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School Reform In Denver

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If you want to give yourself a real weekend treat, pick up a copy of this week's New Yorker and check out Katherine Boo's long feature on efforts to turn around the Denver Public School system and improve the lives of some Latino students at the infamous Manual High School.

The piece, called Expectations, looks like the usual in-depth and insightful work we get from Boo, albeit all too infrequently. (I like to think that, given time and space, I could do as good a job as this (or Paul Tough's recent NYT Magazine piece), but it may well be that my bloggified brain couldn't do nearly as well).

The piece doesn't, thankfully, focus inordinately on the involvement of the Gates Foundation, whose failed efforts to smallify Manual made the school the poster child for the failings of the Gates efforts over all. Instead, it focuses on a group of Manual students and the superintendent who's trying to make things work differently. I haven't gotten to the end but wanted to make sure folks had chance to find it before it leaves the magazine racks. It's not online, far as I can find. The issue date is Jan. 15.

UPDATE: In a very kind email, Boo writes "Thanks! And let me return the compliment.I became a fan of your blog over the course of this story."

8 Comments

I also thought this was a great article. It focused on the struggles of a low income neighborhood. It's not just the educational sytem that is complex but societal factors-low income and lack of opportunities that exist in many communities. I teach in the Newark Public Schools NJ.

thanks for writing in, avram -- glad you liked the article too.

This is the best thing yet written on the Manual (not "Manuel") High School reform debacle. Katherine Boo gets it. High school reform cannot be simply a top-down technical innovation imposed on schools and communities. And it is not something that can be simply assessed on the basis of standardized test scores. Thanks to Katherine Boo for an excellent piece of research into the lives of kids in Denver. I wish it was available online and more accessible to folks in the school community.

thanks, mike -- glad you liked the article, too. and thanks for the correction on my spelling. where are those editors when you need them?

Boo's work is always great. My favorite was "the Marriage Cure" where she recounted a world nearly devoid of male role models in the projects in Oklahoma City a mile from where I live. I teach at the high school in that inner city
community.
The Education Trust, its rightwing twin the Heritage Foundation, and others who have a simplistic approach to closing the Achievement Gap need to read Boo in conjunction with another New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell.

Its all about the critical mass of generational poverty, of trauma, and damaged families, and history. Like Gladwell writes, when a community has 20%, 25%, or 30% single parent families, its not a problem. Once you pass the "tipping point", the problem grows geometrically. My school has 95% single parents, 40% on IEPs, and a huge percentage of ajudicated kids and kids with incarcerated parents.

I wish the Denver superintendent well in serving 585 os so students, but the point of her story is that we need a sense of modesty in education reform.

I wonder how American Health Management Association provides medical records professionals with educational resources and programs? WBR LeoP

I wonder how American Health Management Association provides medical records professionals with educational resources and programs? WBR LeoP

I always look forward to Katherine Boo pieces, because I learn so much. This piece was fantastic, although I was a bit disappointed that crime and environmental community development were pitted against each other. "...Denver’s wealthier precincts, where private schooling is the norm and community advocacy revolves around environmental issues like carbon emissions and the tree canopy."

Among other benefits, trees are linked to lowering crime rates. The Alliance for Community Trees (www.actrees.org) works with nonprofit tree organizations to plant and maintain trees in underserved communities as a crime prevention tool. While planting trees is not an isolated strategy for better schools and healthier communities, it does create more conducive learning environments and safer communities.

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