Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Race and Educational Reform in the American Metropolis: A Study of School Decentralization

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Race and Educational Reform in the American Metropolis: A Study of School Decentralization

Article excerpt

Race and Educational Reform in the American Metropolis: A Study of School Decentralization, by Dan A. Lewis and Kathryn Nakagawa. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995. 192 pp. $57.50, cloth; $18.95, paper.

Reviewed by Ralph Edwards, Boston College.

According to the authors of this book, "the decentralization of big city schools incorporates and co-opts the demand for educational improvement into the bureaucracy. Rather than resolving issues of race and class, decentralization has masked [them] in inclusionary policies" (p. 167). For these scholars, then, decentralization is but a ruse for maintaining the status quo of unequal educational opportunity between urban, mostly minority, school districts and those located in predominantly White areas. This argument is presented in Race and Educational Reform in the American Metropolis through a careful analysis of how decentralization was conceived and implemented in five major cities: New York City, Detroit, Dade County (Miami, Florida), Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Most of the data the book draws upon was collected during an earlier decentralization study conducted by senior author Lewis, a professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University, and supported by a 1988 Spencer Foundation grant. This data consists primarily of interviews he conducted with educational, political, and community leaders in the five cities under study and with persons those leaders recommended to him. Ample reference is made to these interviews throughout the book, which contains several useful tables and an appendix at the end describing the methodology employed. The cities were selected, the authors tell us, for two principal reasons: (a) their school systems typically embody what has come to be known as "urban education," and (b) their public schools were decentralized in response to the concerns of minority communities. Additionally, the approaches to decentralization adopted by these cities serve to illustrate what the authors consider the two basic strategies through which this particular reform is implemented in urban settings, namely, empowerment and enablement.

The empowerment model, Lewis and Nakagawa (an assistant professor of education at the University of California-Irvine) contend, results from pressures outside a school system to reform it. This model calls upon parents and other principal stakeholders of a system to take control of how it is run. The enablement model, by contrast, is created from within a system, with parents and others assisting the system's professionals in improving student performance. In the latter case, outside interests (especially parents) have support and advisory roles; in the former, they have the power of governance. New York City, Detroit, and especially Chicago are offered by the authors as examples of empowerment cities; Dade County and Los Angeles exemplify enablement models. The authors note that school-based management (SBM), which is often associated with empowerment, is actually an enablement strategy because, under it, school professionals decide how schools are run. SBM, they point out, promotes "empowerment with respect to teachers and staff rather than parents and community" (p. 15). In the end, however, both strategies are seen by these researchers as an "institutional shell game" (p. 5), in which real power never changes hands. Despite decentralization, they conclude, poor communities continue to be denied the human and financial resources needed to make their school systems work.

At the outset (indeed, in the book's very first sentence) the authors state their fundamental concern: "This book," they write, "is about the education of African Americans in our large cities" (p. xi). This point of departure leads rather naturally to a discussion of urban school desegregation because decentralization evolved essentially from failed efforts to desegregate inner-city public schools. …

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