Cover image for No excuses : closing the racial gap in learning
No excuses : closing the racial gap in learning
Thernstrom, Abigail M., 1936-
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2003]

Physical Description:
xv, 334 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
LC3731 .T455 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
LC3731 .T455 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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 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.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Authors of America in Black and White (1997), the Thernstroms take on the troubling and stubborn gap that persists in academic achievement between white students and black and Hispanic students, a gap that translates into a lifetime of uneven opportunities. They begin by citing statistics based on standardized test scores that verify the woeful achievement gap, which has become the burning issue in the continued struggle for racial justice. In separate chapters, the authors look at the historic and cultural factors at work in the low academic achievement of blacks and Hispanics and the high achievement of Asians, compared with white students. But the heart of the book focuses on several inner-city schools across the nation that have succeeded in educating minority children and provide models for educational reform. The success factors include independence from district control, discretionary budgetary power, and latitude in hiring nonunion teachers. Although it is sure to provoke some controversy, this book provides a thoughtful look at a pressing social problem. --Vanessa Bush Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Abigail Thernstrom (Massachusetts State Board of Education) and Stephan Thernstrom (Harvard Univ.) focus on the failure to provide first-class education for black and Hispanic students. Chapter 1 explains the widening academic gap between blacks and Hispanics as compared to whites and Asians, while chapter 2 notes that test scores matter in terms of learning basic skills. Chapters 3 and 4 describe schools that succeeded in providing students with basic skills and explain how they accomplished this. Chapter 5 notes that Asian culture emphasizes academic work, while the next chapter focuses on Hispanics and the role of group culture in educational achievement. Chapter 7 discusses group culture as the source of black underachievement; and chapters 8 and 9 explore the relationship between bigger budgets and the racial gap and the racial mix of schools. The need for better teachers is explored in chapter 10, followed by chapters that examine the failure of Head Start and Title I, the failure of state standards, testing, and accountability systems, and the road blocks to change. The conclusion recommends vouchers and choice for low-income urban families as the best means for closing the racial gap. See also, Gary Simons's Be the Dream: Prep for Prep Graduates Share Their Stories (CH, Feb'04). ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Practitioners and graduate students. N. L. Arnez emeritus, Howard University

Table of Contents

List of Figures
1 The Problem One: Left Behind
2 Great Teaching Three: Building Academic Skills Four: Not by Math Alone
3 Culture Matters Five: Asians Six: Hispanics Seven: Blacks
4 The Conventional Wisdom Eight: Send Money Nine: Racial Isolation Ten: Teacher Quality
5 Serious Effort, Limited Results Eleven: Congress Strikes Out Twelve: Raising the Bar Thirteen: Roadblocks to Change