From Publishers Weekly
Jacobs had been an education-beat journalist for more than 15 years before she decided to quit and find out what was really going on with the charter school movement. In 2001, she started volunteering at Downtown College Prep (DCP), a first-year charter school with 100 ninth graders from predominantly poor, Mexican-American families in San Jose, Calif. The cofounders of the school had a clear mission: to take failing students and prepare them to attend college and do well. Students would have to break with gang culture and adopt DCP's mantra: ganas (motivation), orgullo (pride) and communidad (community). Unlike the formulaic, for-profit charter schools of businessmen like Chris Whittle (see the review of Crash Course in PW, Aug. 29), DCP is enthusiastically experimental. When something's not working (e.g., trying to teach algebra when kids don't know fractions), they try something else. As Jacobs tells the story of DCP's amazingly committed teachers and their (mostly) courageous students, even hardcore opponents of charter schools may soften. Some useful data (DCP's student stats, funding summaries) and a listing of resources for people thinking of starting a charter school round out this fascinating case study. (Dec.)
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This is the remarkable story of two idealistic and motivated high-school teachers who decide to open a charter school in downtown San Jose; their lofty mission is to prepare underprivileged kids to succeed at four-year colleges. Jacobs, a journalist, follows their progress for four years, from the opening semester of Downtown College Prep (DCP) in the fall of 2000 with a class of 102 ninth-graders, 83 percent of whom are Hispanic, and most of whom had all Ds and Fs in middle school. Each student completed a Summer Bridge Program, where the stiff homework requirements were introduced. Most of the initial teachers were young and inexperienced yet very dedicated, and the first year was described as "collective insanity." Jacobs vividly portrays everyday life at the school, including mock-trial competitions against much larger schools and "the shortest basketball team in America"--the girls' team--the only one meeting the required C average. The founders' credo is "the only thing that isn't OK is to quit trying," inspiring words for anyone hoping to replicate their success. Deborah Donovan
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