators, escalators, and multiple gyms, Stuyvesant “produces the best minds in the United States,” said Hodge.

“I don’t compete against the regular high school,” explained Hodge. “I compete against Stuyvesant. My students compete against them to say that we can do it, even though we don’t have the same funding. Funding is always going to be a question. I’m in an old building. I don’t have science labs. I have 34 kids in a class, 30 kids in middle school. But I spend the money as wisely as I can, and even though I don’t have as much money, I still get the results.”

As Adam Meyerson notes in the foreword to Carter’s book, Frederick Douglass Academy is just one of 21 high-performing, high-poverty schools Carter found. The success of the 21 schools is the result of hard work, common-sense teaching philosophies, and successful leadership strategies that can be replicated, noted Meyerson.

“One of the nation’s highest priorities should be to learn from the best practices of these high-performing schools and to insist that all schools serving low-income children aspire to the No Excuses standard of excellence.”

For more information . . .

Samuel Casey Carter’s 121-page book, No Excuses: 21 High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools, is published by The Heritage Foundation and available for $9.50 by calling 800/544-4843. Further information is available on the Internet at