In How It’s Being Done: Urgent Lessons from Unexpected Schools
, Karin Chenoweth shares eight snapshots of success that challenge existing narratives about academic failure among poor and minority youth. Whereas her 2007 book, "It’s Being Done": Academic Success in Unexpected Schools
, provided evidence of some extraordinary schools that were educating all of their students, this volume provides educators with information about how
to create the kinds of schools where academic success is normalized for all students.
Chenoweth reports on her visits to eight schools that received the Education Trust’s Dispelling the Myth Award, which is given to high-achieving, high-poverty, and high-minority schools. Through her research, readers are intimately exposed to the inner workings of these schools, which range from predominantly African American to all white and are on military bases, in major cities, and in rural areas.
The book opens with the state of Massachusetts as its backdrop. Chenoweth explains that Massachusetts has emerged as the country’s leader in educational progress because of statewide standards that have guided improvement. Using clear goals and public results, Massachusetts has broken through the isolation and idiosyncrasy that has largely characterized the teaching profession and school organization until now. Chenoweth attempts to demonstrate how the standards movement and state tests have revolutionized teachers’ work with minority and poor students by helping schools focus on the needs of these specific populations.
The remainder of the book describes the eight individual schools that have also emerged as leaders in educational progress. Chenoweth tells of P.S./M.S. 124 Osmond A. Church School of Queens, New York, a low-income school where teachers and parents devote extra time to learning curriculum so that they can provide students with relevant support. Chenoweth also describes how Ware Elementary School facilitated change despite the circumstances of its community in Fort Riley, Kansas, where the majority of children have a parent away at war and live with one parent, their grandparents, or other families. Readers also travel to Norfolk, Arkansas, where many residents are unemployed, to discover how clear goals for instruction and a focus on community building enabled Norfolk Elementary School to raise sixth-grade literacy scores to tie for third highest in Arkansas. Chenoweth also examines Wells Elementary School in Steubenville, Ohio, where the district abides by a law of consistency such that schools share curriculum, lesson plans, schedules, and discipline and data systems to increase districtwide performance. Readers also visit Graham Road Elementary School in Falls Church, Virginia, which is largely comprised of a non-English-speaking immigrant population, and discover how the school has used data to create instructional plans that reach all students.
How It’s Being Done
also looks inside one high school and two middle schools, anomalies, according to Chenoweth, in a society that seems ill equipped for educating adolescents. Thus, she introduces readers to the predominantly Latino Imperial High School in California, which has focused on making college a reality for all students. As one student explains, “At other schools, it’s ‘There are the smart kids.’ Here we’re all the smart kids” (p. 68). She also takes readers to Lockhart, Texas, the home of rural Lockhart Junior High School, which has a system of “rescue” classes for students having trouble mastering particular concepts. Chenoweth ends back in Massachusetts, where Roxbury Prep Charter School has focused on its hiring process to ensure a cadre of teachers who are committed to the kind of school culture that has been instrumental to the success of its students.
Although some schools are presented very briefly with only a snapshot of how they have dispelled the myth that not all students can be educated to high levels, Chenoweth succeeds in providing a glimpse of the kind of education that is possible for all. Her jargon-free writing, which includes the words of teachers and students, makes the schools and their practices accessible to educators and the general public. Together, the snapshots of these different schools and their varied approaches to ensuring academic achievement form a picture of the kind of education that is possible if and when we begin taking the education of all children seriously.
Likening education reform to the proverbial invention
of the wheel, Chenoweth credits the state of Massachusetts and these eight schools with the invention of principles for effective schooling. If this is the case, the field of education should learn from these urgent lessons and avoid reinventing the wheel.