Opportunity Lost: Race and Poverty in the Memphis City Schools
In Opportunity Lost, Marcus D. Pohlmann examines the troubling issue of why Memphis city school students are underperforming at alarming rates. His provocative interdisciplinary analysis, combining both history and social science, examines the events before and after desegregation, compares a city school to an affluent suburban school to pinpoint imbalances, and offers critical assessments of various educational reforms. Employing a rich trove of data to demonstrate the realities of racial and economic inequality, Pohlmann underscores the difficulties that plague the urban schools and their students--problems that persist despite the fact that the city schools often have more resource advantages than the county schools: better student-to-teacher ratios, more teachers with advanced degrees, and even greater spending on each student. Pohlmann demonstrates that postindustrial economic shifts and continuing racial exclusion have resulted in a predominance of low-income students at these schools. This economic disadvantage has had a lasting impact on performance among students at all grade levels and has not been reversed simply by increasing resources. In addition to his analysis of the problems, Pohlmann lays out educational reforms that run the gamut from early intervention and parental involvement to increasing class size and teacher compensation, improving time utilization, and more. Pohlmann's illuminating and original study has wide application for a problem that bedevils inner-city children everywhere and prevents the promise of equality from reaching all of our nation's citizens.
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I had high hopes for this book, seeing as I teach in Memphis City Schools. This book was published only last year, after I myself had started to teach. Maybe some of my realities would be reflected in this book. Perhaps some discussion of the RAMPANT reforms over the past two years?
No. The book was finished in 2005, apparently, and published four years later. It reads like a Word document in that things are referenced as being below or above the current sentence. It is also horribly repetitive, with the last chapter reading something like the last paragraph of my middle schoolers' essays.
The strongest point of the book is its historical analysis of school segregation in Memphis and the shift from an all-white to a mostly-black population. This part of the book is detailed, rigorously researched, and well-written. The rest of the book seems to be sloppily layered on top of this good research.
Pohlmann ignored some very relevant problems in Memphis, namely gangs and violence. These topics received, at best, a paragraph or two, yet these closely connected factors can account for a large number of MCS issues, e.g. security, atmosphere, academic interest, and school uniforms. Furthermore, the Cash administration has ushered in a host of new initiatives that have impacted teacher morale and student performance, but these are not included. I don't know much about publication schedules, so maybe this would have been impossible in this edition and will require an update in coming years.
Overall, the book gave me a good historical context of the school district in which I work. So much has happened in the past two years, though, that I can't in good conscience call this book relevant.