Book Review

Reforming Boston Schools, 1930-2006

Overcoming Corruption and Racial Segregation

by Joseph Marr Cronin, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, N.Y., 2008, 292 pp., $87.44 hardcover

Joseph Marr Cronin, former Massachusetts secretary of educational affairs, has presented a readable history of a city some still call “the Athens of America” in his book Reforming Boston Schools, 1930-2006: Overcoming Corruption and Racial Segregation.

Reforming Boston Schools

From the 19th century into the 1940s, the Boston Latin School (for boys only) was considered the jewel of public schools in New England. It had a difficult entrance exam, but for many immigrants in Boston, it opened the door of opportunity for future success. Irish, Italians, Jews and blacks were accepted without prejudice.

The buildup of Catholic schools took place during the first half of the 20th century. Catholic parents often would send their children to elementary parochial schools and then move them into public high schools. Cronin points out the notion of public schools as a monopoly for Boston Catholics was not accurate.

Population changes between World War II and the 1990s created a new social dynamic. Called by the author “black voices for education,” the black community’s demands for improvement led the NAACP — the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — to file a federal lawsuit against the school board in 1973. A ruling one year later found Boston “unconditionally segregated” and ordered busing for 14,000 children away from their neighborhood schools.

The business community, reluctant to be involved in the turbulent times, came on board in the mid-1980s with the development of the Boston Compact. More recently, the state legislature turned the school committee into an appointed body and allowed a mayoral-appointed superintendent.

These influences culminated in 2006 when the Boston schools won the Broad Prize as the nation’s most improved urban system.

Reviewed by William J. Leary, professor of education, Lynn University, Boca Raton, Fla.