So Much Reform, So Little Change
The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools
By Charles M. Payne
cloth, 280 Pages
Pub. Date: April 2008
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paper, 280 Pages
Pub. Date: April 2008
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This frank and courageous book explores the persistence of failure in today’s urban schools. At its heart is the argument that most education policy discussions are disconnected from the daily realities of urban schools, especially those in poor and beleaguered neighborhoods.
Charles M. Payne argues that we have failed to account fully for the weakness of the social infrastructure and the often dysfunctional organizational environments of urban schools and school systems. The result is that liberals and conservatives alike have spent a great deal of time pursuing questions of limited practical value in the effort to improve city schools.
Payne carefully delineates these stubborn and intertwined sources of failure in urban school reform efforts of the past two decades. Yet while his book is unsparing in its exploration of the troubled recent history of urban school reform, Payne also describes himself as “guardedly optimistic.” He describes how, in the last decade, we have developed real insights into the roots of school failure, and into how some individual schools manage to improve. He also examines recent progress in understanding how particular urban districts have established successful reforms on a larger scale.
Drawing on a striking array of sources—from the recent history of various urban school systems, to the growing sophistication of education research, to his own experience as a teacher, scholar, and participant in reform efforts—Payne paints a vivid and unmistakably realistic portrait of urban schools and reforms of the past few decades. So Much Reform, So Little Change will be required reading for everyone interested in the plight—and the future—of urban schools.
A brilliant, thoughtful, and provocative analysis. Charles Payne shows why almost thirty years of school reform has brought so little change to urban public schools. Rooted in the reality of the Chicago Public Schools, Payne’s book contains lessons that are relevant to schools everywhere.
— Pedro Noguera, New York University
Charles Payne’s book is likely to anger teachers and administrators, conservatives and liberals, school reformers and the foundations that fund them. All will see themselves depicted as naïve about what it takes to improve urban schools. Many will see themselves depicted as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. At the same time no reader who has spent much time in urban schools will deny the accuracy of Payne’s insights—for example, about why improving high schools has proved so much more difficult than improving elementary schools, why more resources alone won’t produce successful urban schools, and why the choice of a particular whole school reform program is not the critical decision. While his analysis is deeply sobering, Payne shows that improvement in urban schools is possible—and indeed that significant improvements have already taken place.
— Richard J. Murnane, Harvard Graduate School of Education
This is a wonderful book, absolutely essential reading for educators, policymakers, and community and civic leaders who are committed to creating schools that promote high achievement for Black and Latino students. Payne helps us understand the challenges and possibilities for the transformation of urban schools. This is a smart book—one that should change our conversation about the reform of urban schools.
— Theresa Perry, Simmons College
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