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Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh 1st Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674032941
ISBN-10: 0674032942
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Schools on Trial: How Freedom and Creativity Can Fix Our Educational Malpractice by Nikhil Goyal
"Schools on Trial" by Nikhil Goyal
A hopeful blueprint for change by one of the most passionate and certainly youngest twenty writers on this subject. Learn more | See related books

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Grant (The World We Created at Hamilton High) persuasively argues that economically and racially balanced schools are the key to revitalizing declining cities. He compares the problem-ridden public school system of his native Syracuse, N.Y., with the superior schools in Raleigh, N.C., arguing that the disparity exists because the Syracuse school district has remained confined to the core city, while Raleigh merged city and suburbs in 1976, creating the Wake County district. Students are assigned to schools to ensure a healthy mix of children by race and socioeconomic class. Although some parents object to the busing, the majority are reportedly convinced that the results are worth the inconvenience. Whereas nearly half of Syracuse's ninth graders fail to graduate from high school, Wake County students produce high levels of success. Although Raleigh is the prime example here, other Southern schools are similar success stories—a paradoxical twist, as parts of the South, long fiercely resistant to integration, can show the way for struggling Northern cities. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in urban planning, race relations and education reform. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


In Hope and Despair in the American City, Gerald Grant has written a profound book about American cities and their schools. He combines far-ranging scholarship with lively field research, autobiography, historical narrative, and an expert grasp of demographic data and the winding mazes of legal opinion. The result is a big and ambitious portrait, through the story of two cities, of our nation's greatest educational problems and possibilities for school reform in the metropolitan U.S. today. (Joseph Featherstone, Michigan State University)

A penetrating account of two cities and their school systems, one in the Northeast where decline and demographic change have brought difficult problems, and another in the growing South which has turned its socioeconomic challenges into opportunities. Anyone interested in educational reform will have to take account of this valuable analysis of the variable fates of our cities, and their schools. (Nathan Glazer, Harvard University)

The book is a must-read for anyone interested in urban planning, race relations and education reform. (Publishers Weekly (starred review) 2009-03-16)

Gerald Grant, a professor of education and sociology at Syracuse University, has written a compelling new book… He compares the troubled school system of Syracuse, N.Y., with its thriving similarly sized counterpart in Raleigh, N.C. The difference is that in Raleigh, in 1976, the Wake County Public School system was created to zone the suburbs and inner city together to ensure a continued healthy mix of social classes. (Sandra Tsing Loh New York Times (online) 2009-04-28)

The book has the mark of a historian's well-documented journey. (Tim Simmons News & Observer 2009-05-17)

Essential reading not only for his target audience of education reformers but for anyone concerned with the fate of smaller cities… Though few know it, we now live with a grand historical irony: Public schools in the South are far more integrated than most in the North, whose cities, especially the 'forgotten' ones, have become ever more doughnutlike. When we consider the failures of busing, we think of the awful mid-'70s wars in Boston… Grant's fine book shows there's another way, one keyed to restoring the educational center of metropolitan-wide economic development, if only we can summon the political will to do it. (Catherine Tumber Bookforum 2009-06-01)

The author blends his personal experiences with wide-ranging interviews and a dash of research to provide a largely sound analysis of the state of urban education. (Phil Brand Washington Times 2009-05-29)

Hope and Despair in the American City is a rare policy book: brief, personal, and flat-out persuasive. Comparing the catastrophically bad school system in Syracuse, where he lives, with the astonishingly successful one in the North Carolina capital, the author quickly alights on a convincing explanation for the disparity. (Daniel Okrent Fortune 2009-06-08)

In this perceptive and important new book, Gerald Grant tells a modern tale of two cities—Syracuse, New York, and Raleigh, North Carolina—that took starkly different approaches to improving schools and communities… What is astounding—and profoundly disturbing—is that education reform at the national level has basically ignored the type of findings so powerfully outlined in Hope and Despair in the American City. (Richard D. Kahlenberg Washington Monthly 2009-09-01)

Something extraordinary has been happening in the [North Carolina's] schools over the past few decades, and the best guide to this experiment is an important new book by Gerald Grant… He found that the single biggest factor determining whether you do well at school or not isn't your parents, your teachers, your school buildings or your genes. It was, overwhelmingly, the other kids sitting in the classroom with you… If a critical mass of them are hard-working, keen and stick to the rules, you will probably learn… Within a decade, Raleigh went from one of the worst-performing districts in America to one of the best. (Johann Hari The Independent 2009-10-16)

Gerald Grant's short book tells [its] story very well. It is that rarity among policy tomes: a page-turner. The political calculation that Richard Nixon made in 1971, when he nominated William Rehnquist to the Supreme Court, was borne of his desire to keep Southern and suburban white voters out of the hands of George Wallace and his populist racial appeal—and it saddled America with a Supreme Court whose decisions in the 1970s, specifically on school desegregation, proved evil… Grant points out over and over again that the true achievement of Raleigh and of the other metro-school metros is much more about integrating the social classes than it is about race. (Bruce Fisher Hartford Courant 2010-02-28)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (May 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674032942
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674032941
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #679,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book gives an engaging historical account of how government policies led to segregation in America's cities - which resulted in failing schools with high concentrations of poverty - and how one school system is addressing the problem by attempting to balance schools for socioeconomic diversity.

The author has managed to make the book an interesting read by weaving in details of his own family's life in Syracuse. Because I live in Raleigh/Wake County, I found the section on Raleigh's long history (dating back to the Civil War) of progressive racial integration policies fascinating, and it helped me put into proper perspective the "battle" that is currently being waged between those who support our school system's diversity policy, and those who do not.

This book is enlightening and well-written. If you have any interest in learning more about how our society can begin to tackle the problem of poverty, you will enjoy reading this book!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The city of Syracuse, NY -- as distinct from its lovely suburbs -- provides a small-scale picture of the social pathologies that beset so many American cities of the Northeast and Midwest. It has an economically depressed urban core, crime-ridden neighborhoods with houses abandoned and vacant, and a school enrollment that is largely poor and minority with low graduation rates and weak performance on standardized tests. Syracuse bills itself as environmentally advanced, the "Emerald City," yet its common council refuses even so cost-free an improvement to its urban environment as banning unsightly billboards along the interstate highways that slice through the city. But that is a small problem compared to the failure of Syracuse schools to educate and graduate its students, a deficit that nearly forces middle-income families with children to live in the suburbs.
How did Syracuse and so many other northern cities reach this state of educational (and urban) decay? In contrast, Raleigh, NC has for decades been economically thriving and, most relevantly, successful with its schools, which have high achievement and graduation rates for black as well as white students, for poor as well as middle-class students. Is Raleigh's success a simple consequence of its economic growth? Apparently not since other southern cities with similar growth have not had the same educational success. Professor Grant shows convincingly that much of Raleigh's success stemmed from its willingness to integrate its schools over the entire metropolitan area, city and suburbs.
Sociologists of education know well that changing the culture of a school, from ghetto to middle class, is the most important element in school success, in teacher satisfaction, and in producing successful graduates.
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Format: Paperback
Hope and Despair outlines the obstacles that stand between two school districts: Syracuse and Raleigh, and the historical moments that have developed to create the differences. There were two things I really took away from the book that resound in me:

1.The theory of the doughnut hole. Once thriving cities like Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo have had their wealth and populations redistributed to the outskirts, leaving low-income residents that do nothing to maintain or contribute to the cities. Am I generally speaking? Yes, but I also believe the fault falls partially to the cities who cannot seem to organize enough efforts to train the left over population, and drive out the cancers that seem to fill it. Grant claims that socio-economically balanced schools would, and have, cured such cancers.

2.Socio-economically balanced schools vs. racially balanced schools. This just makes sense. From having grown up in a low-income neighborhood, and school district, I know that it was not the color of the skin that held some students back.

Overall, it was a short book with a great comparison worth reading about. I enjoyed it also because it hit close to home.
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Format: Hardcover
Gerald Grant gives an excellent depiction of the current racial crisis of Northern cities. While the South has spent the past thirty years working on issues of racism and integrating their cities - the North has been pretending that racism does not exist in its environs. Grant's depiction of Syracuse and its school districts is spot on....an embarrasing truth of Northern life is incredible racial segregation that remains largely unspoken in polite company. The racism of neglect and avoidance are evident in the schools and neighborhoods Grant describes - the neighborhoods where he grew up and currently lives.
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