Grading a School’s First Year

Hard Lessons: The Promise of an Inner City Charters School<br> By Jonathan Schorr | Ballantine Books

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


Vividly rendered heroes and villains, gripping plot twists, and a nail-biting climax are not what you’d expect from a case study of a charter school. But Jonathan Schorr’s account of the struggle to create and keep afloat the E.C. Reems Academy in Oakland, California, delivers just that. A former teacher and education reporter, Schorr tracked a coalition of frustrated parents, community activists, and a fledgling nonprofit as the group hung its hopes on a charter as an antidote to Oakland’s blighted public schools.

E.C. Reems rushed to open its doors in 1999, a mere five months after the Oakland School Board approved its charter, and became home to students “so achingly behind that they might have been runners wandering at the starting blocks long after the race had begun.”

To the delight of its critics, the school suffered through a difficult first year — including a threat to shut it down over mishandled paperwork — and failed to dramatically impact the students’ test scores. But it did survive. And while the academic progress of this school — and most of the nation’s 2,400 recently minted charter schools — remains in the too-soon-to-tell category, E.C. Reems has already succeeded in a less quantifiable sense. It is “welcoming and open,” he writes, a place “where parents say they have a voice.” What makes a school “good,” Schorr concludes, is measured not only by the test performances of its students, but by the ways in which it “makes communities and families stronger.”

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.