No Excuses: STRIVE to Do Better

One day not so long ago, my father sat me down for one of his famous heart-to-heart chats. I’d done poorly on a math quiz (it turns out that two plus two does not equal a picture of a dragon eating a stick figure), and I knew I was in big trouble. But he didn’t scold me. Instead, he told me to “own my mistake, find out why it happened, and fix it.” Excuses, he said, would do nothing but hold me back.

I was reminded of my father’s words this weekend as I read the education news. As many of you may know, Colorado released the 2014 TCAP results last week. With a few exceptions, they were wholly uninspiring. Some results were, however, surprising. Perhaps most notably, STRIVE’s eight charter schools in Denver experienced a very significant backslide in scores.

Normally, such results would bring about a hurricane of political spin, bluster, and excuses. Indeed, some opponents of reform have already begun touting STRIVE’s 2014 results as evidence of broader failures in the Denver charter movement. STRIVE itself has taken an entirely different (and very refreshing) tack: accepting responsibility and working toward improvement.

In STRIVE’s case, some excuses might be valid. As a Chalkbeat story points out, STRIVE schools began teaching curriculum related to the Common Core a year ahead of schedule. They have also expanded rapidly—perhaps too rapidly.  The Denver Post also notes that high turnover rates among new teachers could have been a factor. Ultimately, though, shifts like this are very difficult to predict or explain.

Even so, STRIVE’s response has not been to pass the buck, shirk responsibility, or make excuses. It has not stood on the soap box shouting “Yes, but…!” to its critics. Instead, it has looked at its data, accepted responsibility, and begun to move toward solutions for next year. Dad would be proud.

Whether or not STRIVE will turn itself around for next year remains to be seen. Perhaps 2014 was simply an anomaly, or perhaps not. Perhaps the organization will be able to easily identify the underlying issues involved, or perhaps it will have to do some very deep thinking. In any case, I find it refreshing to see an organization of schools stand up, take responsibility for itself and its results, and pursue active solutions rather than shrug its shoulders and make excuses.

Education policy is too often characterized by avoidance of responsibility. Good for STRIVE for bucking that trend instead of passing the buck.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a math quiz to study for.