Head to The Daily Beast to read my review of Michael Brook's new book, Saving the School, which does important work capturing this particular moment in national education reform, when so many urban neighborhood high schools are at risk of closure:
Brick, who worked for The New York Times, spent a year embedded at John H. Reagan High School in “the Two-Three,” a poor neighborhood on the eastside of Austin, Texas, known for tensions between black and Hispanic residents. Of the school’s approximately 700 students, 110 are teen parents, and only 22 are white. Over a third of Reagan students are classified as still learning the English language, and over 80 percent are so poor that the government pays for their school lunch. When a girl refuses to remove her hat during a school assembly, she is handcuffed and dragged out by the police. Military recruiters roam Reagan’s halls.
Brick has done his homework on the history of American education, and he accurately assesses why schools like Reagan often appear to be such blighted places: less because their teachers are uniformly uncaring or their students unmotivated than because so many impoverished schools have become, over the past 30 years, increasingly cut off from the mainstream of American society, situated in neighborhoods victimized by white and middle-class flight; asked to compete with charter schools; and then left to educate a greater proportion of poor, special education, and non-English speaking students than the public school system at large. Reagan High is a good stand-in for the approximately 1,700 high schools across the country that are classified by the Obama administration as “persistently failing.” They are also sometimes known as “drop-out factories:” schools where more than half of the freshman class never graduates.