Chasing Success and Confronting Failure in American Public Schools

Chasing Success and Confronting Failure in American Public Schools

Larry Cuban
paper, 272 Pages
Pub. Date: April 2020
ISBN-13: 978-1-68253-454-0
Price: $34.00

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cloth, 272 Pages
Pub. Date: April 2020
ISBN-13: 978-1-68253-455-7
Price: $66.00

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Eminent historian and educator Larry Cuban provides a thorough examination of, and challenge to, past and present definitions of what constitutes educational success in the US. Cuban argues that in the history of American education, standards of achievement and inadequacy—as well as the reform efforts issuing from them—have been neither stable nor consistent. Nor are these standards untainted by political considerations. Rather, schools thrive or decline based on a variety of factors, including social and political dynamics, leadership in school districts and communities, and policy improvisations.


Larry Cuban's thoughtful analysis of what constitutes success and failure in education comes at a critical time. Cuban encourages us to think more deeply about the limitations of our current ideology, which harkens back to century-old ideas about efficiency based on business models. He knows we can do better in defining success for our children. — Diane Ravitch, historian of education, New York University

Schooling has long been punctuated by indictments of failing schools, pronouncements of what works, and heated debates over whether reform succeeded. With a clear eye and penetrating prose, Larry Cuban upends these familiar nostrums, exposing the assumptions and banalities that confound efforts to improve America’s schools. Cuban is a national treasure, and this timely gem is a powerful reminder of why that is. — Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies, American Enterprise Institute

In this insightful book, Larry Cuban shows why school reform is so difficult. The most successful reform from the past—the age-graded school—embodies an array of values that we expect of real schools, so frontal assaults of this structure tend to fail. But he gives vivid examples of schools that can and do succeed in making significant changes in the ‘grammar of schooling’ while still remaining real schools. — David F. Labaree, Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education, Emeritus, Stanford Graduate School of Education

Chasing Success and Confronting Failure in American Public Schools is key reading for anyone in the business of reforming America’s public schools because it maintains a clear-eyed view of both the possibilities and limits of reform given that public education is unavoidably a political enterprise. — Teachers College Record

The bulk of this work is a detailed description of two high schools in urban centers that have specific missions and vision statements that guide the work of both the faculty and students...[Chasing Success and Confronting Failure is] a good book with excellent roadmaps for replication in other schools. — Choice

Educators, reporters and the elites of society typically view student test scores as evidence of success and/or failure of new, as well as old, approaches. Cuban invokes a more comprehensive perspective. His criteria for evaluation encompass effectiveness, popularity, longevity and fidelity of implementation. — School Administrator

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About the Author

Larry Cuban is Professor Emeritus of Education at Stanford University. His background in the field of education prior to becoming a professor included fourteen years of teaching high school social studies in big city schools, directing a teacher education program that prepared returning Peace Corps volunteers to teach in inner-city schools, and serving seven years as a district superintendent.

His major research interests focus on the history of curriculum and instruction, educational leadership, school reform, and the uses of technology in classrooms. In addition to his HEP books, he is also the author of As Good As It Gets: What School Reform Brought to Austin (Harvard University Press, 2010) and Hugging the Middle: How Teachers Teach in an Era of Testing and Accountability (Teachers College Press, 2009).

Table of Contents


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