On the October Twitterstorm: “No Excuses” Charters

Update: Two of the videos referenced in this blog have been set to private viewing only since the time of writing – I have left them on here anyway. One video showed a teacher talking about how children should put their hands up (this was likened to a Nazi salute by some people on Twitter) and the other showed some general classroom routines and management.

Last weekend my Twitter feed was abuzz with two sustained 'Twitterstorms' involving 'no excuses' charter schools (in particular Uncommon Schools) and the ongoing allegations against Inspiration East CEO Rachel de Souza. This blogpost focuses on 'no excuses'.

Uncommon schools have stirred progressive educators (for want of a better term) everywhere by posting a series of behaviour management videos on the Vimeo website. Here is a selection of some of the most cited:

It is clear that Uncommon Schools have paid particular attention to the details of ensuring that children focus on their teacher properly, they are relentless about this and uncomplient children are corrected in a brusque, yet efficient, manner. Three particular arguments appeared in response to the videos:

The methods of behaviour management in the videos are cruel

This was the most common objection and, I too, experienced some initial apprehension during my first viewing. However such scruples seem counterintuitive if one buys into Willingham's third cognitive principle that 'memory is the residue of thought'. If we accept that you won't learn anything unless you are thinking about it and that the purpose of school is to learn then a rigourous classroom seems less cruel than a classroom that tolerates glazed over students slumped on desks not learning. Similarly a short, sharp correction from a teacher seems less cruel than an extended monologue about poor behaviour that wastes everyone's time – time that could be spent learning.

The teachers in the videos are behaving like the Third Riech

This line of argument was peddled by the most viciferous foghorns who accused the teachers in the videos of behaving like Nazis or 'insensitively' doing something that, in the vaguest way imaginable, made them look like one. This is a fallacious argument and there is little to be said of those who continuously trot out this cliched appeal to emotion.

The methods of behaviour management in the videos are a pre-requisite of an oppressive curriculum

According to Sondel and Bolelovik (2014) the curriculum on offer at some 'no excuses' charters are 'characterized by a 'narrow interpretation of state standards at the expense of all other material'. I'm all for what ARK schools might call depth over breadth but the assertion that charters are stripping science of practical work and relegating it, along with social sciences 'to ancillary classes' isn't the liberal education that I think schools should be aspiring to provide. So I am in agreement with those who consider the stereotypical data driven, target driven, stripped down curriculum on offer at 'no excuses' charters unsatisfactory.

That said I have noticed that the progressives at the centre of the Twitterstorm argue the emphasis on behaviour in 'no excuses' charters like Uncommon Schools is needed only to facilitate the limited curriculum they 'impose' on the children. I disagree with this; compliant children are a pre-requisite for any pedagogical model as any Science teacher with no choice but to do let children do practical work in groups will tell you.


Sondel, B & Bolelovik, J.L. (2014) “No Excuses” in New Orleans. Available from: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/07/no-excuses-in-new-orleans/ Last accessed: 31/10/2015