So Much Reform, So Little Change

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

By Charles M. Payne
paper, 280 Pages
Pub. Date: April 2008
ISBN-13: 978-1-891792-88-5
Price: $33.00

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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.


A brilliant, thoughtful, and provocative analysis. Charles Payne shows why almost thirty years of school reform has brought so little change to urban public schools. Rooted in the reality of the Chicago Public Schools, Payne’s book contains lessons that are relevant to schools everywhere. — Pedro Noguera, New York University

Charles Payne’s book is likely to anger teachers and administrators, conservatives and liberals, school reformers and the foundations that fund them. All will see themselves depicted as naïve about what it takes to improve urban schools. Many will see themselves depicted as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. At the same time no reader who has spent much time in urban schools will deny the accuracy of Payne’s insights—for example, about why improving high schools has proved so much more difficult than improving elementary schools, why more resources alone won’t produce successful urban schools, and why the choice of a particular whole school reform program is not the critical decision. While his analysis is deeply sobering, Payne shows that improvement in urban schools is possible—and indeed that significant improvements have already taken place. — Richard J. Murnane, Harvard Graduate School of Education

This is a wonderful book, absolutely essential reading for educators, policymakers, and community and civic leaders who are committed to creating schools that promote high achievement for Black and Latino students. Payne helps us understand the challenges and possibilities for the transformation of urban schools. This is a smart book—one that should change our conversation about the reform of urban schools. — Theresa Perry, Simmons College

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About the Author

Charles M. Payne is the Frank P. Hixon Professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He is author of Getting What We Ask For: The Ambiguity of Success and Failure in Urban Education (1984) and I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement (1995); the latter book won awards from the Southern Regional Council, Choice, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America. He is coauthor of Debating the Civil Rights Movement (1999), coeditor of Time Longer Than Rope: A Century of African American Activism, 1850–1950 (2003), and coeditor of Teach Freedom: Education for Liberation in the African American Tradition (2008).

Payne has served on the board of the Chicago Algebra Project, the Steering Committee for the Consortium on Chicago School Research, the Research Advisory Committee for the Chicago Annenberg Project, and the editorial boards of Catalyst, Sociology of Education, and Educational Researcher. He is cofounder of the Duke Curriculum Project, which involves university faculty in the professional development of public school teachers, and cofounder of the John Hope Franklin Scholars, which prepares high school youngsters for college. He is among the founders of the Education for Liberation Network, which encourages the development of educational initiatives to help young people to think critically about social issues and to understand their own capacity for addressing them. He was also the founding director of the Urban Education Project in Orange, New Jersey, a nonprofit community center that broadens educational experiences for urban youngsters.

Payne has taught at Southern University, Williams College, Northwestern University, and Duke University. He has won several teaching awards; he held Northwestern’s Charles Deering McCormick Chair for Teaching Excellence and Duke’s Sally Dalton Robinson Chair for excellence in teaching and research.

Reviews of So Much Reform, So Little Change

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