Raising the Curve: A Year Inside One of America's 45,000* Failing Public Schools




Brookside Elementary in Norwalk, Connecticut, is preparing for the first day of a new school year and another chance to improve its failing scores on the annual statewide standardized test known as the CMT. The challenges are many, and for the faculty—whose jobs may depend on their students’ ability to improve on the test—the stakes are high.


Ten-year-old Hydea is about to start fifth grade—with ...

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Raising the Curve: Teachers, Students-a True Portrayal of Classroom Life

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Brookside Elementary in Norwalk, Connecticut, is preparing for the first day of a new school year and another chance to improve its failing scores on the annual statewide standardized test known as the CMT. The challenges are many, and for the faculty—whose jobs may depend on their students’ ability to improve on the test—the stakes are high.


Ten-year-old Hydea is about to start fifth grade—with second-grade reading skills. Her friend Marbella is a little further along, but she’s more interested in socializing than in learning. And then there’s Matthew, a second grader who began the school year below grade level and who, over the course of the year, slipped even more. In past years, these three students and many others would have received help from the literacy specialist Mrs. Schaefer. But with cutbacks and a change in her job description—the third in as many years—she won’t be able to give all struggling students the same attention. This year, she will have to select the few students whom she and the teachers can bet on—the ones who are close to achieving proficiency on the CMT. The hope is that this strategy, though not ideal, will give them the boost they—and the school—need to pass the exams. And, for added measure, Principal Hay has already asked his faculty to teach to the test.


Journalist Ron Berler spent a full year at Brookside, sitting in on classes, strategy sessions, and even faculty meetings. In Raising the Curve, he introduces us to the students, teachers, and staff who make up the Brookside community. Though their school is classified as failing—like so many others across the country—they never give up on themselves or on one another. In this nuanced and personal portrait, Berler captures their concerns, as well as their pride, resilience, and spirited faith. 

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

To discover why so many (some say most) U.S. public schools are failing, journalist Ron Berler spent a year at Norwalk, Connecticut's Brookside Elementary. What he learned there about students, faculty, and administration provides helpful insights into the confusing debates on teaching to test; funding and class size; school strategies and oversight. A valuable tool in clarifying an issue that is unlikely to go away.

Publishers Weekly
Brookside Elementary School in Norwalk, Conn., is one of over 28,000 schools labeled “failing” because of low scores on annual mandatory state tests. Yet, according to journalist Berler’s inspiring story of one year in the life of the school, Brookside is hardly a failure. In a compulsively readable and fast-paced chronicle of the lives of administrators, teachers, and students, Berler captures the deep love the teachers have for their students and the teachers’ struggles to teach to the test while hoping to instill a love of learning. Among other students, we meet Marabella, who has great potential but who is not an especially dedicated student, and Hydea, a shy but deeply imaginative girl with great, though untapped, reading ability, who is performing below her grade level at the start of her fifth-grade year. Both girls find themselves in Mr. Morey’s class. Morey is a committed teacher who “spends his days instilling in his students an eagerness to learn” and watching them blossom. With Morey’s efforts, and the leadership of the school’s principal, Mr. Hay, and the school’s reading specialist, Mrs. Schaefer, Marabella, Hydea, and a number of other students show significant academic improvement and blossom when they enter middle school, a truer measure of the school’s success than the statewide test. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
A journalist's exposé of a year spent inside a fifth-grade classroom in one of America's struggling schools. At the beginning of the 2010 school year, journalist Berler took his seat in Mr. Morey's classroom, focusing his attention on the teacher's struggles to get through to the students. Yet as Berler soon learned, Morey was hardly the problem. Nor was Brookside Elementary's principal, its literary specialist or the parents or students themselves. Rather, the blame for the school's failures seemed to spread among all parties, a realization that provides staggeringly little direction for where the solutions might start. A specter shrouding Berler's book is the teachers' fear of their students' impending standardized tests, the results of which have long-reaching ramifications for their own futures as educators. As Berler reveals, this high-stakes academic environment makes winners and losers--not of individuals, but the schools themselves, providing a less-than-ideal learning situation for the students and their anxiety-ridden teachers. When a student admitted to cheating, she admitted her motive as well: "Mr. Morey said the test was important, and I didn't study, so I copied off somebody," she explained. Simplistic as it was, this mea culpa offers the most insight of all--recognition that students want to succeed for their teachers, even if they don't understand the value of learning for themselves. Equally troubling was Morey's begrudging admission to occasionally teaching his students "test strategies" rather than course material--an illustration that points toward a shared understanding that it is better to learn to game the system, rather than try to fix it. Though the story is hardly unique, Berler's ability to recount the struggles of failing schools through the viewpoints of its primary players--students, teachers and administrators--provides new insight on an old saga.
Library Journal
Educators who have worked at impoverished schools will quickly recognize Brookside Elementary, where journalist Berler spent a year as part of a case study on schools designated as failing based on standardized test results. He argues that with teaching staff pressured to improve scores amid budget cuts and threatened job security, there are few opportunities to create innovative solutions. Meanwhile, the students struggle to find a foothold in a teach-to-the-test curriculum. Brookside is a striking example of how the No Child Left Behind policy has counterintuitively left many children behind by administering testing strategies that are devoid of value. VERDICT Berler's study shows how Brookside's dedicated staff and student body create a convincing, informative, and relatable scenario for education reform seekers to embrace. The one-school study proves substantial. Recommended.—Anna Berger, Piper City, IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425252680
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 3/5/2013
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 805,772
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Ron Berler has devoted much of his career to reporting on youth issues. He wrote a weekly kids’ issues column for the Chicago Tribune; served as editor in chief of NBA Inside Stuff, a pro-basketball magazine for teens; and wrote about youth sports injuries for The New York Times Magazine. He has authored one children’s book, The Super Book of Baseball, and edited another, Rising Stars: The 10 Best Young Players in the NBA. His work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Wired, Men’s Journal, and ESPN.com, among other publications.

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