Friday, September 2, 2011

Reality is Not an Excuse

Some school leaders have embraced the "Make No Excuses" mantra for administering schools and for student learning/achievement. This is, no doubt, a catchy mantra. On the surface it is intended to get all educators on board to help their students learn, but I believe the real intent of such a mantra is to cut-off any explanations about why schools and students perform as they do. As educators, we are simply expected to achieve 100%, 100% of the time.

Helping all students learn is what teachers do, and I do agree that we should not make excuses for the shortcomings in our schools. I also agree that we should have high expectations. The no excuses mindset suggests, however, that if we try to explain why our schools are not improving or why our students are not succeeding, then we are simply making excuses. As an evidence based school leader, I continue to argue that the "Make No Excuses" mantra does little to contribute to improved school and student outcomes due to its data-proof nature.

Contrary to this mantra, I suggest that we should recognize why our students and schools are performing at different levels. States and districts provide principals with a tremendous amount of data, and I feel it is the principal's responsibility to carefully analyze these data collaboratively with teachers to identify areas that need more attention. Scholars have identified several variables that influence school and student outcomes, and data analyses will allow principals and teachers to discuss the reasons, not excuses, for specific school and/or student outcomes. Using the data in this manner has positively influenced the school and student outcomes for our school, and we plan to continue to take this approach to help all of our students learn. If we fail to recognize why school and student performance is at a particular level, then we're just ignoring the evidence that will help us to improve.

So, I challenge all educators to argue against the "Make No Excuses" mantra. Use the data to identify reasons why your school and students have performed at certain levels. Then, use these reasons as a guide to modify and enhance your programs and instructional strategies to improve school and student outcomes.

Remember, reality is not an excuse for school and student outcomes. It's just....reality!


  1. Great post Sam, I hadn't thought of "No Excuses" in this way before. Now that I reflect on your post, it reminds me of "Zero Tolerance" policies in the same way - probably good intentions but could seriously erode the overall mission.

    1. Thanks for joining the discussion, Scott. I think you draw the perfect analogy with Zero Tolerance. The major issue I have with the "No Excuses" mantra is that we either succeed or fail, which is a bitter pill to swallow when we know our students have learned throughout the year.