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Book Review: A Different View of Urban Schools: Civil Rights, Critical Race Theory, and Unexplored Realities

Publication Date: 2006-02-20

Henry Hitz is the Coordinator of Oakland Parents Together, a grassroots organization of public school parents.


A Different View of Urban Schools: Civil Rights, Critical Race Theory, and Unexplored Realities
Kitty Kelly Epstein
New York: Peter Lang, 2006.
Available at Amazon

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein explodes many myths about urban education in her book, A Different View of Urban Schools, among them that urban schools used to be better than they are now. Using statistics and personal interviews, she focuses her study on Oakland, California and shows that not only were the schools considerably worse 30 years ago, when reading scores in predominantly black schools were less than half those in predominantly white schools, but that the black leadership on the school board and in the administration, which came to power as a result of the civil rights movement, led the system in Oakland to make significant improvements. The Ebonics program, for which this leadership has been vilified, was actually a highly innovative approach to teach black children standard English. The black leadership of the school board led the district to unprecedented fiscal solvency, thwarted a state takeover attempt, ended the tracking system, successfully fought the imposition of a racist social studies text book, and developed one of the most diverse teaching forces in the country. The black leadership was deposed, largely by whites mocking the Ebonics program, and two years later the state took over the district. Dr. Epstein points out that, nationally, it is only impoverished communities of color that are deprived of their democratic rights by state takeovers replacing elected school boards.

As a theorist and participant in many of the struggles about which she writes, Dr. Epstein has written a highly readable account of the impact of racism in the Oakland public schools and the struggles against it. The book is particularly strong in its analysis of the teacher training system which allows for uncredentialed but committed and passionate teachers to teach wealthy children in private schools, while mandating a complex series of hurdles for teachers of color attempting to teach in low income urban schools ? including passing standardized tests that have nothing to do with teaching.

The book ends with a 10 point people?s program for educational reform which emphasizes schools fostering ?a love of learning, a spirit of community, and a sense of joy in individual and collective accomplishments.? This book should be required reading for all educational reformers.













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