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THE POWER OF THEIR IDEAS by Deborah Meier

THE POWER OF THEIR IDEAS

Lessons for America from a Small School in Harlem

By Deborah Meier

Pub Date: April 28th, 1995
ISBN: 0-8070-3110-0
Publisher: Beacon

 A readable and engaging array of journal entries and essays by a New York City school principal who created a successful alternative public school program. Twenty-one years ago, Deborah Meier started the first Central Park East elementary school in Harlem's district 4, an area with a predominantly African-American and Latino student body that had the lowest test scores of any of the city's 32 districts. With a small group of teachers, CPE (as the school became known) was able to create a strong nonbureaucratic school culture that involved parents and adapted to children's needs. Ten years later, one school became three and a plan for a CPE high school was hatched. The high school proved to be more controversial, largely because, in New York, elementary schools are given much more leeway than high schools, which are subject to a great deal of city and state requirements. Taking a cue from the Oxford standard of education, Meier and her colleagues implemented a performance- or portfolio- based graduation, requiring students to prepare papers and projects in several major subjects rather than simply accumulating ``seat time'' or passing a multiple-choice test. Drawing on the work of Brown University educational authority Theodore Sizer, Meier explains that such a method of completion has ``a long and honorable tradition, including bar mitzvahs, Boy Scout rituals, Red Cross tests and doctoral committees.'' As Meier leads her tour of school reform, one realizes that her method of building schools has much in common with the entrepreneurial spirit that it takes to start a business. But she emphatically does not see this as a justification for privatizing schools. This is most clear in her discussion of school choice: ``While choice has been advocated by enemies of public education, I believe that in fact choice is an essential tool for saving public education.'' A compelling and passionate case, made by both example and argument, that meaningful school reform is a thoroughly public obligation.