Review: Berler puts human face on issues facing failing school

  • Posted: Sunday, April 28, 2013 12:01 a.m.

RAISING THE CURVE: A Year Inside One of America’s 45,000 Failing Public Schools. By Ron Berler. Berkeley. 256 pages. $27.50.

Ron Berler spent one year in Brookside Elementary School in Norwalk, Conn. The school’s students are 20 percent white, 15 percent African-American and 65 percent Hispanic. Three in five students qualify for free or reduced school lunches. Brookside Elementary is failing despite the determination of students, teachers and staff to pull together and battle the odds.

The students’ below-average test scores are only part of the problem. Budget cuts, outdated and broken computer equipment, teacher shortages and a lack of specialists also have contributed to the school’s decline.

Berler discusses the historical and systemic problems, such as the hiring of substandard teachers, the challenges of the post-World War II education boom and desegregation that resulted in the busing of minorities to schools outside their neighborhoods.

He follows the students, administrators and teachers throughout the year, sharing their stories and noting their frustrations. He explains the problems with the federal No Child Left Behind law that creates moving targets and fails to give credit to the school when it shows some improvement.

Berler finds himself embroiled in the debate over just who is responsible for the children: parents or teachers. His compassionate book describes the hard choices Brookside must make.

Despite the tireless efforts of the entire school, it continues to struggle. In his portrait of a school, one of 45,000 that is failing nationally, Berler shares personal stories that put a human face on the nation’s educational crisis and lifts the issue from the abstract to the concrete, showing the reader a group of people who have not stopped fighting for their children.

Reviewer Doretha Walker is an adjunct professor at the College of Charleston and assistant professor at South University.

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