Urban Studies
Spring 2008

Study Guide for The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America (2005) by Jonathan Kozol

Fourth Reading Assignment (pp.161-214)

Chapter 7 “Excluding Beauty” (161-186)

Summary: In his travels around the country visiting urban schools, Kozol began to apply a ‘misery index’ to measure the problems he observed in our 'dual school system':
- students are working in segregated classes in over-crowded classrooms in run-down buildings
- students are forced to use worn out textbooks and teachers must work with inadequate supplies
- unsanitary conditions exist in bathrooms and over-crowded lunchrooms,
- teachers are inexperienced and do not properly supervise the kids
- kids, almost exclusively, are trained to take standardized tests by teachers using rigidified lesson plans
- kids getting tracked into vocational studies rather than college prep courses.

He argued that any measure of a school's performance should have this misery index figured into it, and the government should be required to bring these schools physically up to par with schools from more affluent districts.

Kozol found the worst conditions in California whose school funding levels have been radically cut at the same time that immigration has peaked. He found the schools there so crowded that temporary trailers cover recess facilities, the school day has been halved, and the school year runs through the summer. Kozol’s conclusion was that a new cycle of discrimination has begun: the same second-class citizenship which blacks have endured for a century has now been extended in this new century to Hispanics and South Asians.

Despite the bleak picture Kozol draws of conditions in urban schools, he could find good teachers working effectively with students wherever he went, and some schools, like one in Lexington Kentucky, seemed to be succeeding despite the odds. Even with limited financial resources, Russell Elementary School has been substantially integrated by race, art and music are emphasized, and lesson plans are inspired, not by “No Child Left Behind”, but by Howard Gardner’s theory about the many different ways that kids learn.

Chapter 8 “False Promises” (187-214)

Summary: In this chapter, Kozol recounts the sad series of failed education reform plans that have been tried to the national level from the 1960’s up to the present, including “No Child Left Behind”. His point is that none of these programs address the basic structural defects in the system: segregation and inequitable financing. Why are politicians unwilling to mount a national assault on ‘apartheid schooling’ itself?

Describe the following educational reform plans and why they failed. (Also, why do they keep coming back?)

pp. 187-190
Compensatory education programs like NYC’s “Higher Horizons” (1960)

pp. 194-200
Reagan Era: William Bennett’s “Get Tough” Policies (1980’s)
(Hero Principals and Superintendents)

pp. 201-202
George H. W. Bush’s America 2000 (1990’s)

pp. 206-209
George W. Bush’s Texas Miracle which led to “No Child Left Behind” (2000’s)


How does Kozol demonstrate the speciousness of the logic used to justify an “efficiency agenda” and “scientific models of accountability” as the basis of school reform?

What will be the real cost of rebuilding the infrastructure of the urban school system around the country?