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Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Children of Room E4

In my post of February 23, I quoted from an NPR interview with Susan Eaton and said, “I’ll have to read the book.” Not surprisingly, I wasn’t the first in the queue for a library copy of The Children in Room E4, but I’ve finally had the chance to read it. You should do so too.

It’s also not surprising that the radio interview didn’t do the book justice: paradoxically, it’s both broader and more specific than I had expected. A great deal of the book is devoted to the long history of school desegregation in the north, especially in Hartford. As an effective journalist, Eaton brings this history alive by telling the stories of a variety of participants. This is where the breadth comes in. On the other hand, the main arc of the narrative is really what the book’s title promises: it’s about the children in Room E4 — students of color in inner-city Hartford. Under the amazing instruction of their dedicated teacher, they studied and studied and prepared and prepared for Connecticut’s standardized test, on which they did astonishingly well. The achievement gap disappeared.

For one school.

For a year.

For a price.

The price was the abandonment of science, of social studies, of art, of music, even of recess. Somehow the middle-class, predominantly white, suburban school was still able to achieve, without abandoning those important endeavors. I suppose one could argue that it’s impossible to succeed later on without basic skills in the three R’s, so it was worth giving up everything else in pursuit of the standardized test. But the results didn’t last and weren’t replicated, despite all the great promise of the No Child Too Far Ahead Act. Oops, I mean No Child Left Behind, of course. Anyway, read the book!

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