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So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools
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So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools

4.02  ·  Rating Details  ·  123 Ratings  ·  18 Reviews
This frank and courageous book explores the persistence of failure in today s urban schools. At its heart is the argument that most education policy discussions are disconnected from the daily realities of urban schools, especially those in poor and beleaguered neighborhoods. Charles M. Payne argues that we have failed to account fully for the weakness of the social infras ...more
Paperback, 263 pages
Published August 27th 2008 by Harvard Education PR (first published April 30th 2008)
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Jan 13, 2014 Evelyn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education-stuff
Reading this I felt like I was reading words coming out of my own mouth. Charles Payne really gets it right and by doing so authenticates the experiences of those in the field to an outside, pie-in-the-sky audience. Simply written and recommended to all working in the field of education.
Jun 14, 2014 Kristin rated it really liked it
i'd give this a 3.75. it is a well-written, complex account of why so many reforms have consistently failed to bring about greater "change" in urban public schools (which you probably could have figured out from the title). its based mostly on the chicago consortium work, and centers around the idea of "demoralized schools" and irrational organizational culture at all levels of the education system. the book is heavy on centering the problems around adults - i can imagine this book coming across ...more
Sarah Allen
Jun 14, 2016 Sarah Allen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education-books
Best book I've read on ed reform yet. Doesn't provide a silver bullet solution because it doesn't exist and critiques the left and the right equally. Payne offers insightful historical perspective and ultimately argues for working in partnership with teachers, giving them support to implement reforms, allowing time for reforms to produce results, understanding the pathologies of a demoralized school environment, examining the context in which reform takes place, focusing more on excellent implem ...more
Jul 29, 2009 Maida rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in public education in the US
Shelves: ed-books
This is an extremely thought-provoking and engaging discussion exploring the failure of school reform efforts of the 1990's. Payne's thesis is that because so much reform comes from outside of the school (and district) it, and the people behind it, lack a fundamental understanding of the conditions on the ground. Therefore even the most well-intentioned ideas have no hope of taking hold once they hit actual classrooms.

Based on a number of years' experience as a community organizer and working in
David Bristol
Mar 04, 2016 David Bristol rated it really liked it
A must read for those who think educational reform is a "just do it" undertaking. Payne presents an in depth and insightful look at the multi million dollar effort to reform Chicago's schools.
Jul 23, 2011 Jessica rated it really liked it
Shelves: academic
A really great book. Payne does a good job of being very objective and honest about what needs to be done and what needs to stop in terms of education and attempts to reform education in America. Perhaps the only possible downside is Payne's inclusion of humorous analogies like "spouting out reforms faster than Baskin Robbins creates flavors." They make the book more entertaining and it feels like more of a conversation than a report of the findings of various studies, but it does also make it s ...more
Joyce Klipsch farrow
The first half of the book was by far the better half.
Oct 13, 2010 Lisa rated it liked it
Payne straddles the fence, but sometimes that's not so bad. He helped me realize that the conservative sense of urgency (intended or not) combined with the progressive sense that culture change must precede real progress in schools and takes a lot of time is the right blend. Of course, in Harrisburg, Julie Botel and Jerry Kohn did have that blend. As always, it seems a polarized approach simply won't work, because the fight trumps the mission.
He's also good with analogy and that's helpful for my
Jun 11, 2013 Brandon rated it it was amazing
Somewhat biased since he was my professor at the University of Chicago, but I think Dr. Payne's book about the state of urban education, particularly in Chicago Public Schools, was thorough, thoughtful, well-organized, well-researched, and provocative. Neither foolishly optimistic or solely finger-pointing and cynical, Payne addresses what hasn't worked, what has worked, and what is needed to make it work. A must-read for any educator, education policymaker, or carer of people.
Superb analysis of why persistently failing schools continue to fail, despite the "best intents" of adults. Payne astutely identifies the myriad ways that adults fail the students in their care -- parents, teachers, administrators. This is a sobering message for those who think that education reform is as easy as snapping one's fingers, firing teachers, or bringing "business sensibilities" to bear on public sector agencies. They too will fail.
Mar 07, 2011 A rated it really liked it
I've only read excerpts for class, but I enjoyed what I read. I'll admit that I probably liked the book more after hearing Payne speak given that his writing voice is quite similar to the way he addresses a room. His thoughts on school reform are quite interesting though and I am extremely curious to see how they play out in his new role at CPS.
Jun 08, 2013 Christina rated it liked it
Payne's book explores the educational needs of urban African-American children and has much wisdom to offer. The chapter on "teaching black children" offended some of my African-American classmates who did not feel it was appropriate to offer a different menu of recommendations for black children than for all kids.
Feb 02, 2009 Jamiko rated it really liked it
Provides an insightful, yet morbid view into education reform efforts. Essentially Mr. Payne demonstrates that there is not a magic method of reforming the public school, but that it requires leadership, consistency, and time.
Sep 30, 2012 Drew rated it it was amazing
Shelves: teacherman
Staggeringly good. A tremendous takedown of the variety of reasons it can feel impossible to turnaround failing schools, examining every level. Payne has a great style as well, making this a very enjoyable read.
Tom Mcguire
Feb 01, 2016 Tom Mcguire rated it it was amazing
Harsh look at the difficult realities of achieving change, but reminder that true progress is possible--and worth striving for.
Jul 17, 2012 Laura rated it really liked it
A different perspective on school reform, much of it from a sociological (& organizational culture) perspective. I didn't agree with all the conclusions, but it certainly got me thinking.
Nov 14, 2009 Che rated it it was amazing
an excellent, concise review of school reform of late. not terribly detailed, but i really like how Payne organizes and categorizes information.
May 24, 2012 Emily added it
Last book of my last class with Dr. Duke.
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Charles M. Payne is the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, where he is also an affiliate of the Urban Education Institute.
More about Charles M. Payne...

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