No Excuses and public Montessori schools

I am working with Joanne Golann on a study of the experience of black and Latino parents at ‘No Excuses’ charter and public Montessori schools. This study expands my theoretical formulation of “conflicted fit” to other school contexts and addresses a gap in the literature on the interpretive experience of parents of color.

Black and Latino Parents’ Experience of Discipline at No Excuses and Montessori schools

Choice scholars have pointed that urban parents of color struggle to effectively navigate complex choice systems, but few scholars have examined how these parents feel about their children’s school choices after enrollment, particularly in the context of school discipline. We use the idea of a “conflicted fit” (Debs 2016) to illuminate the experience of black and Latino parents after their children enroll in two very different types of urban school choices, “no-excuses” charter schools and public Montessori schools. While no-excuses charter schools have gained public recognition for their academic achievement, public Montessori schools have been hailed for promoting student autonomy. How do parents experience these two very different choices?

We find that at both schools, parents reflected thoughtfully on learning and disciplinary practices happening in their schools, contrasting findings that urban parents are primarily concerned with basic academic necessities. At the no-excuses school, parents appreciated the academic rigor but were conflicted over the school’s strict discipline and the lack of autonomy afforded their children. At the public Montessori schools, conversely, parents appreciated the social-emotional development and respect given to children, but were concerned about the level of academic rigor. These findings suggest that black and Latino parents want a middle way, taking the best of two very different systems, the academic rigor of no-excuses schools with the social development and autonomy of the public Montessori schools. This paper makes a significant scholarly contribution by adding black and Latino parents’ voices to the debates over school discipline. We show that urban parents desire both autonomy and academic rigor for their students in much the same ways as suburban parents, adding nuance to previous research suggesting that some urban parents prefer strict schools (Calvo 2007). This is also the first paper to integrate qualitative data from these two popular urban charter school options, making use of the variation across cases to draw stronger conclusions.