James Cavanagh is 22 years old, fresh out of the University of Delaware. With his degree in elementary education, he could have gotten a job anywhere—and he chose to teach at one of the most demanding public schools in America.
His college buddies were hired at schools with mid-afternoon dismissals and two and a half months of summer vacation. For not much more pay, Cavanagh worked nearly all of August and this fall is putting in 12-hour days, plus attending graduate school.
In exchange, he gets to be a part of one of the nation’s top charter schools, North Star Academy in Newark, where poor, minority students routinely outperform their peers in wealthier ZIP codes on standardized tests. And he’s getting extensive support designed to make him both effective and eager to stick around.
A small but influential group of schools like North Star, dubbed "no excuses"charters because of their high behavioral and academic expectations, has proven that, with very hard work by students and staff, the country’s crippling achievement gap is possible to narrow or even close. These schools helped inspire a national push to give struggling students more time in school.
But success created a different challenge: how to keep teachers from burning out and leaving.
Since the "no excuses" movement began in the mid-1990s, its schools developed a reputation for attracting teachers who are young, idealistic and often white, available to families around the clock until they leave after a few years. Sometimes they’re ready to have children of their own or move on to more lucrative career prospects; other times they’re just tired. The phenomenon has been blasted for depriving students of stable adult relationships and creating mistrust in minority neighborhoods when white teachers serving black and Hispanic students come and go.
So now the focus is sustainability. The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), which opened the first two "no excuses" schools in 1995 and is now the nation’s largest charter chain, is offering on-site daycare for teachers working long hours in some locations.