9780151007035 / 0151007039

School of Dreams: Making the Grade at a Top American High School


Publisher:Houghton Mifflin Harcourt



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About the book:

Journalist Edward Humes shows us a little-seen side of our nation's educational system: the side that works. Humes spent a year (2001-02) at Whitney High School in Cerritos, California, a small, middle-class suburb of Los Angeles, where he taught a writing workshop and observed the daily workings of this top-ranked public school. The book honestly examines the extraordinary effort (and elusive chemistry) it takes to achieve that status and the subsequent toll it takes on the remarkable students at the school. It also provides a wonderful portrait of American life. For all its distinction, Whitney High School reflects a cross-section of America, where immigrant families struggle with their American counterparts to guide their children toward academic excellence.

It comes as no surprise that at the heart of Whitney's success is a devoted staff of teachers and administrators who are as overworked and brilliant as their high-achieving charges. Nor should it shock us that the school's ranking does not come without a price. Whitney students are driven and well-rounded, but they are also sleep-deprived and often subjected to extreme parental pressure. The downside of life at Whitney is that a focus on high grades and college placement sometimes takes the place of the joy of learning, and worse yet, sometimes leads some students to cheat. Still, as Humes's engaging narrative reveals, the triumphs far outweigh the inevitable shortcomings. Unfortunately, the model Whitney provides is easy to identify but not easy to reproduce. As Humes observes, our nation's most successful schools "are small, intimate, and attentive. . . marked by high expectations put to work in tangible ways. . . [with] rigorous traditional studies (as opposed to rigorous drilling for annual high-stakes tests); longer hours of study and work; strong parental involvement. . . low absenteeism and few discipline problems; and leadership with a vision." --Silvana Tropea

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