The Color of School Reform: Race, Politics, and the Challenge of Urban Education

By Jeffrey R. Henig; Richard C. Hula et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
The Elusiveness of Education Reform

We have lots of programs. I do not believe that they are any more successful here than they've proven to be any place else. In other words, there are fad type programs that have never, that were not clearly demonstrated to be successful when they were initiated. (Detroit teachers' union representative)

There are programs that spring up every day. You see and hear about different projects and different programs that just spring up that people think of and try them out. When you got so many programs and projects everything is scattered and difficult to measure success. (Executive of a Baltimore charity)

THE ASSUMPTION of political power by African Americans in Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, and Washington was accompanied by the widespread expectation that schools in those jurisdictions would subsequently better serve the children in those cities. However, as we highlight in this chapter, the history of education reform in each city reveals that positive change is extraordinarily difficult. In spite of numerous efforts over the past decade, there is no evidence of substantial improvement in the quality of schools. Indeed, most evidence suggests that the quality of education in each city has declined, in some cases dramatically. Not only have reform efforts failed to provide significant improvement, but education authorities also seem unable even to marshal support for a sustained effort of implementing an overall reform plan. Rather, leaders turn first to one project, then another—sometimes with remarkable speed.

This dramatic failure of education reform presents an interesting puzzle. True, the tendency to substitute sporadic and small-scale initiatives for systemic reform is not unique to these cities, but one might reasonably have expected more. The “racial transition as solution” perspective, as we discussed in chapter 1, predicts that black-led cities will broadly support human capital investment and value schools as an institution through which to

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