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The Diverse Schools Dilemma: A Parent's Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools [Kindle Edition]

Michael Petrilli
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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  • Length: 119 pages (estimated)
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Book Description

Many of today's parents yearn to live in or near the lively, culturally vibrant heart of the city--in diverse, walkable neighborhoods full of music and theater, accessible to museums and stores, awash in ethnic eateries, and radiating a true sense of community. This is a major shift from recent generations that saw middle class families trading urban centers for suburbs with lawns, malls, parks, and good schools. But good schools still matter. And standing in the way of many parents' urban aspirations is the question: Will the public schools in the city provide a strong education for my kids? To be sure, lots of parents favor sending their sons and daughters to diverse schools with children from a variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. But can such schools successfully meet the educational needs of all those different kids? How do middle class children fare in these environments? Is there enough challenge and stimulation in schools that also struggle to help poor immigrant children reach basic standards? Is there too much focus on test scores? And why is it so hard to find diverse public schools with a progressive, child-centered approach to education? These quandaries and more are addressed in this groundbreaking book by Michael J. Petrilli, one of America's most trusted education experts and a father who himself is struggling with the Diverse Schools Dilemma.

Editorial Reviews


"I have never seen [these issues] dissected as well as in a new book by Washington-area parent Michael J. Petrilli, 'The Diverse Schools Dilemma: A Parent's Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools.' It is deep, up to date, blessedly short (119 pages) and wonderfully personal." - Jay Mathews, The Washington Post

"The Diverse Schools Dilemma is a must read for parents who want it all for their kids--that is, all parents. Blending facts and research with revealing stories about real families and schools, Petrilli helps readers take into account the whole picture: from the 3R's to a child's peer group and neighborhood. A vexing decision just got easier!" - Bryan Hassel, co-author of The Picky Parent Guide: Choose Your Child's School with Confidence

"Wondering if a diverse, urban school is right for you? Read this book, which is so honest and reflective--and touches on the many dimensions of this crucial decision. Wow!" - Bill Jackson, founder and CEO,

"You need to read this book!" - Bev Smith, Host of the Bev Smith Show

"Though it's packed with interesting information from the scholarly research that crosses [Petrilli's] desk, "Diverse Schools Dilemma" is written for parents. I whipped through it in an afternoon and found something that resonated on virtually every page." - Beth Hawkins, 

Product Details

  • File Size: 1017 KB
  • Print Length: 119 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas B. Fordham Institute (September 21, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B009F32Z2E
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #149,761 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent guide for a complex decision December 2, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is a quick and "easy" read, and one not to be missed by anyone who is going through the process of selecting a school. The author has done an excellent job of gathering data and research and making it more readily understandable and accessible to parents and guardians facing the decision of school selection. It is also good information for any community member who wants to learn more about factors affecting local schools, and to hopefully better-understand all the rankings that are reported by the media and state departments of education. I also appreciated and could relate to the author's personal account of going through selecting a public school for his own child.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stars for some useful information April 28, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I found this book thought-provoking and interesting, but the points it makes are completely undercut by the author's examples and eventual choice.

Something I didn't realize until I spent some time myself researching DC--the author is talking about suburbs the entire time. He's not even considering actual urban schools--although he gives a nod to people who do send their children to Capitol Hill schools... as long as they are the "right" Capitol Hill schools.

On the bright side, hearing about the unacceptable-to-the-author schools in Takoma Park, MD did help us with our own real estate search. We're not moving there, but we're moving close to there within the DC boundaries. So... thanks, Mr. Petrelli. Any neighborhood that's not good enough for your snowflakes should be perfect for us.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Perfect Paperback|Verified Purchase
In this thoughtful book, Michael Petrilli asks aloud the question that many middle and upper class parents often wonder to themselves - can my child go to a school that is diverse and still receive an excellent education? This has become is a critical question for a handful of parents who enjoy an urban lifestyle, value diversity, and also want their kids to go to great schools. The question itself is controversial; the answers Petrilli explores can be even more so. Of course, he's savvy enough not to answer the question directly, but he does explore the key issues and considerations that parents face with an authentic voice. This book is a must-read not only for these forward-thinking parents, but also for anyone who believes that every child deserves a great education in which diversity is a core component.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Common Ground," the DIY-version November 27, 2012
Format:Perfect Paperback|Verified Purchase
Mike did a great job with this book.

I was raised in a close-in Boston suburb, at a time when Judge Arthur Garrity turned everything upside down with his forced busing order. J. Anthony Lukas helped make that dilemma of school integration personal through his Pulitzer-winning masterpiece, "Common Ground." A generation later, Mike has made the story practical, by walking the reader through his own hands-on exploration of what school integration really means for a parent seeking the best both for his child and his wider society.

I now have two kids of my own, and live in the DC area, and so my wife and I essentially went through much of what Mike and his wife did in trying to make a local school choice that could provide both diversity and top-quality education. We in fact looked at some of the very same schools, and came to some similar conclusions. Our mutual assessment appears to be: It's not easy, and you probably can't have it all. That said, there's quite a lot that Mike helps the reader consider - from using hard data on school performance and economics, as well as his policy expertise - when weighing the factors that will lead to a final choice.

Looking at the book from a parochial perspective, I found it fascinating and highly practical to have his assessments of several prominent DC area schools. But even for someone living far away from the DC area, particularly in an urban area, there would seem to be plenty of insights to be gleaned.

And beyond all the informational value, two of the best things about the book were its size and tone. On size, it's relatively short and to-the-point, and the fluid writing style makes the read even easier.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well-informed, personal story November 13, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Mike Petrilli is an education policy expert, who has worked at the highest levels of the U.S. Department of Education and has written about some of the most challenging education policy issues. He is also a parent of two young boys. So when it came time to decide where to live so his children could go to a good school, he used all of his research tools, and all of his instincts as a caring parent, to make a decision. This book is the record of that decision-making process.

Choosing a school for one's children is a difficult process. There are many factors that go into what makes a school good, and not all schools, even the best ones, possess all the right ingredients. The choice often involves tradeoffs.

Like many parents, Petrilli wanted a school that would challenge his (obviously) gifted children, and he wanted a school that would be socio-economically diverse so that his children could gain from the experiences of others with different backgrounds. Meeting those two criteria can prove difficult, and in the end, he made a choice that met some, but not all of his criteria. Petrilli is exceedingly frank about the tradeoffs involved.

Parents making decisions about schools for their children will profit from this book. Petrilli not only describes his own decision-making process, he outlines the research on the benefits and drawbacks of diversity. And he provides some brief case studies of schools that manage excellence and diversity.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars We are located outside of WDC in Silver Spring and my daughter had a...
I just finished this book and I appreciate how Mr. Petrilli outlined a number of my current concerns. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Morgan Theroit
4.0 out of 5 stars informative.
Lots of good food for thought. And here are fourteen more words to satisfy the review police. What, three more needed?
Published 13 months ago by F. Schipani
4.0 out of 5 stars A lot to think about.
Very relevant to the ongoing discussion in my own community. I was initially put off by the idea that diverse schools were being presented as a "dilemma" but the material and data... Read more
Published 14 months ago by D. Grant
4.0 out of 5 stars diversity, but
Petrilli gives an interesting overview of the benefits of diversity in education. Children thrive in mixed settings, yet the barriers can be significant. Read more
Published 19 months ago by William Harris
1.0 out of 5 stars A smug yuppie paraenesis
The ghostwriter for Mr Petrilli's silly little book may now be revealed: D. Wight Mannsburden.

This is a golden tablet given by a high priest to initiates in and... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Peter Cohee
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
If you don't know much about education, which it turns out I don't, it is a great read. A little sad the author went to hide in Bethesda at the end but what can you do.
Published 21 months ago by C. Saville
1.0 out of 5 stars Problem with Amazon Kindle.
The Kindle version that I received from Amazon has malfunctioned everytime I tried to read the book. Read more
Published on February 7, 2013 by William H. Bailey
5.0 out of 5 stars A Personal Reflection on an Important Topic
Michael Petrilli offers a must read for those working in or studying education policy, parents and caregivers living in the DC area, and those with an interest in or already work... Read more
Published on November 30, 2012 by Jeremy A Chiappetta
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb guide to a wrenching dilemma
Mike Petrilli is rightfully respected as an exceptional education policy analyst. But, wonder of wonders, he also has his his feet and ears to the ground in confronting the... Read more
Published on November 29, 2012 by Kalman Hettleman
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More About the Author

Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter. He is also a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and Executive Editor of Education Next, where he writes a regular column on technology and media, as well as feature-length articles. Petrilli has published opinion pieces in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal and appears regularly on NBC Nightly News, ABC World News Tonight, CNN, and Fox. He's been a guest on several National Public Radio programs, including All Things Considered, Talk of the Nation, and the Diane Rehm Show. He is author, with Frederick M. Hess, of No Child Left Behind: A Primer. Previously Petrilli was an official in the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement and a vice president at He started his career as a teacher at the Joy Outdoor Education Center in Clarksville, Ohio, and holds a Bachelor's degree in Honors Political Science from the University of Michigan. He lives with his wife Meghan and sons Nico and Leandro in Bethesda, Maryland.

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