Creating New Schools: How Small Schools are Changing American Education

In Creating New Schools’s introduction, Evans Clinchy-Senior Consultant at the Institute for Responsive Education at Northeastern University -questions the possibilities of autonomy within large districts, specifically Boston and New York. Linda Nathan and Larry Myatt’s chapter on the history and trajectory of Fenway Middle College High School compellingly describes that autonomy, specific challenges to it and the exhilarating and exhausting work that’s a result of it. The additional essays in the Boston section, by Robert Pearlman and Dan French, examine the district and state roles in fundamental, progressive school change.

Creating New Schools’ New York section features Ann Cook’s narrative of the transformation of the Julia Richman Educational Complex, which provides an insider’s view of one of the country’s most successful small-school restructuring projects. Analyses of the roles of the city’s public school system leadership, the teachers’ union, individual teachers and outside support groups round out the New York story.

Creating New Schools concludes with views from Debbie Meier and Seymour Sarason. Sarason reviews past school reforms, observing, “If the governance system is not explicitly designed for and obligated to creating and sustaining the context of productive learning, what we have now will continue to disappoint and, by any cost-benefit analysis, remain wasteful in the extreme.” This admonition that change won’t stick in a hostile political climate serves as a powerful reminder of the need for truly systemic reform.

reviewed by Jill Davidson