Book Review

So Much Reform, So Little Change

The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools

by Charles M. Payne, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2008, 263 pp., $26.95 softcover

This brief review cannot convey the breadth and depth of Charles Payne’s account of the urban school reform movement. His work can be fairly classified as a meta-analysis. He documents the movement’s record with the intensity of a war correspondent and the deliberation of a surgeon.

So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools is a detailed and biting review of urban school reform failures. Everyone associated with the reform effort comes under Payne’s fire. He plays no favorites across the political spectrum. He also discredits the belief held by many in the reform movement that human nature is naturally inclined toward compromise, cooperation and change.

While those who have made an honest attempt to improve urban education may feel the sting of Payne’s critique, they will find it hard to challenge his position. He supports his claims with extensive and relevant sources. Given the magnitude of the resources necessary for change, both human and financial, those who engage in school reform cannot afford to disregard Payne’s work.

Payne makes sense of the complex dynamics involved in school reform. While he assesses the movement’s failures, he also provides a pragmatic approach to reform.
What he calls the “standards of implementation” should serve as benchmarks for all who are engaged in the school reform movement. Payne’s book is the complete urban school reformer’s guide.

Reviewed by Jim Frenck, associate professor of teacher education, Roberts Wesleyan College, Rochester, N.Y.