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Scripting the Moves

Culture and Control in a "No-Excuses" Charter School

Joanne W. Golann

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An inside look at a "no-excuses" charter school that reveals this educational model’s strengths and weaknesses, and how its approach shapes students

Silent, single-file lines. Detention for putting a head on a desk. Rules for how to dress, how to applaud, how to complete homework. Walk into some of the most acclaimed urban schools today and you will find similar recipes of behavior, designed to support student achievement. But what do these “scripts” accomplish? Immersing readers inside a “no-excuses” charter school, Scripting the Moves offers a telling window into an expanding model of urban education reform. Through interviews with students, teachers, administrators, and parents, and analysis of documents and data, Joanne Golann reveals that such schools actually dictate too rigid a level of social control for both teachers and their predominantly low-income Black and Latino students. Despite good intentions, scripts constrain the development of important interactional skills and reproduce some of the very inequities they mean to disrupt.

Golann presents a fascinating, sometimes painful, account of how no-excuses schools use scripts to regulate students and teachers. She shows why scripts were adopted, what purposes they serve, and where they fall short. What emerges is a complicated story of the benefits of scripts, but also their limitations, in cultivating the tools students need to navigate college and other complex social institutions—tools such as flexibility, initiative, and ease with adults. Contrasting scripts with tools, Golann raises essential questions about what constitutes cultural capital—and how this capital might be effectively taught.

Illuminating and accessible, Scripting the Moves delves into the troubling realities behind current education reform and reenvisions what it takes to prepare students for long-term success.

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