How come? The authors of "No Excuses" contend that we are making excuses right and left. Excuses for the single-parent families that tend to produce less successful learners; excuses for the iron control exercised by teachers unions over the standards and competency of the profession; excuses for judicial activists who see the racial composition of the classroom as a key index of failure or success; excuses for the mediocrity of well-intended federal programs like Title I; and so on.
It is acutely modern and chic to argue against "blaming victims." The Thernstroms don't blame the mainly black victims of lousy education and some disabling cultural arrangements. They blame (in an even-tempered, scholarly way, to be sure) those who make excuses for conditions that could be bettered with a little determined effort. One thing this means is setting and maintaining higher standards.
Texas and North Carolina come in for praise "as models of what can be achieved by raising the bar: setting clear standards, measuring student progress in meeting them, and holding accountable students and schools when they do not meet expectations."
The Thernstroms argue also in behalf of freedom -- in behalf, that is, of vouchers and charter schools -- and against the educationist monopoly of the teaching profession. Some charter schools, it seems, have enjoyed spectacular success: the one in Los Angeles, for instance, where recently fourth-graders were studying and performing "King Lear." "No excuses," affirm the Thernstroms. "That is the message that superb schools deliver to their students."
You have to want to hear it, no doubt. It could be -- my own observation, not the Thernstroms' -- that, when it comes to race, American society is demoralized, terrified of the "civil rights" lobby, "the black vote," the Jesse Jacksons, the Al Sharptons, and so on, with their bull-whip rhetoric and smug demands, afraid to peel back the wallpaper and examine the shiplap with attention.
But the alternative? Hearken to the Thernstroms. "The alternative to a radical overhaul (of public education) is an appallingly large number of black and Hispanic youngsters continuing to leave high school without the skills and knowledge to do well in life ... Is that acceptable? What decent American will say yes?"