Schools today are in the midst of the most major, costly educational reform movement in their history as they grapple with the federal mandates to leave no children behind, says author Susan B. Neuman, former Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education under President George W. Bush. Although some efforts for investigating resources will be substantially more productive than others, there is little evidence that, despite many heroic attempts to beat the odds, any of these efforts will close more than a fraction of the gap in achievement between poor minority children and their middle-class peers.
As Neuman explains in this insightful, revealing book, schools will fail, not due to the "soft bigotry of low expectations," but because there are multitudes of children growing up in circumstances that make them highly vulnerable. Children who come to school from dramatically unequal circumstances leave school with similarly unequal skills and abilities.
In these pages, Neuman shows how the odds can be changed, how we can break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage for children at risk. After laying the critical groundwork for the need for change—excessive waste with little effect—her book provides a vivid portrait of changing the odds for high-poverty children. Describing how previous reforms have missed the mark, it offers a framework based on seven essential principles for implementing more effective programs and policies.
Building on successes while being fiscally responsible is a message that has been shown to have wide bipartisan appeal, embraced by both liberals and conservatives. Following Neuman's essential principles, chapters describe programs for changing the odds for children when the cognitive gaps are beginning to form, in the earliest years of their lives. In a highly readable style, Neuman highlights programs that are making a difference in children's lives across the country, weaving together narratives that offer a compelling story of hope and promise for our most disadvantaged children.