Book Reviews

The Color of School Reform

by Jeffery R. Henig, Richard C. Hula, Marion Orr and Desiree S. Pedescleaux

Reviewed by
William J. Leary
Professor,
Lynn University,
Boca Raton, Fla.


Gradual but dramatic changes have taken place in urban education following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown decision in 1954.

How these variations in “race and the politics of transition” occur in cities are graphically described in The Color of School Reform: Race, Politics and the Challenge of Urban Education, by Jeffery R. Hewig, Richard C. Hula, Martin Orr and Desiree S. Pedescleaux.

In their analysis the authors describe political relationships, demographic changes and the educational situation in four cities—Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit and Washington, D.C.—places where African-American leadership has become a political fact of life. They question why, with African-American elected officials in these cities and black superintendents, faculty and school administrators, there is so little evidence of broad, sustained school reform.

The authors emphasize that, in their views, superintendents “full of hot new concepts” cannot succeed and cannot replace the importance of collective action in order to initiate reform. They see the need for politics and political action among stakeholders from within and outside the educational grid.

Although the authors lack faith in the capacity of a single superintendent to initiate education reform, they provide a poignant description of the late Alonzo Crim and his successful efforts to initiate change in Atlanta. After Crim left, one teacher said: “Things were changing. Parents were involved. Teachers had opportunities to use innovative techniques in their classroom.”

The authors acknowledge that Crim created a support system in Atlanta that facilitated action.

(The Color of School Reform: Race, Politics and the Challenge of Urban Education, by Jeffery R. Henig, Richard C. Hula, Marion Orr and Desiree S. Pedescleaux, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1999, 301 pp. with index, $18.95 softcover. Available from Amazon.com.)