Common Purpose: Strengthening Families and Neighborhoods to Rebuild America

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In her previous book, Within Our Reach, renowned Harvard social analyst Lisbeth Schorr examined pilot social programs that were successful in helping disadvantaged youth and families. But as those cutting-edge programs were expanded, the very qualities that had made them initially successful were jettisoned, and less than half of them ultimately survived. As a result, these groundbreaking programs never made a dent on the national or statewide level.

Lisbeth Schorr has spent the past seven years researching and identifying large-scale programs across the country that are promising to reduce, on a community- or citywide level, child abuse, school failure, teenage pregnancy, and welfare dependence. From reformed social service agencies in Missouri, Michigan, and Los Angeles to "idiosyncratic" public schools in New York City, she shows how private and public bureaucracies are successfully nurturing programs that are flexible and responsive to the community, that have set clear, long-term goals, and that permit staff to exercise individual judgment in helping the disadvantaged. She shows how what works in small-scale pilot social programs can be adapted on a large scale to transform whole inner-city neighborhoods and reshape America.

On the heels of the federal government's dismantling of welfare guarantees, Common Purpose offers a welcome antidote to our current sense of national despair, and concrete proof that America's social institutions can be made to work to assure that all the nation's children develop the tools to share in the American dream.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This prodigiously researched study by Schorr Within Our Reach: Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage, head of the Harvard University Project on Effective Intervention, is an optimistic and well-thought-out call to action in the wake of cutbacks in the social safety net, most notably the repeal of federal welfare benefits in 1996. The author argues that effective pilot projects that substantially reduce child abuse, school failure, teenage pregnancy and welfare dependency can be built into large-scale programs that will eventually transform society. Detailed here are a variety of projects that have grown well beyond their original scope, such as school principal Deborah Meier's revitalization of public schools in East Harlem, which led to the creation of the New York Network for School Renewal, and Michigan's Families First Project, which became a statewide program linking families in crisis with the resources they need. According to Schorr, these initiatives succeed because they are flexible, well managed and committed to forming partnerships with families and communities, and they utilize a combination of public and private funding. Sept.
Kirkus Reviews
Tough, cerebral, informed—and sanguine but not quixotic about the possibilities of injecting flexibility and imagination into the policies that govern welfare, child protection, and education.

In an earlier work (Within Our Reach, 1988), Schorr (director of the Harvard Project on Effective Intervention) examined small, experimental social programs that successfully made a dent in seemingly intractable problems like teen pregnancy, school dropouts, and unemployment. A decade later, she finds many of the innovations strangled by bureaucracy or still limited to the neighborhoods where they began. But all is not lost, says Schorr. Leading from crowded classrooms and the cubicles that house children's-services and public-assistance workers are threads of insight and ingenuity that can be woven into a tapestry of programs that will serve the poor, the undereducated, and the overwhelmed. With new techniques of measurement, these programs can be realistically evaluated and propagated. What works, she says, are programs that are close enough to their communities to be "comprehensive, flexible, responsive, and persevering." But good intentions are not enough. Such programs must also have clearly defined goals, competent, well-trained staffs—and government money. A chapter titled "Taming Bureaucracies . . ." is one of the most effective in the book, partly because Schorr does not abandon government employees, or even politicians, to the usual charges of apathy and selfishness. Other chapters look closely at productive partnerships among schools, families, and community and government agencies that have effectively reduced child abuse and neglect, drug abuse, illiteracy and unemployment.

"I have tried to paint a picture of the possible," says Schorr—and she has. But the picture also demands hard work, an open mind, and, yes, faith from every citizen who views it.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385475334
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/28/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 1,032,548
  • Product dimensions: 5.22 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Table of Contents

Pt. I Spreading and Sustaining Success
1 What Works and Why We Have So Little of It 3
2 Spreading What Works Beyond the Hothouse 22
3 Taming Bureaucracies to Support What Works 65
4 A New Focus on Results 115
5 Finding Out What Works 140
Pt. II Reforming Systems
6 Beyond Welfare Repeal: Real Welfare Reform 157
7 Strengthening a Collapsing Child Protection System 197
8 Educating America's Children 232
Pt. III Rebuilding Communities
9 Synergy: Putting It All Together to Transform Neighborhoods 301
Epilogue: We Can Achieve Our Common Purpose 380
Notes 386
Selected Bibliography 450
Acknowledgments 467
Index 471
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