Reporter Katherine Boo's recent piece in the New Yorker about education reform in Denver shows why good intentions, ideas, and actions are often slow to solve the problems of blighted schools. Boo tells the story of Superintendent Michael Bennet, a former editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal, millionaire businessman, and former mayoral aide, who has committed sundry resources to help Denver's most struggling students. But despite putting in place high expectations, a system that pushes all students toward college, and a merit pay plan for teachers (while closing failing schools and going door-to-door to visit hundreds of at-risk students), so far Bennet has relatively little to show for it. Still, there are glimmers of hope and progress amid the disheartening statistics--students who refuse to fail--and this piece finds them. Julissa Torrez, second in her class and determined to go to college, is one. This is no feel-good Hollywood depiction of inner-city education. It's more powerful and beautiful than that, because, as unusually good writing can do, it manages to depict hopefulness and sadness at the same time.
"Expectations," by Katherine Boo, New Yorker, January 15, 2007