The story of N.Y.C.'s famous District 4 alternative schools and how they changed the lives of children growing up in one of the city's most challenging neighborhoods. In the recent plethora of books about improving our educational system, District 4 is inevitably one of the shining examples of what can be done. And District 4 is inevitably linked with Deborah Meier, winner of a MacArthur ``genius grant'' for her innovations in education. As this study makes clear, Meier was only one of dozens of District 4 teachers, principals, and administrators who in 1973 began to build a series of small, tightly knit schools, each with a focused curriculum, that engaged the parents and the community and that allowed families to choose the schools where their children could learn most effectively. By 1983, there were 14 alternative schools in District 4, and by the end of this school year, there will be 29. More important, in ten years, District 4 went from being the worst school district in N.Y.C. (32nd out of 32) to number 15. Reading scores soared, violence and absenteeism dropped, and students began to be accepted in record numbers to elite high schools and prestigious colleges. Fliegel (who was District 4's director of alternative schools and then deputy superintendent) and MacGuire (Senior Fellow/Manhattan Institute) recount how the alliance of visionary administrators, principals, and teachers practiced ``creative noncompliance'' with the teachers' union and a bureaucratic board of education to make choice a reality. Fiscal and other scandals—recounted relatively unsparingly here—plagued the program, and an unsympathetic superintendent slowed its momentum, but District 4's brave and innovative example is finally spreading to other districts in New York and elsewhere. Factual and editing errors—in student biographies, for example (including that of Kirkus's own Mara Frank, whose college major, job title, and very name were gotten wrong)—mar what's otherwise a satisfying behind-the-scenes look at an experiment that has given a generation of hard-pressed youngsters opportunity and hope.
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