MAKING SCHOOLS WORK: A Reporter's Journey through Some of America's Most Remarkable Classrooms by Robert Benjamin
Kirkus Star

MAKING SCHOOLS WORK: A Reporter's Journey through Some of America's Most Remarkable Classrooms

Email this review


Journalist Benjamin, education writer for the Cincinnati Post, visited elementary classrooms across the country, seeking success where little would be expected--where more than 60 percent of the students were eligible for free lunches, yet where at least half of the sixth graders were reading at or above grade level. He found ""maverick"" schools with programs that yielded dramatic student achievement, via mastery learning and the DISTAR reading program in particular; he describes them vividly and enthusiastically--heartily endorsing criterion-referenced tests when tied to direct explicit instruction, and phonics-first reading methods. More than maverick schools, however, he found maverick administrators--principals like Red Bank, New Jersey's Ruth Abrams, who got her school board to mandate mastery learning in the face of teacher's union opposition (the teachers ended up asking to do more), and Carol Russo, who masterminds an ""encyclopedic range of programs"" at the Garrison School amid the burnt-out rubble of the South Bronx (the students meet or exceed national achievement standards). Or, the Modesto, California assistant superintendent, Jim Enochs, who firmly believes that someone has to decide--and he decided to make schools responsible for students' learning, even if it meant kicking athletes off the teams for low citizenship marks. But in one school, formerly a model of success, Benjamin found an erosion of leadership, and with it a decline in morale and achievement--revealing the fragility of exemplary situations. But these profiles of people and schools are more than first-rate features; they include telling analysis of issues confronting school personnel, parents, legislators, even judges. Thus, the chapter on a desegregated school in Louisville raises pointed questions about the validity of desegregation without instructional reforms; the chapter on the Beasley Academic Center in Chicago wisely underscores the need for hard choices about what schools are for, and how the school day is spent. Throughout, the message is clear: schools work because people work, because they believe in their students, accept no excuses, and teach. While some may fault the narrow definition of success Benjamin has set, they cannot deny that the schools he cites are vastly better than most found in big cities--and better than many across the country. Just the kind of can-do report that's been lacking--and a timely retort to one-note Cassandras like Rudolf Flesch (below).

Pub Date: May 18th, 1981
Publisher: Continuum--dist. by Seabury