School Of Dreams

( 9 )


The pressure to succeed in our nation's most competitive public high schools is often crushing. Striving to understand this insular world, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes spent a year at California's Whitney High, a school so renowned that parents move across town-and across the world-hoping to enroll their children. That's because schools like Whitney deliver everything parents want: love of learning, a sense of mission, and SAT scores that pave the way to elite universities. Attending such a ...

See more details below
Paperback (Reprint)
$25.26 price
(Save 18%)$30.95 List Price
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (41) from $1.99   
  • New (9) from $4.20   
  • Used (32) from $1.99   
Sending request ...


The pressure to succeed in our nation's most competitive public high schools is often crushing. Striving to understand this insular world, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes spent a year at California's Whitney High, a school so renowned that parents move across town-and across the world-hoping to enroll their children. That's because schools like Whitney deliver everything parents want: love of learning, a sense of mission, and SAT scores that pave the way to elite universities. Attending such a school, of course, carries its own toll: High-achieving, pressured kids survive on espresso and four hours' sleep a night, falling into despair if they get a B.

Lively, personal, and very readable, School of Dreams uncovers what works-and what doesn't-at this model high school, offering parents, students, and teachers some powerful messages about public education today.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A masterly example of passionate yet even-handed reporting . . . Deserves an A+, even without grade inflation." -Michael Dirda, The Washington Post book world

"Engrossing . . . Deserves credit for showing that a fine public school education isn't necessarily an oxymoron."-The Boston Globe

author of ODD GIRL OUT - Rachel Simmons
"Beautifully written and compulsively readable, told compassionately but with a journalist's eye to getting the whole story."
George S. Prince, Jr. - Hampshire College President
"School of Dreams gives hope about American education… and genuine excitement about the young people of this nation."
The Washington Post - Michael Dirda
"A masterly example of passionate yet even-handed reporting…. It deserves an A+, even without grade inflation."
University of Oregon - Lauren Kessler
"A big story told intimately and well, and a book that is not only compulsively readable but also undeniably important."
Los Angeles Times
"Humes' fascinating book chronicles an entirely different group of students, with a different set of challenges."
The Washington Post
Most books about education are notoriously dull; this one -- a masterly example of passionate yet even-handed reporting -- is as enthralling as Richard Hofstatder's classic Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. It deserves an A+, even without grade inflation. — Michael Dirda
Publishers Weekly
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Humes (Mississippi Mud, etc.) spent 2001 at top-ranked Whitney High School in Cerritos, Calif. While helping seniors with their college application essays, he was also trying to understand this public school's astounding success. Not only do its students, year after year, proceed to America's top colleges, but increasingly, families move to Cerritos-from all over the world-so their children can attend Whitney. The school is selective; an entrance test is required. But academic "cherry-picking" is only part of the story. Once at Whitney, students surpass similarly skilled students elsewhere-and not because of computers, standardized curriculum, "no child left behind" programs or high-stakes testing. Rather, Humes finds, it's an old-fashioned combination of high expectations and committed educators. They expect students to put in long hours, even "all-nighters." Discipline problems and drug use are unusual and taken seriously when they do occur. All Whitney's teachers are encouraged to educate for something more lasting and meaningful than the AP exams. Elsewhere in America, Humes learns, there's a "bias against the intellectually gifted," but at Whitney, students are expected to work hard, learn a lot and achieve. While Humes notes a few downsides to this culture of high expectations-stress, caffeine addiction and cheating problems-they seem fairly manageable at Whitney. As America's policy makers obsess over minimum proficiency standards, Humes, in his well-written, informative study, presents the Whitney model as a needed corrective, urging parents and policy makers to study success for a change. Agent, Susan Ginsburg. (Sept. 1) Forecast: With advertising, an author tour and an easy-to-read, non-technical style, Humes's book should gain attention in the national debates over education reform. Parents of college-bound students might find it useful in a different way-Humes, especially in the prologue, has some good insights on the college application essay-writing struggle. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The Washington Post
"A masterly example of passionate yet even-handed reporting…. It deserves an A+, even without grade inflation." —Michael Dirda
University of Oregon
"A big story told intimately and well, and a book that is not only compulsively readable but also undeniably important." —Lauren Kessler
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156030076
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 9/1/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 402
  • Sales rank: 940,824
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Edward Humes

Edward Humes is a veteran journalist, contributing to the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, and has written numerous books including Baby E. R. and the bestselling Mississippi Mud, Mean Justice, and No Matter How Loud I Shout. A graduate of Hampshire College and a Pulitzer Prize winner, he lives in Southern California with his family.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

"We have great kids here, wonderful students. The best. I love teaching here." The drama teacher hurls the obligatory praise over her shoulder like a trail of bread crumbs as she leads the fresh arrivals on a quick tour of their new school. Then she gets to the inevitable but, her voice a stage whisper now, forcing the six new teachers hurrying after her to crane forward. "But there are two things you really, really have to remember about this place...."

Jodi Improta heads Whitney High School's drama department with good reason: She knows how to set up a line. "First, these kids are messy," she tells them. She bobs her blond head at a Coke bottle and some crumpled papers scattered on the ground outside the library, courtesy of the kids who stopped by earlier for textbook pickup. "They never pick up their trash. Unless you ride them."

The new teachers chuckle and relax a bit. Their tour guide's conspirational tone had left them worried there for a minute. But litterbugs? Even the greenest educator can handle that. Improta picks up the refuse, pitches it into a trash can, then pushes through a set of double doors into the old square warehouse of a school building. She pauses in her brisk stroll just long enough to introduce a barrage of passing faculty members in the hallway and to point out the alcove holding the all-important staff copy machines and laminator. The newbies nod blankly, trying to absorb it all. Improta has them lulled now. No one sees the punch line coming.

"Now, here's the second thing you gotta remember," she resumes cheerfully. "Some of our kids cheat. Big time."

Six heads snap to attention at this, a frieze of knitted brows and pursed lips. One of the new teachers laughs nervously. Trash on the asphalt is one thing, but this bald statement about cheating brings them up short.

This is, after all, Gretchen Whitney High School she's talking about, the top-ranked public high school in California, one of the best (and best-kept secrets) in the nation-prep-school quality at public-school prices. In an era when public education is derided daily by pundits and presidents as hopelessly broken, blamed for every social ill from a dearth of youthful patriotism to an abundance of youthful pregnancies, Whitney High is an unabashed success. It is a public school that works, without any special funding, charters, vouchers, union concessions, or private enterprise takeovers-none of the most-touted cures for what supposedly ails public education. There are no uniforms, no scripted lesson plans, no zero-tolerance policies. As such, Whitney is no one's political cause or poster child, and if its principal is treated like a celebrity abroad, he stands anonymous in the checkout line at the local supermarket; his school is not only off the national radar screen, it is a virtual unknown in its own state and even in neighboring Los Angeles, where other schools get all the press. Yet test scores at Whitney rival those at the nation's most elite private and public academies,1 the best colleges in the country court and woo the seniors like starstruck autograph seekers, few years go by without someone (or two or three) scoring a perfect SAT. People don't just move from other cities to this geographically unfashionable L.A. suburb so they can send their kids to Whitney. They move from other countries to attend an American public high school. And come graduation night, Whitney doesn't have just one or two valedictorians. Most years a dozen or more 4.0s line up to shake the Whitney principal's hand.

"Don't be so surprised," the drama teacher cautions. "Our kids are so smart, they find ways to get around the rules. Ways you've never imagined." She goes on to describe an elaborate method several students worked out for beaming test answers to one another's PalmPilots.

It is almost too much to bear. First the six new teachers had to weather that interminable high school ritual, the welcome-back faculty meeting, with its meandering agenda, weak coffee, and insider references only initiates could follow. Later they were introduced to their classrooms, some to be shared with veteran teachers (who had already staked out most of the drawers, shelves, and prime wall space), others in varying states of cleanliness and repair (one new science teacher had to excavate a quarter century's accumulation of old papers; a Dumpster was thoughtfully provided). Then they sat through an inspirational video by a National Geographic photographer whose funereally paced pronouncements on "everyday creativity" sounded suspiciously like the old "Deep Thoughts, by Jack Handy," parody of Saturday Night Live fame ("There's always more than one right answer! Don't be afraid to make mistakes!").

And, finally, there is this ten-minute tour, the only orientation these new teachers will get before the students arrive in two days, a brief jaunt through the school's less-than-impressive physical plant. Like most newcomers, they gape at the aged carpets, walls, furniture, and double-decker rows of lockers in the halls, all colored in a rainbow of oranges, mustards, yellows, browns, and harvest golds-a palette traditionally reserved for certain 1970s-era suburban kitchens, but repeated extravagantly here in classroom after classroom. For those used to it, the extraordinary ugliness is a point of pride, testament to the fact that Whitney manages to be the top-ranked high school in all of California despite receiving less money per pupil than any other school in its district. But these are new teachers, unaware of such subtle charms. They're looking less prideful than shell-shocked.

Improta takes pity on them. She simply meant to inform, not to horrify, when she dished a little on cheating-better to be prepared than blindsided, she figures. "They're really good kids here," she promises. "This is a great place to teach. But they're under such pressure-from their parents, from us, from the colleges. Maybe it's partly our fault, but some of them feel compelled to cheat. So you really have to watch them, that's all."

And then they arrive back at the administration office suite, the tour ending where it began, next to the orange-and-yellow counter piled high with doughnut-shop goodies for the staff, with stacks of first-day student information packets ready for stapling, and with the principal, Dr. Thomas Brock, who for no particular reason at all is standing atop the counter, surveying his domain with a broad smile on his bearded face. "Welcome to Whitney High School," Improta remembers to say before heading off to prep her room.

Copyright © 2003 by Edward Humes

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents


Author's Note

Four is the Magic Number: Four Hours Sleep, Four Caffè Lattes, 4.0

Cow Towns and College Boards

Finding the Lucky Pants



Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 9 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2011

    Phenomenal for high school students!!!!!

    Summary: The School of Dreams, A novel by Edward Humes, is a book explaining the lives of students at a top American high school. When this school was first thought about, it was a school for only a few things such as art, business, or music. Shortly after becoming a high school, they made it a clear goal to be one of the best. With help from all of the staff they urged the students to learn the material for time instead of for the grade. The staff worked constantly to make the school feel like a safe place and it soon paid off. The students didn¿t go home after school, the came in early before school, and became very close with all of their teachers. This book follows the lives of a few students from Whitney High School telling about their great experiences and not so great experiences at the school, to having to drink coffee to pull all nighters, studying for AP exams, and all of the fun they had with their peers. This book focuses on the differences between parents of different races and how they push their children or don¿t care enough. The story of Whitney High School in Cerritos, California is very interesting from the time when it was farm land. This is a great magnetic novel for anyone in high school, because you are not the only one following the rule of the "Magic number is four: four hours of sleep, four café lattes, 4.0."

    Themes: in life never forget that you are not the only one, don¿t underestimate yourself, and don¿t stereotype because you have no idea what kind of day that person is having.

    Likes: My major likes of this book is how easily I can connect to it. I am now attending one of the top high schools in Colorado and feel the pain of these students at Whitney High.

    You should read this book especially if you are in high school, it is easy to connect to and it kind of gives you a break from your high school life to sit down and see that you may not have it the worst. It truly opened up my eyes.

    This book is phenomenal! It is beautifully written; showing the world that high school is really where it's at.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)