This book, a true story written by journalist Michael Brick, is about a high school in Austin that is struggling to meet academic benchmarks and stay open. I really wanted to like this book. I have a passion for education (my Bachelor’s degree is in education), and since this book was written only a few years ago (published in 2012), I hoped it would be full of information on how schools today are dealing with No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core, and so on. Well, there’s a little bit of that, but it was almost boring to read. There were no teachers working to overcome and transcend the testing atmosphere in schools, only teachers teaching to the test. The principal Anabel, who I gathered was supposed to be the main character/protagonist (is that what you call it in a nonfiction book? Not sure…), was baffling to me. She seemed to truly care about her students, but at the same time, she cared more about keeping the school open. She scoured the mall for students playing hooky, but she only brought back the students who were good at passing the TAKS test (Texas’s state-wide standardized test). The book also skims the surface of race and socioeconomic status as contributing factors to academic failure, but stops well short of giving any possible solutions, or even reasons why these are factors in academic problems. The book only talks about how the teachers set aside students who were doing well on tests and focused only on those who were failing the tests, and especially African-American math. I’m not sure that’s the best way to approach education, but the teachers and administration at this high school were too preoccupied with keeping the school open at any cost to focus on students who were already doing enough to get by. I can understand this stance–who wouldn’t want to make sure they would have a job to come back to next year?–but from an educational standpoint, it makes me a little angry.
In addition to all this, Brick’s writing style is kind of confusing to me. There were several sentences that made me read and reread them several times before understanding what he meant. It seemed like he was trying too hard to be “hip,” and it just didn’t work. Possibly his journalistic style just didn’t translate well to a book format.
You might be interested in this book if, like me, you have an interest and involvement in the education system. However, prepare to be frustrated, both by the content of the book and the writing style itself.