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How Strict Is Too Strict?

Over the past two decades, hundreds of elementary and middle schools across the country have embraced an uncompromisingly stern approach to educating low-income students of color. But only more recently have some of the charter networks that helped popularize strictness, including the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), opened high schools—an expansion that has tested the model in new, and divisive, ways. There’s no official name for this type of school, and not all of the informal terms please the educators in charge: the ethos is often described as “no excuses,” “paternalistic,” or devoted to “sweating the small stuff.” The schools, most of them urban charters, share an aversion to even minor signs of disorder and a pressing need to meet the test-based achievement standards of the No Child Left Behind era or else find themselves shuttered. Front and center in their defense of intensive regimentation for their predominantly minority students is a stirring goal beyond that bottom line: to send all their graduates, many of them first-generation college aspirants, on to higher education.