Becoming Good American Schools: The Struggle for Civic Virtue in Education Reform / Edition 1

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Overview

This book brings to life an ambitious American education reform agenda transforming schools into places that foster meaningful engagement with ideas, caring people, principles of social justice, and democratic processes. It draws on longitudinal, comparative case-study research to tell the stories of sixteen schools in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas, and Vermont that sought to alter their deep structures and daily practices. Their stories illuminate contradictions deeply rooted in American culture - incongruities that not only threatened their efforts, but also revealed the limits of technical and rational approaches to school reform.. "Becoming Good American Schools is for administrators, policy makers, practitioners, and citizens who are prepared to blend inspiration and caution, idealism and skepticism in their own pursuit of good schools.
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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Drawing on longitudinal, comparative case-study research carried out during most of the 1990s, four education scholars recount how 16 schools in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas, and Vermont sought to alter their structures and practices and become places fostering innovative ideas, caring people, principles of social justice, and democratic processes. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher
"...is a provocative and challenging analysis..." (Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, Volume 7, #3)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787940232
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 12/28/1999
  • Series: Jossey-Bass Education Series
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.41 (h) x 1.34 (d)

Meet the Author

JEANNIE OAKES is professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles. A prominent authority on school reform, she is author or coauthor of several books, including Keeping Track and Teaching to Change the World.

KAREN HUNTER QUARTZ is a research scientist at the Center for Research in Educational Equity, Assessment, and Teaching Excellence (CREATE) at the University of California, San Diego. She is coeditor of Creating New Educational Communities.

STEVE RYAN is assistant professor of secondary education in the School of Education at the University of Louisville.

MARTIN LIPTON is a research associate in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the coauthor of Making the Best of Schools and Teaching to Change the World.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
Acknowledgments
The Authors
Pt. 1 Situating the Struggle
1 The Struggle to Become Good Schools 3
2 Cultural Contradictions 24
Pt. 2 Four Cultural Struggles
3 Becoming Educative 65
4 Becoming Socially Just 104
5 Becoming Caring 148
6 Becoming Participatory 185
Pt. 3 Becoming Better
7 Struggling to Scale Up 221
8 Struggling in the Reform Mill 263
9 A Passion for the Public Good 308
App Studying the Technical, Normative, and Political Dimensions of School Reform 327
Notes 345
Index 363
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First Chapter

Introduction



On the eve of America's independence, John Adams wrote, "Public virtue is the only foundation of republics." He also asserted that real liberty depends on "a positive passion for the public good."1 More than two centuries later, we write this book as testimony to this passion being the foundation for what is good in public education. At the brink of the twenty-first century, violence, alienation, racism, poverty, and countless other social ills remain woven into the fabric of American life and American schools. Despair is one option. Another choice, the choice we argue for in this book, is to reflect on Adams's words and passion and seek public virtue.

Virtue has become a suspect term in contemporary American discourse, often hijacked by the religious and political right and used in the most narrow, individualistic terms. In the current political rhetoric, inadequate "family values" and selfish private choices--ranging from allowing children to watch television unsupervised, to mothers of young children entering the workforce, to abortion, divorce, and single parenting--signal the demise of virtue. In the 1990s, virtue has become associated with character education and the work of former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett, who asks us to kindle our outrage and preach one another and our children into moral behaviors. Although we have no quarrel with the value of the individual traits that Bennett seeks to cultivate in young people--truth, honesty, and courage--our deep concerns about virtue and education arise on entirely different terrain.

In this book, we argue from our decade-long study of reforming schools that the starting point for social and educational betterment is the collective. As Aristotle taught long ago, a person learns to be truthful, honest, and courageous by living in a political setting that enables its citizens to develop these virtues. We believe, then, with Adams, that civic or public virtue must come first. A passion for the public good focuses our collective energy on making our country a fair and just place to live and learn.

Becoming a virtuous society requires far more than individuals embracing better values or making moral choices for their own lives, as if social conditions are neutral. It requires a democratic public life that, in the words of Cornel West, "keeps track of social misery, solicits and channels moral outrage to alleviate it, and projects a future in which the potentialities of ordinary people flourish and flower."2 Rather than simply an aggregate of individual virtues such as honesty, loyalty, and courage, we use the term civic virtue to refer to an interconnected core of values, beliefs, and dispositions, deeply rooted in the American experience, that define how citizens must forge a common, public good. From this democratic perspective, Americans must come together in a public sphere, apart from the marketplace and outside their homes and churches, to deliberate and solve collective problems. This public sphere brings politics together with learning; a democratic civic life must support continuous learning for individuals as the foundation of democratic deliberation and problem solving. Moreover, the public space must bring all potential citizens, not just a privileged few, together in relationships of respect and mutual interest as they actively learn, deliberate, and identify what is hopeful and what is outrageous. How different this view is from those of moral conservatives who have little to say about channeling outrage to alter the public policies or structures that underlie misery. How different, too, from the conventional approach to education reform.

In the decade since we began studying school reform, we have been struck by the abundance of civic passion in our nation's public schools. Wherever we found schools engaging their students in rich and challenging intellectual work, we found educators and policy makers driven by their commitment to the public good. This passion was palpable in school communities where faculty, students, and families were struggling to create more socially just, caring, and democratic learning communities. We came away from such schools convinced that the quest for civic virtue is the key to good schools. We learned that genuine school improvement happens when policy makers and educators pursue their passion for the public good by ignoring, circumventing, subverting, challenging, and sometimes even changing those countervailing pressures in the educational system that would otherwise crush their efforts.3

But watching schools struggling to reform also forced us to recognize how easily, and how often, positive passion for the public good is thwarted, misguided, and overwhelmed. After all, John Adams noted that American society requires this passion, but he did not suggest that it was the only passion that would make claims on the new republic. And, of course, many others do. Passions for private interests and individual gain are deeply rooted in American culture, and they press the nation's social policies and practices both toward and away from the common, public good. Moreover, even though the idea of the common good can focus diverse citizens on their shared interests, different groups of people often envision our shared public life and obligations to one another in quite different ways.4

For example, contrast the democratic view of civic virtue, above, with the increasingly popular conception of public life as a marketplace. From this perspective, Americans come together to exchange goods and services to optimize each individual's consumption, rather than to deliberate and alleviate social misery. Instead of making public life equally accessible to all potential citizens, the marketplace provides differential access to different consumers, depending on the resources they bring. Rather than developing relations grounded in a broad range of shared interests, we limit our interactions to the exchange of goods and services. People participate as consumers seeking to receive finished products, rather than as participants in the creation of those products. Clearly, a market vision of civic life is grounded largely in the nation's competitive, hierarchical economic structure, rather than in its more egalitarian political ideals.

Complicating matters further is Americans' unyielding attachment to education reform as a technical and rational process realized in what we call, with due disrespect, the reform mill. We watched schools struggle as they were prodded and impeded by a succession of prescriptions, training sequences, and all manner of what the reform mill calls "technical assistance." Too often, this reform mill short-circuits lofty reform goals through its overly technical-rational approach.

Recent scholarship on school change has faulted reform for failing to recognize the limits of an exclusively rational and technical approach.5 School reform, the literature argues, is a cultural problem that requires local educators to support reform and then adapt it to the local context. Though this literature offers sensible principles to guide the change process, it doesn't press local policy makers or educators to recognize or challenge the normative and political dimensions of their efforts. Most often the reform mill solicits educators' buy in, seeking to deflect or ignore local normative and political resistance. It argues the reform message exclusively as practices that lead to more practical and efficient distribution of decision-making power and schooling resources.

Exposing norms to public inquiry and treating them as problematic can provoke calls to redistribute power and resources. Instead, the reform mill seeks to maintain a change and policy environment that is uncontentious. Consequently, the mill sticks with policies and innovations that rarely venture beyond the most abstract and uncontestable platitudes ("All children can learn"; "All children deserve to reach their potential"; "Schools must reach out to parents"). Its technical focus squelches important nascent questions regarding what constitutes a good school. In the current education policy environment, then, the reform mill provides educators with no legitimate avenues for questioning the values and politics that drive much contemporary school reform, particularly those policies and practices that require the predominance of marketplace values and interactions (for example, meritocratic testing, expert-driven change initiatives, etc.). We learned from our study that a perspective we call "betterment" is a promising alternative to so-called reform. Betterment requires that policy makers and educators quit asking how the gears and pulleys of reform can be greased, and start asking how each school's reform efforts reflect Adams's "positive passion for the public good." Our conversations with teachers, administrators, parents, and policy makers and our observations of classrooms and communities revealed passionate, meaningful reflection--as well as bureaucratic, empty compliance. The passionate minority kept their focus on guaranteeing that their school would be a good place for every child who attended, without favoring those students who seemed to compete most successfully for scarce attention and resources. In this minority are the local heroes of our book. Seeking civic virtue, they challenge themselves, our schools, and our culture to be better than they are. There is much we can learn from them.

Becoming Educative, Socially Just, Caring, and Participatory

In the chapters that follow, we describe and analyze the experiences of sixteen schools in five states (see the last section of this Introduction). These schools participated in a major national reform project in the 1990s: the Carnegie Corporation-sponsored Turning Points6-reform of middle-grades schooling. Educators in these schools worked enormously hard to implement practices that would make the schools more supportive of students' intellectual development, more inclusive of children from diverse backgrounds, more caring communities, and more genuinely participatory institutions. The goals of the reform were extraordinarily appealing, not only because they promised to make schools more "effective" but also because they embraced American ideals of civic virtue. Our cultural lore evokes historical moments and actors that endure (although not always with historical accuracy) as exemplars of a passion for the public good. Most of us learned when we were schoolchildren that Thomas Jefferson insisted on a democracy that required an educated citizenry; that Abraham Lincoln waged war to extend membership in the American community beyond free, white men; that Jane Addams's work with immigrants around the beginning of this century injected an ethic of care into American civic life, and that Martin Luther King, Jr., struggled to have ordinary people take control of their collective well-being. These historical figures, among others, have become icons that represent Americans' commitment to an educated citizenry and a socially just, participatory democracy. The reform-minded people we met in the sixteen schools were passionately committed to schools' central role in creating and sustaining the version of public virtue represented by Jefferson, Lincoln, Addams, and King.

However, as the educators we studied strove to serve the common, public good by making their schools more deeply educative, socially just, caring, and participatory, their efforts brought into sharp relief other values that conflict with these seemingly unambiguous "goods." At every turn, their commitment to the common good confronted the culture's equally strong (or stronger) commitment to the individual's right to determine what is in his or her best interest and to the preeminence of marketplace values. Their efforts to advance public purposes ran afoul of an equally powerful zeal to protect private interests. Ideological and structural constraints to reform were widely imposed by communities and reformers outside these schools. However, as with most complex, human enterprises, the ideas were also embraced by many within the schools themselves.

In the chapters that follow, we stress Americans' attachment to Jefferson's (and the founding fathers') call for public schools to educate a citizenry that can sustain democracy. But as schools infuse curriculum and teaching with deeper intellectual inquiry, they run headlong into entrenched beliefs about the incompatibility of young adolescents' social development with expectations that they meet high academic standards. Schools also battle the widespread conviction that individual differences among students mean that not all are best served by an academically rigorous curriculum. They confront individual teachers' unwillingness to relinquish the order and predictability of traditional teaching methods.

Asking schools to serve diverse groups of children equally well taps into our collective (if historically oversimplified) memory of Lincoln denouncing slavery as inimical to American life. However, the schools' efforts to change structures and practices that systematically disadvantage low-income children of color evoke deep cultural tensions about race and social class as well as competing visions of the public good. Because reformers seek to disrupt the uneven distribution of high-status knowledge and learning opportunities, their efforts threaten the interests of privileged students and their families, who see themselves as benefiting from and deserving of more stratified schools and society. Pressing schools to become caring communities calls up images of Addams's settlement house as a place that provided immigrants with respect and dignity instead of pitying charity. However, efforts to infuse this ethic of care into schools confront deeply entrenched deficit views of disadvantaged students, their families, and their neighborhoods. Moreover, a more powerful ethic of care challenges norms about the appropriate social distance between schools and families--norms arguing that relationships and well-being are private rather than public matters, and therefore beyond the proper purview of schools.

Urging schools to create participatory processes in which local educators, parents, and the community steer the course of programs and policies taps into our national pride in an engaged public sphere. This pride is exemplified in a tradition that extends from town hall meetings to social movements that range from the radical abolitionists of the nineteenth century to the civil rights activists of the 1960s and linger vividly in our memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. This tradition seeks power for ordinary people to shape the institutions and laws that govern their lives. However, schools' efforts to become more participatory threatened the differential power that individuals accrue by virtue of their wealth, rank, or expertise. They also threatened to change the delicate balance between issues that are seen as proper for public deliberation and those that should remain in the private sphere.

These contradictions are not uniquely modern phenomena. The historical icons whom the culture uses to anchor its democratic sense making are themselves examples of contradiction as much as they are examples of principle. We hear much of Jefferson, Lincoln, Addams, and King's struggles and contributions to the public good, but less about the social conditions and much less about the social values that made their struggle necessary. Their work and biographies reveal the equivocal reception society has given to the civic virtue they have come to symbolize. Further, in our romanticized and sanitized public memory, we often forget that these men and women were not themselves immune to the cultural conflicts of the times. In the lifetimes of those figures and ever since, Americans have never quit arguing over the noble ideals these figures have come to embody.

In this book, we argue that these cultural contradictions are fundamental to school reform. Understanding these contradictions can help policy makers and education leaders frame their efforts as a mission of cultural change as well as an educational effort to improve students' mastery over a personally and socially productive curriculum.

The Public Good and School Reform in the Twenty-First Century

After more than a decade of intense attention and hard work, nearly everyone judges current school reforms to fall well short of their goals. In March 1997, Anthony Jackson, Carnegie program officer and chief architect of Turning Points, joined colleagues from other major foundations in commenting on the state of middle school reform with a special collection of articles in the Phi Delta Kappan. The journal's editor introduced the articles by proclaiming that the evidence "demonstrates beyond a doubt that fundamental changes in the structure and content of middle-level education can produce substantial improvement in students' achievement--even for students in low-income areas."7 This promising conclusion was based on reports from a longitudinal "self-study" of reforming middle schools. The study found higher test scores and positive affective outcomes in schools that had "fully implemented" reforms.8

Nevertheless, the data also showed a darker side. The promising findings existed side by side with equally powerful evidence that few schools in the middle-grades reform projects had actually made the recommended changes. The authors reported that "even relatively Ômature' and highly motivated middle schools ... have not realized the full extent of structural changes that would fulfill the recommendations of Turning Points."9 They note: "Our most fully implemented schools are only part way there."10

These foundation leaders, like their reform-minded colleagues in the states and schools, were appropriately impressed with the difficulty and halting pace of school reform. "School reform is not for the literal, the timid, or the undecided," they wrote.11 While they were "heartened" by the triumphs of those middle schools that used the reforms to become "high-performing," they lamented that "there are simply not enough" such schools. Exhorting policy makers and educators to recommit to reform goals and redouble their efforts, the foundation officers offered a finger-wagging explanation for the reform's limited accomplishments: "If middle-level school reform fails, it will not be because it was misguided. It will be because the effort--and not just of the schools, districts, and states, but also of the foundations--was not sufficiently comprehensive, intense, or long-lasting to sustain the schools' focus on creating academically excellent centers of teaching and learning."12

We offer a different analysis, drawn from different perspectives and data. Over the five years of data collection, we filled twenty-five file drawers with field notes and interviews from our numerous site visits to sixteen schools in five states.13 The states--California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas, and Vermont--differed in their education policy traditions, their reform experience, and their relationships with local schools. The schools served diverse groups of students in communities that varied widely: affluent and poor, urban and rural, white and racially mixed.14 This diversity of states and schools revealed how educators working in many contexts shepherded school reform from a widely heralded national report, to state policies and structures, to local practice. Many stories could be told from these data, including the one that the foundation officers chose to tell and the one we tell here.

This is a story of finding, nearly everywhere, individuals and groups engaged in astonishing--even heroic--efforts. It is clear that many of these efforts sought to do more than simply raise achievement test scores, avoid sanctions, gain recognition, or make schools orderly (although many schools accomplished all of these things). These educators wanted their schools to be "good" schools, of a sort that reform policies and implementation strategies barely touch. They wanted to create educative, caring, socially just, and democratic learning communities for their students. They set about reform in ways that were idiosyncratic, opportunistic, contextually appropriate, and often truer to the spirit of reform than policy makers could have anticipated or articulated in their mandates, incentives, curriculum guides, testing programs, or technical assistance.

We use Jefferson, Lincoln, Addams, and King to ground our local reform stories in American cultural tradition. Although doing so risks taking these figures out of their historical contexts and invoking them to serve partisan, present-day interests that would be incomprehensible to them, we use them to make clear that the commitment to the public good we found in schools is part of our mainstream (albeit contested) heritage. The dreams and ideas Americans associate so closely with Jefferson, Lincoln, Adams, and King have never been fully realized or accepted. Yet few Americans would call them failures. Most would agree that the ideals they represent ennoble the country and were and are well worth pursuing.

By framing our accounts of school reform as ongoing reenactments of centuries-long pursuits, we hope to distinguish traditions of civic virtue from a market conception of the common, public good that separates the ends and means of civic life. That is, many leading reforms speak of becoming educative, socially just, caring, and participatory primarily for what these strategies will do to raise standardized achievement test scores. Often, they sound like business management programs that pose worker training, cultural sensitivity, friendly work relations, and problem solving as strategies for improving productivity. By mimicking this discourse, reforming educators find it easier to galvanize support of the business community, policy makers, and other educators. But they also cast learning and relationships as instrumental and lose the opportunity to conceive of schools as places to struggle for good. Without a consciousness of the deep differences between the democratic and market conceptions of public life, educators have no language to talk about why particular actions to make schools better matter so much, and they have no vision of democratic school reform to fall back on in the face of relentless opposition. We believe that viewing reforming schools through the lens of civic virtue can challenge citizens to enter the deep and rich schooling context, to get closer to the actual look and feel of the struggle for the public good.

We also believe that these stories suggest important answers to pressing policy questions. That is, although we offer no list of policy recommendations, no protocols for instruction or school restructuring, we believe that there is much in these chapters to enrich dialogues and action about what kind of nation we want, what we want schools to accomplish, and what steps schools can take tomorrow morning to become better.

What can be learned from Turning Points and other reforms that share salient approaches and ideology with Turning Points? Did reform make schools better or point the way to making them better? Is reform possible--and if so, under what conditions and to what degree? We judge Turning Points reform to be a qualified success. In many instances, reforms such as those we studied create a climate, a space, for passionate and willing individuals to take risks. We have great admiration for these individuals--these reformers--and we hope that this book stands behind them. Given a modicum of opportunity and support, they accomplish wonderful things on behalf of many students. However, we also know that the educational reform we studied did little to interrupt or disrupt the course of the nation's history, flaws, and inequity, its hegemony and racism. Reform that fails to interrupt or disrupt is at least an oxymoron--more a nonevent than a case of failure or success. Asking to disrupt a nation is a tall order--one that, we have become convinced, schools will eagerly follow but should not be expected to lead.

Part One, "Situating the Struggle," consists of two chapters. Chapter One, "The Struggle to Become Good Schools," tells the stories of three middle schools whose ambitious programs reveal the cultural and political contradictions that dogged their experiences with reform. We revisit images of their reform dilemmas throughout the book. Chapter Two, "Cultural Contradictions," places school reform in the context of the broad, historical struggle for civic virtue. The chapter finds in these broader cultural struggles the roots of today's polarizing visions of what it means for schools to be educative, socially just, caring, and participatory.

Part Two of the book, "Four Cultural Struggles," looks closely at four ways in which schools press to become places of civic virtue. Chapter Three, "Becoming Educative," addresses contemporary teachers' efforts to act on Jefferson's conviction that democracies must furnish all citizens with the tools of literacy and the sensibilities to consider ideas, form values, and make decisions for both their own and the nation's good. Toward this end, Turning Points admonished middle-level educators to "promote a spirit of inquiry" and develop middle schoolers who engage the world with a "reflective intellectual" approach--to become more educative, in John Dewey's sense of the term.15 The chapter considers the conflicts schools experienced as they defined and implemented their educative mission in terms of curriculum and teaching. Interdisciplinary curriculum, a reflective intellectual approach to academics, and inquiry-based learning clashed with a more conventional anti-intellectual view of middle schoolers--at least those who are not the most academically precocious--and with traditional definitions of curricular rigor and good pedagogy. Efforts to make schools educative were constrained and frustrated by powerful regularities16 in the culture of schooling and by community politics, as well as by the lack of opportunity for teachers to delve into the theoretical underpinnings of the practices they were expected to enact.

Chapter Four, "Becoming Socially Just," examines how states and schools attempted to enact Lincoln's legacy by creating learning settings where previously excluded children could succeed. Many reforms of the late 1980s and 1990s targeted equity issues, such as increasing resources and quality in disadvantaged schools, curtailing practices in student assignment that obstruct access to knowledge (such as gifted programs, special education, tracking); and promoting instruction that eases inclusion (for instance, cooperative learning). Most made modest gains; all confronted enormous obstacles. Each school had its own approach to becoming more socially just, but they all proceeded with caution--often under hypersensitive monitoring by their suspicious communities. Since the most common response was to create alternatives to ability-grouped classrooms, this chapter takes a close look at the course of tracking reforms. Nearly everywhere, local opposition voiced the conviction that different students had needs that should be addressed separately, and that socially just approaches would inevitably water down the curriculum and disadvantage high-achieving students.

Chapter Five, "Becoming Caring," examines how middle schools, in the tradition of Jane Addams, attempted to promote civic virtue by caring for all members of their communities. When school practices are guided by an ethic of care, individuals and whole schools emphasize growth, empathy, response, and continuity. These constructs guide the actions of individuals in ways that can create schools that look quite different from those guided by the ethic of service, or the distribution of services based on assumed needs, that shapes most schools. The schools struggled with varying success to free themselves from entrenched beliefs about the presumed deficiencies of students, families, and communities, particularly those who are poor and nonwhite. Instead they sought to form relationships characterized by school and community holding high and respectful expectations for themselves and one another.

Chapter Six, "Becoming Participatory," explores how educators sought to make schools democratic "public spaces" in which free and enlightened citizens shape the direction of their futures and provide for the common good. Most schools attempted to move closer to this ideal--so vividly rekindled in the American imagination by King--by enhancing the democratic quality of work life for adults in schools and enhancing relationships among professional educators and community members. When reforms challenged traditional power relationships in order to move schools closer to participatory democracies, opposition to the reforms typically escalated.

The third and final part of the book, "Becoming Better," makes clear that reform is a very fragile human process, not a technical one. Chapter Seven, "Struggling to Scale Up," looks at how foundations and states used technical assistance to frame the meaning of good school so that reform could be replicated widely and economically. This support and pressure in each state reflected both the larger cultural struggles and the peculiar state policy climates and leadership styles of those leading the reforms. The help that project leaders offered was shaped by the technical rationality of state bureaucracies, the vagaries and unpredictability of electoral politics, and the prevailing culture of school reform. Some of the most powerful successes occurred when highly placed foundation or state officials stepped beyond their traditional, formal role to connect personally with local educators in their local schools.

Chapter Eight, "Struggling in the Reform Mill," argues that conventional policy implementation attitudes can derail the most well-intentioned and hard-working school communities. If the ends of reform are to create educative, socially just, caring, and participatory places for students, then the means of achieving those ends--including changing how teachers teach--should also be educative, socially just, caring, and participatory. But the means of reform continue to chase the ends and still reflect old conceptions of teachers being passive and isolated consumers of knowledge and skills. Reform continues to be impersonal, hierarchical, and often authoritarian. Schools and their supporting agencies need to abandon this ends-and-means duality of reform. This chapter provides some concrete examples of how the reformers we studied struggled to do just that.

Chapter Nine, "A Passion for the Public Good," concludes with our assessment of what educators and policy makers can learn from the stories of the schools and states we studied. We encourage you to note that we do not hold up our cases as models to be copied. Rather, they are illustrations of how a betterment process, fueled by passion for civic virtue, can survive the reform mill with persistence, hope, and a capacity to bend without breaking.

We conclude with an Appendix describing the methodology of our study. Sixteen Reforming Schools in Five States

California

Cesar Chavez Middle School. Enormous dedication and hard work--what Principal Ken Lawson and his faculty called "the Chavez way"--made this school the hub of its urban "port of entry" neighborhood. Ninety percent of Chavez's students are Latino, about 20 percent having immigrated to the United States within the past year or two. Only 10 percent speak English as their first language; all are poor. Determined to do more than keep students from dropping out or joining one of the neighborhood's sixteen active gangs (which included older brothers, uncles, and fathers), the faculty created a caring, college-going culture for its 1,650 students.

George Washington Carver Middle School. Carver's twelve hundred sixth through eighth graders (about half African American and half Latino) are among this big city's poorest children. More of them receive government aid for dependent children than do students at any other middle school in the district. Principal Sharah Kensington leads a faculty of mostly African American veteran teachers who take understandable pride in Carver's statewide reputation as a model urban school.

Canyon Middle School. Principal Tara Stickley oversees Canyon's fifteen hundred sixth through eighth graders as they enroll in one of the school's three tracks--orange, blue, or green--that filter in and out of campus, eight weeks on and four weeks off. The complicated year-round schedule accommodates this once-small, white, and conservative farming community's rapidly swelling population of young people. The Canyon community is now home to families of commuters who drive forty miles each day to work in a nearby city; a quarter of its increasingly diverse student body is Latino, 8 percent are African American, and 7 percent are Asian and Pacific Islander.

Countryside Middle School. Wanda Simpson, principal and sole African American staff member at Countryside, was the only person in the school's main office who could speak Spanish to the school's growing population of Latino immigrants. Countryside's 880 sixth through eighth grade student body (75 percent white, 15 percent Latino, and 10 percent African American) comprised children of long-standing residents of this small rural town (including its most affluent families) as well as those of newcomers who lived in a three-square-block, subsidized housing project.

Illinois

Washington Irving Middle School. Irving's 650 seventh and eighth graders--18 percent white, 4 percent black, 69 percent Latino, and 9 percent Asian--arrive by bus from five overcrowded neighborhood schools in the city's center. Sixty-three percent are low-income, and 21 percent have limited English. Under the leadership of Principal Sandy Tolliver, the school opened with a full array of middle school practices in place: teaming, block scheduling, advisory, heterogeneous grouping, and interdisciplinary teaching.

Inland Middle School. Twice recognized as a National School of Excellence, Inland is the only middle school in a Midwestern school district clouded by racial animosity and divisiveness. Covering 78 square miles, Inland serves a rural white farming community and four nearby towns: one mostly African American; one middle-income and white; one middle-to-high-income white, with a few well-off African Americans, and one quite wealthy and white. When shrinking enrollments forced school closures, dilapidated and overcrowded Inland became the place where the area's nearly equal numbers of black and white youngsters came together for the first time, under the leadership of Ben McCall.

Massachusetts

Horace Mann Middle School. Racial tensions have haunted Mann's working-class neighborhood for decades. About one-third of Mann's five hundred students are locals; the rest arrive by bus, including two hundred special education students, many of whom qualify for a citywide "prevocational" program. Principal Len Jacobi created grade-level teams to divide the school into smaller, more manageable units and worked with former social worker Kate Pontello to establish a staggering number of health and social services to meet students' pressing physical, emotional, and social needs.

James Madison Middle School. Madison opened in 1923 to serve affluent and blue-collar "ethnic" families living near the coast of its industrial, northeastern town. Everything changed in the 1960s when the town's major industry died, forcing many families to leave. By 1990, immigrants from Asia, Central America, Haiti, and Russia joined the shrinking numbers of white and African American residents. Today, most Madison students come from poorer neighborhoods, public housing, and temporary homeless shelters near the school, many of which principal Fred Antouli visits regularly. Half are students of color, and a third have first languages other than English, mostly Spanish. Politically well-placed whites circumvent attendance boundaries, sending their children elsewhere.

Lucy Sprague Mitchell Middle School. Mitchell's 650 fifth through eighth graders, mostly white, come from poor and working-class families. The no-nonsense principal, Goldie Fields, leads a faculty grouped in two- or three-member teams sharing responsibility for academically heterogeneous groups of students. Nearly all "special needs" students are mainstreamed into teams, which stay together for two years (fifth and sixth, seventh and eighth grades). The continuity allows teams to develop close student-teacher relationships over time and design engaging curriculum within a familylike setting.

Middleton Middle School. Middleton's seven hundred students are half white and half students of color. One-third receive free or reduced lunches. Students attend one of three distinct kindergarten through eighth grade programs--the Traditional Program, the Magnet, and the School of the Future. Although the programs evolved in response to individual parents' preferences, Principal Wally Vincent embarked on an ambitious campaign to involve parents in building a tighter whole-school community.

Mountain View Middle School. The only middle school in its proud Revolutionary War town, Mountain View has six hundred sixth through eighth graders, nearly all of whom are white. The faculty sees the school as diverse, given a handful of African American and Native American students and an increasing number of students from poor families. In partnership with nearby Mandeville College, Principal Paul Jennings established nine voluntary teacher "inquiry teams" as a way of helping the mostly veteran faculty learn about and shape reform proposals ranging from alternative scheduling to community partnerships.

Texas

Harriet Tubman Middle School. Principal Rebecca Owens, a spirited African American grandmother, leads two schools in one. Most of the 750 students are neighborhood children enrolled in "regular," special education, at-risk, and compensatory education programs, while a small group of specially selected high-achieving students take an "honors" magnet program. About half are whites who ride buses from other parts of the city. More than 70 percent of Tubman's families fall below the poverty line; more than half live in subsidized housing. Tubman builds strong ties to its troubled neighborhood through VOICES, a grassroots, multiracial coalition of church congregations and businesses.

Townsend Middle School. Torn apart by internal bickering, Townsend had to struggle mightily to make any change that threatened the status quo. The mostly white, veteran staff resented newly hired African American principal Harold Nance's aggressive marketing of what they viewed as newest-fad reforms. The school's high test scores masked racial differences between middle-class, mostly white neighborhood students and bused-in African American and Latino students, who were becoming an increasingly large part of the school's twelve hundred sixth through eighth grade student body.

Tanglewood Middle School. Suburban Tanglewood serves more than nine hundred students from affluent (mostly white) families. More than 80 percent of Tanglewood households include at least one college graduate, and in the early 1990s its per-pupil wealth was among the state's very highest. The "tight-knit" community is proud of its award-winning schools and funds them accordingly. Principal Brad Jelton took advantage of his community's competitive spirit to help his already successful faculty embrace reform and keep the school on the cutting edge.

Vermont

Martin Van Buren Middle School. Van Buren's three hundred white, predominantly poor sixth through eighth grade students are all members of grade-level teams. All of the school's special education students and teachers are mainstreamed into the teams. Principal Bob Davenport transferred a great deal of decision making to teams, which act as schools-within-schools and control their separate budgets, scheduling, curriculum, and more. Together with the principal, team facilitators form a school governance team that shares information across teams and helps maintain a whole-school focus.

Verbena Middle School. Verbena serves three hundred sixth through eighth grade students in an affluent, suburban town. Built as an "open" school, classrooms have only three walls, and open onto common hallways that converge in the school's wall-less library. Principal Sarah Chatsworth used the school's twenty-year-old alternative program--a multiage, experiential learning community--as a model to reorganize all students and teachers into heterogeneously grouped teams, which developed integrated curricula, portfolio assessments, and advisory groups.

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