Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Gripping saga in a bad school

Jay Mathews with a spot-on rave review of Alex Russo's new book, Stray Dogs, Saints, and Saviors: Fighting for the Soul of America's Toughest High School (, about Green Dot's takeover and turnaround of what was until recently America's most notorious school:

I am probably the nation's most devoted reader of real-life high school reform drama, an overlooked literary genre. If there were a Pulitzer Prize in this category, Alexander Russo's new book on the remaking of Locke High in Los Angeles would win. It is a must-read, nerve-jangling thrill ride, at least for those of us who love tales of teachers and students.

Readers obsessed with fixing our failing urban schools will learn much from the personal clashes and political twists involved in the effort to save what some people called America's worst school. I remember the many news stories about Locke, and enjoyed discovering the real story was different, and more interesting.

Locke was not really our toughest high school. Russo finds some nice students and kind teachers. But its inner-city blend of occasional mayhem and very low test scores made it famous when its teachers revolted and helped turn it over to a charter school organization that tried to fix it by breaking it into smaller, more manageable pieces.

I forgive Russo, one of our most experienced and knowledgeable education bloggers, for his overdone title: "Stray Dogs, Saints, and Saviors: Fighting for the Soul of America's Toughest High School." The clarity of his prose makes the book a pleasure to read. It moves fast. I regretted having to put it down when my wife, recently retired, annoyed me with frivolous requests to sign our tax forms or wash the car.

I am keeping the book close to my desk because it explains the rise of Steve Barr and his legendary charter school organization Green Dot, which will be important for years to come.


Posted at 08:51 PM ET, 04/14/2011

Gripping saga in a bad school

By Jay Mathews

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