Class Struggle:: What's Wrong (and Right) with America's Best Public High Schools

Jay Mathews, Author Crown Publishers $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8129-2447-3
In his well-written, comprehensive analysis, Washington Post education reporter Mathews (Escalante: The Best Teacher in America) reveals the flaws of America's ""elite public schools."" He spent three years conducting on-site research at four schools across the nation, but focuses primarily on Mamaroneck High School in New York's Westchester County, a school he ranks 73rd in his listing of 200. Through case studies and personal profiles, Mathews catalogues common problems of most schools (the privileged included), as well as issues that are peculiar to leading institutions because of their high-powered clientele. Pivotal in his discussion are the controversies of tracking and ability grouping; in the case of America's best schools, says Mathews, ""notoriously aggressive"" parents insist on these practices, though teachers find them detrimental to the student body as a whole. Mathews reports that Yale- and Harvard-bound youth are just as likely to drink or cheat, simply because ""it is... easier."" Class Struggle--as the title implies--also delves into the economic realities of neighborhood incomes and tax dollars, wisely connecting them with administrators' salaries and, indirectly, with the growing controversy of tenure. Although Mathews claims that advanced-placement classes and examinations ""could revitalize thousands of schools"" if they ""maintain their depth and rigor,"" the bottom line is less optimistic: ""Elite schools [are] not judged by how well [they] educate every child."" In this respect and others, they do not differ from most high schools. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/02/1998
Release date: 03/01/1998
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