School Reform City: Read All About It

A teacher who is dying of an autoimmune disease pours her energy into an after-school ballet program that transforms young girls’ lives. A student wakes up at 4:30 a.m. every day to get on a public bus in search of a good education. A gay teacher comes out of the closet during a social justice lesson. A refugee from Burundi finds her strength and rhythm in music class.

These stories—often lost in the national debate over how to fix American public schools—can be found in a new e-book published by the New Haven Independent Press.

The e-book, School Reform City: Voices from an American Experiment by Melissa Bailey, came out today on Amazon. You can buy it here for $2.99 and read it on your Kindle or with the free Kindle app for iPad, iPhone, or Android. (Your dollars help support not-for-profit journalism.)

The stories contained in the book, first published in the Independent and culled from hundreds of stories on New Haven’s school reform experiment, offer a human look at the complex challenges facing the effort to improve our nation’s schools — and a glimpse at some small triumphs along the way.

The national school reform debate has polarized the nation. Discussions about charter schools, Teach For America, and teachers unions often devolve into such profound disagreement that opposing sides seem to speak different languages — and lose sight of the experiences of the students and teachers they are arguing about.

This book aims to bring forward those students’ and teachers’ voices – voices from a city that is defying a national trend toward bitter public battles over how to educate poor and minority kids. As cities like Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. locked horns with teachers unions over attempted reforms, educators and policymakers in New Haven have moved ahead with a collaborative approach to improve city schools. The collaboration has gained national admirers across the ideological spectrum—from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten—and drawn glowing articles in national publications from The New York Times to the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg Businessweek.

This book delves beyond the headlines of this nationally watched school-reform experiment. In these pages, you’ll sit at the table as a struggling rookie teacher undergoes a performance review. You’ll explore life at three turnaround schools, including one where — in defiance of a national trend toward taking power away from organized labor — the district let the teachers union take over management of a failing school. You’ll get an on-the-ground look at the impact that Teach For America, the national leadership development organization, has had on one low-performing school.

This book takes a look at some of the experiments New Haven has tried in the name of reform – and some of the more old-fashioned ways that people in New Haven have overcome setbacks dealt by poverty. Research says character skills like perseverance and self-control are more important than IQ or SAT scores in helping disadvantaged kids succeed in school and life. But those skills, which can be taught, not just inherited, are often overlooked amid a national focus on high-stakes tests.

These stories highlight students, teachers and parents who have shown exceptional perseverance in the face of obstacles — a lost car key, a lost home, a lost family — that stand to derail them from their dreams.

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posted by: RichTherrn on July 3, 2014  12:20pm

Great job Melissa, It is amazing how stepping back and looking back at a school year, school years, or movement over the years can provide perspective..
Richard Therrien
NHPS Science Supervisor

posted by: Elm City Resident on July 3, 2014  12:25pm

Congrats, Melissa!  Look forward to reading reading the book.

posted by: ElmCityVoice on July 3, 2014  6:00pm

I only wish that Melissa wouldn’t carry on the misconception that there’s school reform. There is no reform. There are some great parents, great teachers, great administrators and great kids, But there’s no reform.

posted by: Mary Brown on July 5, 2014  8:07am

Too much testing not enough teaching. Reform that! Students should experience, create, apply skills to real life situations. They should learn history, vocabulary, Science, and Math. They shouldn’t need remedial math classes during freshman year of college. Students need to receive the supports they to be socially competent as well.

posted by: Brutus2011 on July 5, 2014  6:47pm

I just finished reading this e-book.

Congratulations, Melissa on a job well done.

And thank you for the heart you bring to your reporting on education.

Unfortunately, those who administer/manage our schools are utterly bereft of the heart your writing warmly displays.