Fighting to Save Our Urban Schools … and Winning!

by Donald R. McAdams

Reviewed by Rudy F. Crew
Executive Director, Institute for K-12 Leadership, University of Washington, Seattle, Wash.

The inner workings of school boards don't usually make for exciting reading, and this book doesn't break that mold.

Yet Donald McAdams, author of Fighting to Save Our Urban Schools … and Winning! makes the success story of the Houston Independent School District sound interesting, and his book is readable and well-organized. McAdams is an 11-year member and past president of the governing board in Houston.

Right up front, he describes HISD as a low-performing school district, while pointing to some significant improvements in recent years. In the course of providing 10 lessons that may be helpful for school reformers, McAdams offers an unusually up-close look at school district politics and how adult interests interfere with the work of improving school quality.

His major points include these: Urban school reform is not possible unless the superintendent and the board share a common vision; and the board cannot reform an urban school district but can set forth a vision and mandate change. He plugs the idea that nontraditional superintendents, such as Houston's Rod Paige, might make the most effective reformers.

McAdams also devotes one of his lessons to race. He argues that only minority leaders can effectively reform America's urban school districts, where race figures largely in most policy areas.

The author has much to share with an audience of administrators and board members.

(Fighting to Save Our Urban Schools … and Winning! by Donald R. McAdams, Teachers College Press, Williston, Vt., 2000, 264 pp. with index.)