1-15-07 Katherine Boo, "Expectations" New Yorker (More by Katherine Boo)

Study Guide:

At the heart of the current debate about school reform is President' Bush's insistence that low expectations are taking a toll on the lives of our neediest students. The No Child Left Behind legislation is intended to hold schools and teachers accountable for the performance of their students on standardized tests. Unless a school demonstrates that it's students can read, write and do basic math, it should be closed, and students can then choose a better school to attend. Opponents of No Child Left Behind, like Jonathan Kozol, argue that this approach fails to acknowledge the special challenges that inner city kids must cope with in the 'surround' of their neighborhoods and cultures. The answer, according to Kozol, is higher spending.

In this article Katherine Boo, a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine, describes the impact of the closure of a failing public high school in Denver, Colorado on the lives of a group of Hispanic teenagers. She also tells of the efforts of the school district's new commissioner to provide support for the kids being relocated.

Thesis: Follow the twists and turns of this story to its improbable and highly tentative happy ending. Is there common ground between the ideological poles?


  • How did Supt. Bennet get his job? What had been his background? (47) (51)
  • What reform philosophy did Bennet bring to the job? (47)
  • Why, according to Boo, are high school students today performing at standards lower than fifty years ago? (50)
  • What previous approaches to reform have failed in this school district? (51)
  • What was Bennet's first reaction when he considered the achievement record at Manual High School? (47)
  • What plan did he initially implement to place the students who went to school there? (48) (51) (54)
  • To whom did this plan appeal? (51)
  • What did the kids themselves think? (48) (53)
  • How long did the media and local activist groups stay interested in Manual High? (48)
  • Why did Boo choose to focus upon Norberto and Julissa?
  • What went wrong with Supt. Bennet's plan to place the Manual kids? Why? (54)
  • What do kids actually think most about when they choose a new school? (53)
  • What sort of bind does Norberto get into which prevents him from attending school regularly? (55)
  • Why was Julissa one of the few kids to take advantage of the career counseling services offered as part of Bennet's plan? Why did Julissa herself back out of the interview arranged for her by career counseling? Why did she back out of going to South High? (54-55)
  • How did he overcome the problems? (56-57)
  • Which political model worked?